Sous Vide: Cooking for Nerds

I’ve decided to take the plunge.

Lacking basic cooking skills for much of my bachelor life, it occurs that rather than thinking of the endeavor to procure tasty food as a time consuming chore, I should think of it as an opportunity to experiment in a chemistry lab. To that end, I’ve recently fallen in love with and purchased a Sous Vide setup.

Now, I realize its not very “Maker” of me, but I did purchase (instead of make) a very precise temperature controller, the Sous Vide Magic. For this project, the maker bit is in the cooking, not the constructing of the device. So there.

The Sous Vide Magic marries up nicely to a dumb (no fancy electronics) rice cooker, in this case a $30 10 cup Black and Decker. The temp controller allows the user to set the temperature and time, then controls the electric output to the cooker to control the temperature. A highly accurate temp sensor sits in the water bath filling the cooker.

To this bath the scientist must add a vacuum sealed plastic bag. If you’re not familiar with sous vide, this should set off alarms, but never fear: we’re cooking at low temperatures for long periods of time. The plastic won’t melt. Additionally, I’m using vacuum seal-able ziploc bags, which contain no BPA to leach into my food and turn me into a woman (BPA acts as a synthetic estrogen in the body). Bases covered.

We must vacuum seal the food (sous vide is vacuum in French, so I hear) in order to both fully expose it to the water bath on all sides, and of course, the food you wish to cook is kept in the bag so as to keep it from being soggy in the water. Simple enough.

The first experiment was a simple “Patio” steak. I cooked it at 140F for 90 minutes. The steak came out medium, tender, and quite juicy, as all its original juices remained in the plastic bag. The added benefit was a minimum of mess, as I simply threw out the bag when finished. The seasoning (simple black pepper), though minimal, seemed to be amplified. In the future, I would consider cooking for even longer, as this particular cut can be gristled and this would tenderize it more. Also, I plan to buy a creme brule’ torch so I can sear the outside of the steak briefly before serving next time. Moderate success!

Next test: Sous Vide coffee. Stay tuned.

3 thoughts on “Sous Vide: Cooking for Nerds

  1. Cool. I’m curious what happens if you add a little meat tenderizer (raw papya paste, or prepared tenderizer).

    In case anyone is tempted to try it, this doesn’t work well with a basic crock pot without additional power controls. I tried a steak this way, but it’s difficult to keep the temperature from getting too high unless you constantly monitor it. The resulting steak was good, but more well done than I had intended.

    I think that a cheaper version of this could be done quite acceptably simply by attaching a lamp controller to a crock pot. I would set it to low power, let the temp stabilize, record the settings, then repeat about four or five times up the power scale. Use those data points infer the power settings required for the given temperature (while being aware that ambient temp will affect the power).

    Active temp control will be much easier, but one can give it a try pretty cheaply. For producing the vacuum the Ziploc manually-operated vacuum sealer ( http://www.amazon.com/Johnson-Ziploc-Vacuum-Pump-Storage/dp/B001DRNESE ) can be used. It’s not as good as a high quality powered sealer, but for 6 bucks it’s a good start.

    • I like the idea of adding a tenderizer. Will have to try it!

      The research I’ve done on the homebrew sous vide setups does have a few that make use of crock pots. However, I’ve read that rice cookers are supposed to be better for water circulation since the heating element is on the bottom rather than having a more uniform distribution a la the crock pot. High end professional models actually incorporate a water circulator for added uniformity in temperature. Crock pots are an option, though.

      I like the idea of making your own temp controller through experimentation. :) Might be a fun thing to try if enough people want to make their own.

      The cheapy ziploc suction device is actually what I’m using right now. Maybe I’ll get a fancy suction device someday…

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