Complexities and Cost of Sous-Vide Cooking

Sous-Vide – or under vacuum – is the latest rage in cooking techniques. Sous-vide cooking involves sealing the ingredients in an airtight plastic bag and cooking them for extended amounts of time at temperatures well below boiling. The intention of sous-vide cooking is to preserve the flavors and aromas of the ingredients and to heat them up equally, e.g. to prepare meat that is perfectly medium-rare everywhere.

Michelin decorated chefs like Bocuse or Robichon have been using the technique for many years but it never entered private use because of complexity, high cost of equipment and safety concerns. Reading the excellent practical guide to sous vide cooking practically requires a science degree to successfully navigate the government pasteurization tables and decipher the mathematics of sous-vide. And in a recent Wired Magazine I read how former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold was spearheading efforts to make sous-vide accessible for hobby chefs.

Essentially sous-vide requires two pieces of equipment: a vacuum food sealer and some device for controlling temperature accurately over long periods of time. Vacuum food sealers are easy to find and have been used by private households for sealing and storing foods for a while. But finding a temperature regulator remains difficult.

Wired recommends an Auber temperature controller that looks more like laboratory equipment than cooking device. It has a thermometer to measure the temperature and switches electricity on and off to maintain constant temperature. You can use it with a rice cooker by plugging the cooker into the outlet of the controller. Alternatively, German control instrument manufacturer Julabo has a whole range of sous-vide equipment that might be usable in your kitchen but clearly looks aimed at the professional market. On user Maurits on made a list of alternatives including slow-cookers and second hand lab equipment that leaves much to be desired.

It’s very tempting to try out sous-vide. But given the cost and complexity of the equipment, I will continue to rely on professionals to prepare sous-vide food for me for now!