Last year, The French Laundry Cookbook Team, published Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide, a book spearheaded by per se chef de cuisine Jonathon Benno and featuring the dishes of him, his French Laundry counterpart Corey Lee, and Thomas Keller. The book was explicitly geared toward professional chefs (recipes are in metric weights) because this form of cooking was at the time most applicable to restaurant kitchens. The capacity to cook food sous vide, that is vacuum sealed and submerged in water kept at low precise temperatures, is perfectly suited to the demands of cooking for large numbers because food hit a specific temperature and stays there, no real chance to overcook. But also the equipment was prohibitively expensive, with chamber vacuum sealers and immersion circulators (the device that heats the water) costing several thousand dollars.
This past October, Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades, physician entrepreneurs, unveiled Sous Vide Supreme, a sous vide cooker intended for home use and priced at $500, the cost of a standing mixer and other high powered kitchen appliances. Having written the above book, experimented with immersion circulator cooking, and having attended a demonstration in New York led by Fat Duck chef Heston Blumenthal, an enthusiastic endorser of the product, I was eager to try it and asked for an early model.
Sous Vide Supreme works perfectly and comes through on every claim it makes. It's not much bigger than a bread machine, is handsomely designed, easy to use, and makes it clear that sous vide cooking could very well become a standard cooking technique in American kitchens. Indeed, Keller told me that in his discussions with large appliance manufacturers, many are already designing stoves with sous vide cooker built into them.
It's still a pricey item. It can't do half the number of jobs a standing mixer can do. It really helps to have a decent vacuum sealer, yet another appliance (I use an older version of this one—wow, just checked, fabulous price at amazon). And it takes up more than a cubic foot of the countertop, valuable real estate in many kitchens.
All that said, if you want to cook sous vide, this is a terrific product and I thoroughly recommend it for the home kitchen (for restaurants, too, but only for small portions; restaurants are still better off with Polyscience's immersion circulators, still the gold standard because they can be put in Lexan tubs for restaurant quantities). I've been using this for two months now, cooking everything from meats to vegetables and couldn't be easier or more convenient. It's available from the company linked above, as well as from Sur la Table. And I hope soon to offer it at my Open Sky store.
What I love about sous vide cooking is that you can achieve results that are either difficult at home or impossible any other way. For instance, traditionally, you had to braise short ribs for hours to tenderize them, cooking most of the flavor out of them (which is why the sauce and serving braised things hot is so important). With sous vide you can cook them at 138 degrees for two or three days and they become tender and yet they're still medium rare. A sirloin steak, the tri-tip cut is best, can be cooked at that temperature, then seared and you will have a relatively inexpensive cut of meat that is gorgeously and uniformly rare, as tender and tasty as a strip steak, something that would ordinarily take a lot of practice and skill.
I'll do more posts on cooking sous vide next month but wanted to help get the word out now (Julia Moskin wrote about it for the NYTimes last week), for those who love to cook and can afford (or can afford to ask for) a big ticket item.
In the introduction to Under Pressure, Harold McGee writes that sous vide cooking is "one of the most important culinary innovations of modern times." I agree and am thrilled by the arrival of Sous Vide Supreme.