Sous Vide cooking manual. Photo by Deborah Jones

Cooking sous vide, wrapped food submerged in warm to hot water, is a relatively new form of cooking now available to home cooks. The method truly does allow for transforming food in ways previously not possible with such precision. The best example of what it can do is short ribs. Short ribs cooked at 140˚ F. for 48 hours results in medium rare to medium meat, still pink, but completely tender. Pork belly cooked for that same time, then chilled is ready to be seared crispy when you’re ready to serve it. Chicken thighs and duck legs the same.

Not only does sous vide give you precise control of the internal temperature of meat and fish, it gives you the convenience of preparing food in advance, perfectly, so that it’s ready when you need it.

With today’s food savers and even the miraculous Zip-loc vacuum bags (which are what I use exclusively now), sous vide is an affordable, though price, option for home cooks who want to experiment with this exciting new technique.

The first option is the Polyscience Immersion Circulator. I recommend this for all restaurant chefs and home cooks who can afford it. It is the top of the line, the sleek BMW of sous vide equipment. It maintains a large quantity water at very precise temperatures. It costs $800 and can be purchased from Polyscience or Williams Sonoma. The advantage of the immersion circulator is that you can put it into any sized vessel, a big kettle, a tub, a sink, and you can therefore cook a lot of food or large cuts.

If you choose this option, I recommend also purchasing a Lexan tub, the perfect sized vessel for cooking sous vide. The Polyscience immersion circulator comes with a very sharp and elegantly written manual on the basics of sous vide cooking, text by me, assisted by Harold McGee on the science of it and bacterial concerns which are unique to this form of cooking, and basic recipes for the home cook by Thomas Keller and two of his best (and former) chefs de cuisine, Corey Lee and Jonathan Benno.

 

The second option, and it’s what I recommend for the home cook just getting into sous vide, there is the excellent Sous Vide Supreme, a countertop appliance that also maintains very precise temperatures.

The advantages are its eminently reasonable price $400, half that of the Immersion Circulator, and that it works great. Its only disadvantage (and it may not be a disadvantage in the home) is its size. You can only fit so much inside the box. That said, I’ve rarely needed to cook anything larger than what it can contain. Another possible disadvantage depending on your kitchen is that it takes up a lot of counter top space. But it’s very light and I keep mine on a basement shelf and bring it out when I need it (at least once a month to ferment yogurt, and more to cook meat).

I love that I can buy a tough inexpensive chuck roast, cook it at 135 degrees F. for 4 hours, then finish it on the grill and the result is a medium rare steak as tender as sirloin.

Bottom line: chefs and people who need to cook a lot of food sous vide, the Polyscience Immersion Circulator is the way to go. For home cooks, the less expensive Sous Vide Supreme is the best choice. Both pieces of equipment are excellent and do what they claim.

If you’ve got a cook on your gift list who’s eager to try this exciting new form of cooking, I highly recommend both of them.

I also highly recommend the book devoted to sous vide cooking, Under Pressure, which I wrote with Thomas Keller and his chefs, a gorgeous and complete guide to sous vide cooking with scores of recipes and beautiful photography by Deborah Jones.

(Full disclosure: As the author of the sous vide manual, I share a small percentage of the royalty for it when a Polyscience circulator is purchased; I’m not getting rich off it, but it is a royalty. In an effort to encourage bloggers to recommend and promote the Sous Vide Supreme, the company has created an affiliate program so that sales generated by bloggers are, like the Amazon affiliate program, shared with that blogger. I participate in that program. I feel comfortable recommending these products because I’ve been using both for several years now and they really do do what they claim.)

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© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved