Gastronaut Files: The New Sous Vide
I like to think I'm a modern woman. For years now, I've read the newspaper on my phone. But when it comes to cooking food sous vide, I've been a Luddite.
Ever since George Pralus applied the method to a lobe of foie gras at France's Maison Troisgros in the 1970s, chefs have explored sous vide: They vacuum-seal ingredients in plastic bags, which they simmer at extremely low temperatures in precisely heated water baths. There could not be a more convenient way to cook: Just push a button, drop the plastic bag in the water and walk away.
If I thought about it much, it was the walking-away part I objected to. I like the smells and sounds of old-fashioned cooking. Still, there was little point to pondering: The science-lab equipment sous vide required costs thousands of dollars. But PolyScience, the chefs' brand of choice, just released an $800 stripped-down immersion circulator, which regulates water-bath temperatures to within one-tenth of one degree. And a new company's SousVide Supreme is a $450 "water oven," a metal box that heats water to within one degree. To seal foods in plastic, chefs prefer powerful vacuum packers, but $75 countertop appliances like Seal-a-Meal work well.
To evaluate the options, I asked three sous vide experts for recipes; then the F&W Test Kitchen tried them with an immersion circulator, a water oven and a pot fitted with a candy thermometer. When Michael Ruhlman's steak emerged superbly moist and exactly medium-rare, I had to concede that sous vide has merit. And cooking the meat to precisely 135°, and knowing we could try it again at 136.2°, seemed like the modern thing to do.