Sous vide? At home? I know what you’re thinking. Unless you’re a super adventurous, nearly restaurant-grade cook, having a sous vide machine in your own kitchen may seem somewhat excessive. Even for me, an avid home cook who’s worked in a restaurant kitchen, a sous vide machine sounded a bit much. But once friend after friend of varying cooking abilities sang the praises of their sous vide machines, I had to see what the fuss was about.
For the uninitiated, sous vide (French for “under vacuum”) cooking is essentially a method of cooking vacuum-sealed plastic bags in a temperature-controlled water bath, usually at a lower temperature than what we’re used to via stovetop. The result is a slow, but even, and consistent product, where the food retains moisture and can never really be overcooked (one should sear it off in a pan or with a blowtorch when it's done cooking via sous vide to counter any potential surface bacteria—and also to get that lovely crust). Cooking sous vide sounds fancy, but it’s basically an insurance policy against the hard-to-control elements of time and temperature.
These days, consumer-grade sous-vide machines can be had at or around $200, a much more affordable option to those found in restaurants for upwards of tens of thousands of dollars. The gateway to entry here is a Ziploc-style bag, an electrical outlet, and in some cases, a Smartphone, which effectively democratizes an intimidating “chef-y” instrument for home cooks.
Most models are upright cylinders you attach to a pot by either a large clip or an adjustable clamp. Many have Wi-Fi options, allowing you to monitor the temperature and time from the ease of an app. Alternately, there are also self-contained water ovens where you can immerse the food directly in the pod. The process is the same: place your ingredients in a heat-safe, sealed bag; lower it into a pot of water set at a precise temperature for a specified amount of time (anywhere from 30 minutes for salmon to upwards of an hour or hour-and-a-half for steaks); finish off in a hot pan to create an Instagram-worthy crust, et voilà! Perfect doneness all the way through with just a sliver of browned crust.
Our pick for best sous vide machine for the home was the Joule, by ChefSteps. While similar appliances performed as well —the Anova ($149) and Sansaire ($167) were right behind—the Joule’s compact size sold this N.Y.C. apartment dweller. It was easily the smallest among its class, standing at just 11 inches tall and almost 2 inches wide, weighing in at just over a pound, fitting perfectly in a kitchen drawer.
BUY: ChefSteps Joule Sous Vide, $199; amazon.com
The Joule is run completely via app and the internet is required for some features. While there’s no digital face, everything is run smoothly on the iOS and Android-friendly app, which sets reminders, and gives you tips and ideal temperatures for a range of proteins (in my case, salmon took about 40 minutes and a thick New York strip about an hour).
While I’d still consider a sous vide machine a luxury, I can see how this could easily become a trusted-companion in the kitchen, since it eliminates the need to babysit the stovetop, allowing you to spend more time with your guests.
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Wins for: Design, compact size, speed, easy-to-use app
- Video-rich and easy-to-use app for iOS and Android
- Built-in magnetic base
- Voice-control capability via Amazon Alexa
- Smallest in its class
See the rest of InStyle's 2017 Best of Tech picks here.