A New Frontier for the Home Cook: Sous Vide

Anova.jpgMany years ago, when chef Daniel Patterson had his first restaurant Elizabeth Daniel in San Francisco, I had a marvelous dinner with my friend, the journalist Leslie Harlib. What was most memorable was the lamb chops that were extraordinarily plush in texture. When we asked Daniel the secret, he only had to say one word: "sous-vide." Translated from the French it means cooking "under vacuum." The method for sous-vide cooking, is to place the food that is to be cooked in a water tight (preferably vacuum sealed) bag, which is then heated in a water bath close to the temperature at which the food is to be served. Some foods that benefit from a browned exterior are then finished off briefly by another cooking method, such as pan frying or grilling. As I explored the possibilities of how I could do this in my home kitchen, I discovered that beyond needing a vacuum device (which I already had), it also required an expensive and high rent counter space "circulator" to maintain a constant low temperature and movement of the water for even cooking. It was at this point that I came to the conclusion that sous-vide was best performed in restaurant kitchens. A few months ago, along came J. Kenji López-Alt's terrific new book The Food Lab, in which, among other great ideas, he detailed a brilliantly simple way of cooking sous-vide using reclosable freezer storage bags and a beer cooler. I tried it, loved it, and quickly graduated to a dedicated "circulator" from Anova. Not only is the design stunning, it can attach to just about any pot of appropriate size, and it is reasonably affordable. I love the convenience of not having to check the temperature every 30 minutes and then having to add more hot water. (The water in the Anova drops only 1 inch every 8 hours, which is a lot longer than I need to sous-vide the things, I'm cooking. I cook steak and chicken 2 hours, and burgers only 1 hour.) After sous-viding, I grill or brown the meat on the cooktop for just a few minutes. The Anova even has a free app, which enables one to program time and temperature from a cell phone. Kenji has partnered with Anova to create recipes with wonderfully detailed explanations and choices of how to achieve precise final results. These guides, along with step-by-step color photos, are on the ap and on the on-line site listed in the link below. A new guide will be released every month. Here's a link to the first one on cooking steak. Here's a link to several other guides. Woody and I have been using the Anova several times a week to cook steak, hamburgers, and chicken breasts. Not only is the meat more tender, it's a lot more velvety and moist. As far as I'm concerned, sous-vide cooking has graduated from a thing of the future to a cutting-edge thing of the present. Thank you Kenji and Anova for making the leap so fun and effortless. To find out more about Anova click here. And here's the link to purchase on Amazon: Anova Culinary Precision Cooker (Black)