Sous vide is having a moment. This cooking method, which uses controlled temperature water baths “under vacuum,” is touted by chefs for its ability to hold items at a specific temperature for hours without ever overcooking and doing things like making perfect soft-boiled eggs 60 at a time. Energy efficient and easy to use, Thomas Keller wrote a whole cookbook on the technique.
And so, as it goes with every technological advancement in cooking, there are now several companies who have created sous vide gadgets for the home cook. These range from full units with built-in vessels to simple clip-on immersion circulators that you can use with any variety of containers.
Watch: How to Cook Sous Vide Steak
But are they worth it? If you aren’t a chef, do you need to sous vide at home, or should you just leave it to the pros?
The answer is both yes and no.
First off, no, you do NOT need to be a chef or even a serious cook to sous vide successfully. I might argue that it is the less experienced home cooks you that might benefit the most. This is because sous vide is a very forgiving style of cooking and gives you the time and breath you need to organize other dishes without concern of your meat overcooking, so in that way it can be an inexperienced cook’s best pal for entertaining. You can put a whole roast of something in there and bring it to proper temp and just let it hang out for a few hours while you get all your sides organized. All sous-vide meats need is a quick sear to brown and crisp the outside before you carve and serve, and they don’t need to rest, so they get to the table fast.
If you are the kind of person who benefits regularly from dishes out of a slow cooker, this is a good method for you, because unlike slow cooking, you don’t need it to be a soup or stew or chili, so if you have the need to set a meal up before leaving the house and come home to it fairly ready to go, this could be a good addition to your arsenal. And if you have dietary restrictions that require access to protein-heavy snacks and meals, or a houseful of growing children to keep fed, it can be a boon, because you can cook three different meats or a couple of dozen hard boiled eggs perfectly all at once, and then stash in the fridge for last minute zhuzhing.
Having said all of that, if you are someone who does not entertain regularly and has a good set of dishes that you are used to cooking for yourself day to day, they are not inexpensive gadgets and you could probably take a pass. There is little that they do that cannot be achieved with a low oven, a slow cooker, or your smallest burner on the lowest setting. They also work best with vacuum-sealed food, the Ziploc bag method is possible but always imperfect, so you do have to think about the potential need for investing in a food saver as well. But the good news is that if you do, you can freeze your meats in the vacuum sealed bags and cook straight from frozen in the sous vide.
For me, the game changer that made me pull the trigger was Passover. I often serve leg of lamb for Passover, which is best at medium rare. Hard to achieve when you don’t really know how long the service will go, and whether anyone will want a second bowl of matzo ball soup before the entrée. Cooking my lamb sous vide means that it is perfectly medium rare all the way through when the guests arrive, and all I have to do is sear and carve before serving. Bliss.
My best advice if you are contemplating a sous vide, see if you have a pal with one they could loan you, or if your local library does equipment loans (you’d be surprised how many do!) and experiment a bit before investing.