Science versus Tradition.
I finally have my home kitchen set-up for sous-vide cooking. This is something I hope to see a lot more of in the 'not so far off' future. Even as chefs, we often draw a distinctive line between the food we can cook at work and the food we cook at home (at least it is if you utilize modern cuisine techniques at work). Other labels are thrown on home cooked food such as comfort food or just good old home cooking... but what can be more comforting than an incredible piece of meat cooked using sous-vide methods. Why should this experience be removed from the home. True... there have been 'meal in a bag' type products in the past, but when we say sous-vide we mean controlled. The ability to control a water bath to the degree is necessary.
So, what do you need to accomplish this. Basically, 3 things.
A rice cooker or slow cooker as a heat source. I am using this Black & Decker Rice Plus which has a great steam-lined look, holds 24 cups (ample water bath is important to control fluctuations in temperature as well as providing room enough to cook larger items when desired), and has a convenient little hole on top. I tried a 'crock pot' type slow cooker before this one, and the rice cookers work better because the heating element is on the bottom and it can recover temperature drops more quickly.
The hole is important to the 2nd piece of necessary equipment... a PID (proportion, integral, derivative device). This controls the amount of power going to the cooker while monitoring the temperature of the water bath. The hole makes for a convenient place to slip the sensor wire. The set-up allows the PID to keep the water at a constant temperature. I am using a device called Sous-Vide Magic which I purchased from Fresh Meals Solutions. Frank Hsu, who is president of FMS, went out of his way to back up his product. He emailed me several times with information, and called me when I had minor issues with the device. There is no lack of customer service at FMS. Mr. Hsu also recommended the rice cooker that I am using above.
The last necessary equipment is a vacuum sealer. In order to cook in a water bath, you must be able to seal foods in waterproof bags. The Food Saver has made it's way into the American kitchen by being sold in most major retail stores (places that sell kitchen wares). Although they promote it as a 'food saving' device (hence the name), hopefully we will see it used more as a vessel for preparing foods for sous-vide cooking. Although the power on the Food Saver is not enough for compression techniques that we often use commercial vacuum sealers for, it does eliminate almost all of the air from around the food.
There is a certain appeal to what can be done with sous-vide once home cooks become familiar with the concept and practice. It can even fall into the 'fix it and forget about it' category. There is the power of control and 'fool proof' cooking that comes with this method. There is the possibility of really reproducing restaurant food because you reduce certain uncontrollable factors.
This set-up can be added to your home kitchen for a small price. $130 for the PID. $50 for the rice cooker. $100 for the vacuum sealer. That's $280 for the whole system... when a Polyscience thermocirculator costs almost 3 times that. It's tax refund time... go for it. The home system actually does not circulate the water... but I've cooked several things in it already, and it does the job. Imagine dropping eggs in before going to sleep and waking up to perfectly cooked eggs that only need to be pulled out of the water and cracked open.
So... with this leap, what are some other things that can be taken from the modern professional kitchen and brought into the home with interesting results?
... growing your own micro herbs and other edibles.