Sous vide cookers move from high-end restaurants into home kitchens

Every Christmas, home chefs are inundated with “useful” gifts that are supposed to make cooking easier and more enjoyable but instead end up as clutter.

This year’s must-have food gadget is an immersion circulator or sous vide machine, and it has a much bigger impact on how people cook, said Geoff Adleman, Sansaire vice president of operations. But it isn’t really a new technology.

Historical technology

While the words are French — sous vide literally translates to “under vacuum” — the method was somewhat accidentally invented by Massachusetts native (and British loyalist) Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count von Rumford, in the early 1800s when he tried to cook a leg of mutton at a precise temperature to prove how poorly kitchen fireplaces worked.

French scientist Bruno Goussault, who spent much of his career perfecting the technique, resurrected it in 1971.

Sous vide cooking is similar to poaching in that a chef slowly brings the cooking medium, in this case water, up to a steady cooking temperature. Cooking on the stove or in the oven is usually done at high heat in order to cook the center of the food, requiring precision timing to make sure everything is cooked without being overcooked.

In contrast, sous vide cooking is done at an exact temperature for longer periods of time. Food is either vacuum-sealed in plastic or simply cooked in food-grade plastic bags with as much air removed as possible to keep water out and flavor in.

Vacuum sealing technology found its way to home cooks in the 1990s, but commercial-grade sous vide cooking equipment only recently became affordable for residential use.

Price plummet

The technology for home sous vide cookers has been available for a while, but someone had to make the leap and trust the consumer would be there.

“It’s been unaffordable, over $1,000 or $2,000,” Adleman said.

Adleman said the difference between sous vide machines and other kitchen gadgets is the sous vide machine has year-round appeal.

“The idea of cooking something perfectly never goes away,” he said. “Steaks are probably the gateway food for sous vide. That’s what gets people hooked.”

Though it takes planning, a two-inch-thick T-bone cooked to a perfect medium-rare in about two and a half hours. While the meat cooks unattended, Adleman said, home chefs can focus on making side items or creating a special cocktail.

Dejarlais said it’s a pretty impressive feat for a machine that’s basically a fish tank pump with a thermometer.

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