Following up on the DIY article, I thought I’d show a specific example of the extra refinement that a sous-vide rig can bring to your regular old standards.
I’ve been enjoying the hell out of my immersion circulator, and this meal took full advantage of it. I’ve had a water bath for years–bought used on ebay before everyone figured out that you can get them there–but the beauty of this unit is that I can attach it to different vessels depending on the amount of stuff I want to cook, and store the two parts (circulator and vessel) separately so it’s much less cumbersome. And the circulation does help keep the temperature even throughout, requiring no flipping or redistributing of the food while it cooks.
I bagged a couple of duck legs that I’d cured in salt, pepper, and spruce tips and dropped them in 63˚ water to cook for about 6 hours. For the last hour, I added three eggs. I ran outside to pick a bunch of random seedlings and leaves and herbs, and thawed some stock (duck and smoked chicken) while I washed and sorted them. Three bundles of soba went in another pot to cook.
What made this so good (apart from the homemade stock and squeaky-fresh greens) was, unsurprisingly, the duck and the eggs. Cooking meat to the magic à point temperature and holding it there for hours allows for the denaturing of various proteins and the like that make for gristly chewing; the meat is meltingly tender and fully infused with whatever aromatics or liquids were in the bag with it, and yet still perfectly pink. In this case, the duck meat was gently perfumed with the bright, citrusy tang of spruce. (I strained and saved the cooking liquid and rendered fat in a jar for later). With eggs, an hour in this immediate temperature range yields the quintessence of what we look for in a poached egg: unctuous and barely holding together but fully cooked throughout. This method lets you go right to town with all the internet egg yolk money shots you’ve been jealously ogling on those other, nicer sites. Shave or add a degree and your egg will lie down or sit up exactly the way you want it to.
It’s really not hard to get yourself set up with this gear. Read the article and pick the version that suits your skill level and/or budget. Honestly, sous vide will change the way you cook for the better. Less work, amazing improvements to the basics that you make all the time. Inexpensive cuts of meat will amaze you with their depth of flavor and ease of chewing, and a good steak will blow your mind. Vegetables cooked a bit higher, around 86˚ C, attain an al dente tenderness combined with an astonishingly fresh flavor. Having precisely temperature-controlled water is great for yogurt and cheese making, too. I put an aluminum cookie sheet on top of my container to keep the heat in; the top of it makes a perfect dehydrator for spruce tips, flowers, and herbs that I want to grind for the pantry. This is not some shark-jumping fad; it is actually the too-rare technological holy grail of convenience and improved result. Give it a shot.
Some other helpful links: Make Magazine’s DIY sous vide rig (the one I have)
Mr. Belm’s post about making his (he subsequently made mine).
There’s tons more info, obviously, and a bunch of cookbooks on the subject. Act now, while supplies last!