After my post last week on cooking using “sous vide”, I received some e-mails as well as a rather interesting public comment by a Foodie Moment reader. The comment, by Peter Black, made a number of interesting observations about sous vide and low-temperature cooking (two separate things, although frequently connected), and suggested, among other things, that lower-cost solutions existed for both vacuum sealing and low-temperature water baths.
Peter’s comments were welcome, because they provided a reminder that there are many ways to achieve a particular goal. Peter, however, went beyond just opinion and provided a couple of rather useful links in his comment as well – one on research that seems to indicate that a lesser vacuum would be better for less firm meats like chicken and fish, and another on food safety in sous vide cooking. I would encourage you to check those out in his posted comments.
In terms of the lower cost equipment, Peter suggested that a consumer vacuum sealer (e.g., such as what FoodSaver offers) or even a Ziploc bag with most of the air squeezed out of it would suffice as immersible food containers for low temperature cooking. They well might, but I will say my personal experience with several models of consumer vacuum sealers has been less than stellar. A bigger concern would be weather the plastic bags in either case would be safe to cook foods in for hours at a time. I presume they would be, but that would need to be researched by anyone planning on using such for sous vide cooking.
For doing the actual low-temperature cooking, Peter’s suggestion for an alternative to an expensive immersion circulator is the $160 Sous Vide Magic temperature controller. The Sous Vide Magic (and I will mention that I do not have one to experiment with) is a pretty interesting “hack” (and I mean that in a good way), which embodies a temperature sensor and voltage/power regulation. You plug in a simple rice cooker or other electric kettle which can hold a decent volume of water into the Sous Vide Magic, and then plug the Sous Vide Magic into an electrical outlet. As I understand it, the Sous Vide Magic will switch power on and off to the cooker to try and maintain a desired temperature, which is one reason you would want to pair it with a simple (non-intelligent) cooker and not one with all sorts of fancy electronics which might get upset by constant power fluctuations. Based on various on-line reviews of the Sous Vide Magic unit, it seems to perform its task pretty well.
And apparently, there are other low-cost low-temperature cooking solutions coming out. Another e-mail I received was about the SousVide Supreme, a more self-contained unit in a slightly higher price range, but still half the price of a good immersion circulator. The $449 SousVide Supreme combines a water bath and temperature control all into one attractive countertop package. Definitely worth a look. The company offered to have me review one, and I hope to do so in March after I get back from my Antarctic expedition.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention yet another (much costlier) alternative that the executive chef at McCrady’s Restaurant (highly recommended – get the tasting menu) in Charleston, South Carolina showed me a couple of weeks ago – the CVap from Winston Industries. CVap is short for “Controlled Vapor Technology”, and is a fully integrated professional cook and hold oven that can accurately cook for long periods, accurately, at low-temperatures. I will mention though, that although McCrady’s had a CVap in the kitchen, they also had three immersion circulators too, and used them all over the course of a typical day.
In any case, the take away point of my post here is that if you want to try sous vide cooking at home, you have some options available to you that will set you back for about a 10th the price of what I invested in for my sous vide cooking.
Still coming up in a later post: my sous vide egg experiments and last night’s duck sous vide experience.