If you have tuned in to any cooking show recently, or are a fan of new and innovative cooking methods, you have probably already heard about sous vide. A French term meaning “under vacuum,” cooking food sous vide involves sealing it in a plastic pouch, then placing it in a warm bath of temperature-controlled water. The dish cooks at a lower temperature, for an extended period, often an hour or more. The result is a meat that is fall off the bone tender, vegetables that are the perfect texture, and since the food is vacuum sealed in with its juices, flavors, or marinades, it is never dried out.
How is this miracle of cooking achieved? The key is in the equipment. In order to create the perfect sous vide dish, a chef must be able to keep the food at an exact, constant temperature for the duration of the process. There are several ways that this can be achieved, each with their own level of complexity, flexibility, and price.
Before spending a sizeable sum on a shiny new sous vide machine, it is important to understand what goes into good sous vide equipment, and how you can spot something that is worth your hard-earned money.
The Steps On How To Choose The Right Sous Vide Machine:
Step 1. Water Bath Capacity And Container
Since sous vide cooking involves submersing your food in heated water, it is no surprise that the water container should play a significant role in the function of your device. Sous vide equipment comes in many different sizes, each suited to a particular need. For example, too large of a water bath will require more heating and have more wasted space if you are only planning on making small meals for 2 or 3 people. Likewise, a restaurant will struggle to keep up with demand if the owner chooses one with too small of a container.
There are two main types of sous vide equipment. Those that are all-in-one, sometimes known as a water baths, and those that are an integrated temperature control and water circulator meant to be used with your own water bath. These are typically known as immersion circulators.
One of the major benefits of an all-in-one sous vide water oven is that there is no additional equipment to buy, and there is less worry of evaporation playing a role as you cook. Water naturally evaporates, and heating the water accelerates the process. This means that if you are planning a very long cook time, there is a chance that your water level could fall dangerously low. Water ovens usually feature an integrated lid, keeping your water contained, any that evaporates off will condense on the lid and drip back into the cooker.
When it comes to capacity, immersion circulators work best with metal or ceramic cooking pots, and a water level between 3 and 7 inches, depending on the specifications of the particular device. Generally a 3-gallon stock pot is great for the job, but they are flexible to work with many sizes of pots and pans, provided the water is kept at the proper depth.
With an all-in-one counter-top design, flexibility is lessened. However, many people find that having a set reservoir takes much of the guesswork out of the equation and allows you have the exact same cooking experience every time. Capacity usually ranges from 9-11 liters, although commercial units are available which are larger.
Step 2. Temperature Stability And Heating Power
Since keeping food at a steady temperature is the core of sous vide cooking, it is no surprise that the ability to maintain a stable temperature. There are two factors to this. The first is the water heater, the heating element responsible for warming the water. The second is the circulator. This is what moves the water around the heater, ensuring that the temperature is maintained throughout the water container with no hot spots or cool areas. With any sous vide equipment, look for a temperature control that allows you to maintain your set temperature within a half of a degree.
This is where the water oven shines. With a lid and integrated water container, there is no guesswork involved. Simply fill the container to the designated level, add your food, and start cooking.
Immersion circulators can sometimes be a little more finicky. Because they are meant to be used in your cookware, it is crucial that you pick the right size. Too large, and your device will have trouble maintaining its heat, too small, and the water may not circulate far enough to prevent hot spots from developing.
When it comes to power, look for a device that is between 900 and 120 Watts. This will ensure that it has the power to not only hold your water at the perfect temperature but keep it circulating so your food is cooked to perfection.
Step 3. Equipment Size
Next, it is important to consider how big your unit should be. All-in-one water ovens may be convenient, but they take up a great deal of counter space. They can also be quite heavy, so can pose a problem when it comes to storage. However, if you have the space for them, they are well worth the money.
If space is an issue, an immersion circulator is the smarter choice. Since these devices work using your existing pots and pans, they consist of a single slender unit that is not much larger than an immersion blender, and stores just as easily.
Step 4. Safety, Maintenance, And Cleaning
Since electronic devices and water are not usually entities you want coming together, safety should always be a factor when choosing sous vide equipment. Look for a device that has an automatic shut-off when it reaches its maximum temperature to ensure you don’t end up with a hazard in your kitchen. In addition, since food cooks at a lower temperature, it is essential that meat and eggs reach a safe temperature before consumption. Since the sous vide process is very similar to pasteurization, a process that renders food safe for consumption, it is generally very safe, however, the ability to maintain safe cooking temperatures is essential.
Maintenance and cleaning of sous vide equipment are easy. Since the food is contained within its vacuum-sealed pouch, you only have to worry about water. If you have hard water in your local area, there can be a slight issue with mineral build up, but this can be solved by using filtered water or occasionally cleaning the unit with some household white vinegar.
Step 5. Cost
Sous vide equipment used to be the sole domain of high-end restaurants and experimental chefs primarily due to the cost. However, recent advancements in technology mean that today, anyone can have one of these ingenious devices in their own kitchen.
All-in-one water ovens tend to be more expensive than immersion circulators, and you can expect to pay several hundred dollars for a good one, with some higher-end models having a price tag closer to $1,000. Immersion circulators are the more affordable option and are a great choice for the average kitchen. Ranging in price from less than $100 to $400, they can fit into almost any budget.
Sous vide cooking is no longer just for the wealthy gourmand. With equipment more affordable than ever before, anyone can not only experience tasting but creating their own delicious sous vide delights.