Sous vide means “under vacuum” in French, and the term refers to the process of cooking food in a temperature-controlled water bath. Basically, meat, eggs, and vegetables are sealed in an airtight vacuum bag, which is left in a precisely heated pot of water for longer than normal cooking times.
Sous-vide-cooked food used to be something you could only find in restaurants, but thanks to innovative new products, today there are lots of precision cookers on the market.
I recently received an Anova precision cooker to test out. It’s one of the best-reviewed sous-vide products out there, and I was excited by the prospect of making perfectly cooked meals without needing to keep a close eye on my food.
The device keeps the water at the perfect temperature (within a tenth or a hundredth of a degree) by circulating the water and keeping the heat constant. Unlike a stove top or grill, where “hot spots” can cause food to cook unevenly, a sous-vide device ensures food is heated at exactly the same temperature, under the same conditions.
It’s an ideal technique for preparing items like chicken that can be harmful if undercooked, or for making a meal without keeping a careful eye on what you’re doing. Instead of watching your steak sear, you can leave it for an hour or so in a pot of water and still achieve the perfect level of doneness.
For starters, I’m terrible at planning my meals ahead of time, and that’s exactly what a sous-vide requires. If you want to set up your precision cooker to prepare dinner while you’re at work, you need to first place the food in an ice bath to keep it cool. The Anova has an app that alerts you when once the water gets too warm and it’s time to start cooking your meat, eggs, or veggies.
But that’s a lot of work. Unlike a crock pot, which only requires you to throw in ingredients and set how long they should cook, with a sous-vide, you need to set up the ice bath, ready your Anova (and make sure it’s connected to Bluetooth and WiFi), then keep an eye on the app to make sure your food starts cooking at the right time.
Leaving my food in an ice bath before work and starting my sous-vide cooker remotely so that dinner is ready when I get home is exhausting even to think about.
And when you do get home, you might still have to finish the food with regular old pots and pans to get the desired texture and flavour. You’ll definitely want to sear your sous-vide steak, for instance.
Plus, it’s a slow process — recipes call for one to four hours to sous vide a chicken breast, while a typical chicken recipe calls for about half an hour in the oven or less than 15 minutes on the stove. I want a tool that helps me cook faster so that I can eat sooner; a sous-vide slows me down.
Using a sous-vide cooker also means you lose the experience of cooking. You don’t get to smell, taste or tinker the way you can when cooking on a stove or grill. This sensory deprivation while the food sits in roiling water may not bother everyone, but I certainly didn’t like it.
However, there are many positive aspects of a sous-vide cooker. It allows you to cook things at a consistent temperature, which ensures your food is perfectly tender and safe to eat. It can make amazing steak, great chicken, and even helped me make the most perfect poached egg of my life.
A coworker also raved about how easy it was to make a bunch of perfectly poached eggs for a brunch she was throwing for friends. But since I live in New York and don’t have a dining room, I rarely have people over, let alone cook numerous poached eggs for them.
While I see when and how the Anova would help me in the kitchen, it’s a lot of money (the Anova I tested costs $199) and equipment for a technique that doesn’t fit into my lifestyle. I’m not home that much of the time and don’t have the energy to prepare my dinner in the morning.
So if you’re anything like me, save your money — at least until you enter a stage in your life when you want to make multiple poached eggs at the same time.