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You may have been hearing about sous vide cooking over the past year or so. This fancy-sounding method has moved from professional kitchens into home kitchens during the pandemic thanks to a rise of affordable devices that make the technique easier than saying the term "sous vide." But what the heck is sous vide cooking anyway?
Professional chefs have been cooking via sous vide for decades. It just means dunking vacuum-sealed food (“sous vide” is French for “under vacuum”) in a temperature-controlled water bath. This method ensures perfectly cooked food in a few hours. Forget the worry about whether a steak is medium rare or a chicken breast will turn out dry because sous vide eliminates the guesswork.
Small, wand-like immersion circulators that heat water efficiently are the tool that makes the process a cinch. You can use them with regular plastic zip-top bags (although you can purchase a vacuum sealer and special bags) and the pots you already have!
If you do use regular zip-top bags for sous vide, be sure to use the water displacement method to get rid of air; immerse the bagged food in the water while partially unsealed, and water pressure will push the air through the opening. Once everything is mostly underwater, you can seal the bag and it’ll stay submerged. For more tips and tricks on how to use a sous vide cooker, check out this guide on Engadget.
How to pick a sous vide machine
Almost all of the immersion circulators on the market work the same way, so you really can't go wrong whichever you choose. That said, there are a few criteria to keep in mind when selecting your preferred model. For one, you'll want it to keep an accurate temperature and to maintain that temperature for an extended period of time, especially for foods that take over a day to cook. (This isn't uncommon, especially for tough cuts of meat.) It's better if it's powerful enough to heat up water quickly, though you could always help it along by using hot tap water to start.
Most models these days come with Bluetooth or WiFi (or both), which helps you set and monitor your sous vide temperature from an app on your phone. Many of these apps also come with recipes where you can tap on a preset temperature to start cooking a little faster. Bluetooth-only models work when you're within 30 to 40 feet of the cooker, while those with WiFi let you supervise your food from anywhere in your home, or as long as you're on the same network.
Here are our favorite sous vide machines:
One the most highly-rated sous vide cookers on the market is the Anova Culinary Precision Cooker Nano. Don’t just take our word for it; it currently has over 9,000 five-star reviews on Amazon. It circulates water at the exact temperature required but can be adjusted either directly on the device or via a Bluetooth-connected app if you want to speed up the process. The device's small size (a mere 12.8-inches long) means it is easy to stow away in a kitchen drawer when it's not in use.
“Good night, this thing is amazing!” raved one Amazon shopper. “I had never used the sous vide method before. The control is amazing. The first time out I ran two New York strips up to 130° for 1 hour, then seared off in a pan. I seasoned simply with simple seasoned salt, and pepper. The wife was more than pleased. Amazed even. Let’s just say the steak got the biscuit. 😉”
According to users, the app is helpful, but it’s not required. “The app is simple to use, easy to connect, but completely unnecessary if you aren’t into that sort of thing. But, it does make it easy to check in on the operation from the sofa. You can also send preloaded recipes from the phone to the circulator with a click. If you are interested in trying this style of cooking, this seems like a great entry point.”
Another said the controls are very easy to use: “I love product design which is intuitive. The bottom of the face of the unit has a big plus and minus and a play / pause button. I attached it to the side of the pot, filled the pot with hot water, set the temp and hit the play button and it started up. No messing around with Wifi or Bluetooth. That's how easy it was to cook my steak today to a perfect 127 degrees.”
If, on the other hand, you’re okay with spending a bit more money, then you might want to upgrade to the Anova Culinary AN500-US00 Sous Vide Precision Cooker. It has very similar features to the Nano, but has an adjustable clamp rather than a fixed one. It’s slightly more powerful with 1,000 watts so it can heat up faster, and it also has WiFi so you can monitor your food from anywhere in your home. It’s not quite as compact as the Nano, but it can also be taken apart easier for cleaning.
“This is well worth the price!” said an Amazon shopper. “This is the way to cook beef, chicken or salmon. Delicious results. Don't get any special bag to cook with. Sealable baggies work great. You don't need that $70 sealer or special rolls of bags. I didn't get the special $69.99 cooking container. My dutch oven worked great. If you increase cooking time, decrease the temperature the recipe calls for a little. I think low temp long cooking time produces the best result. I did chicken thighs. Then sear. Cast iron skillet is the only way to sear. 1 tablespoon butter. 1 tablespoon EVOO. Heat to just smoking. 1 clove garlic minced. Quick sear 3 minutes each side. Perfection!”
Another Amazon reviewer loves it as well. “This sous vide changed my life. It changed the way I cook and prepare food day in and day out. I absolutely love it. Every meal I cook is prepared well, perfect temperature and on time, with no hassle. I've had the unit for about 8 months now, and use it 3 times a week. Tested different methods of cooking everything from steak, short rib, pork belly, fish and vegetables. Quick 1 hour cooks and slow 48 hour cooks. Hands down, fantastic unit.”
We absolutely adore the Breville Joule because of its small size. It measures just 11-inches long and weighs only 1.1 pounds! It features a handy magnetic base that makes it easy to attach to certain pots. Although it lacks on-device controls, the companion app is super easy to use.
“I am not a big fan of "gadgets" in the kitchen, but the Joule is a must-have!" says one Amazon shopper. "Sous vide cooking was introduced to me by the executive chef from one of the US best restaurants. After quite a bit of research, I chose Joule. I have made everything from hollandaise sauce to hard-boiled eggs to steaks, fish, ribs even my Thanksgiving turkey! I cooked the turkey in my igloo cooler for 24 hours and the Joule maintained temperature the entire time. It was the best turkey ever according to my family. What I like most about sous vide cooking with Joule is that I am no longer leery of purchasing my favorite cuts of meat or fish that are more expensive because I won't prepare them properly because they are perfect every time!! And super easy!! Even though it isn't too complicated to prepare multiple items for one meal with one Joule, I purchased a second one just to make it a bit easier.”
“Using it was a breeze!” said another enthusiastic reviewer. “I zip-locked my salmon fillet using the displacement method and put it back in the fridge until I was ready for it. Went into the Joule app on my iPhone and selected “Salmon” and selected the thickness and pressed start. Like magic, the machine started up circulating the water and it didn’t take long before the app alerted me to put the salmon in. Once in the water, I hit the button in the app which started the timer. About 40 minutes or so later the app alarm went off that the food was ready to eat. I left it going while I prepared the veg and when I was ready, I hit the stop button on the app and again like magic the machine stopped. I unplugged it and then plated everything and sat down to eat. Easily the best perfectly cooked salmon I’ve ever had! BONUS: No fish smell in my house. :)”
While an immersion circulator is all you need to get started sous vide cooking, there’s no harm stocking up on accessories too. This all-in-one Sous Vide Cooker Kit by SousVide Art lets you do just that. It includes a sous vide cooker, 15 reusable vacuum bags, a vacuum pump, clips to keep those bags in place plus a cookbook too.
“I wanted to "test the waters", if you would, of sous vide cooking before I invested heavily in a vacuum sealer system and a full water bath unit,” said an Amazon shopper. “So far I've done pork chops, chicken breasts and asparagus on separate occasions and the results have been fantastic. The unit heats up the water quickly, runs very quietly and maintains the set temperature perfectly. The only con I would have is the control buttons are a bit slow to respond, I find myself hitting a button two or three times before the unit responds.”
Another said this kit is great for first-timers and beginners. “This is the first time for me trying out a Sous Vide device and I loved it. Getting everything together with the bags, the pump, and the device itself helped a lot with using this. So far, I made a steak and a salmon and both came out amazing...
The device itself is very easy to use.”
The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.
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