But it almost wasn’t. It almost got delayed until sometime in the fall.
Rewind to June 28th, 2012. The headline on a Serious Eats blog post reads “Is the Nomiku Portable Sous-Vide Cooker the Solution We’ve Been Looking For?” The Nomiku, created by some techies in the Bay Area, a Kickstarter/Blogger/Home cook phenomenon that is a pretty cool story about a DIY sous vide solution that turned into the highest-grossing food project on Kickstarter. There’s been constant press about this thing…but one year later and no one actually has a Nomiku. I pre-ordered mine when it was announced that it would arrive in March. That date came and went. Next it was July, now it’s “Fall.” As much as I’d love to support a start-up passion project like this, as soon as the delay was announced, I jumped ship and got my $1 deposit refunded.
Back when the Nomiku was announced, the next closest competitor price-wise was the SousVide Supreme demi-oven, which has a limited capacity and no circulator. The cheapest immersion circulator available? PolyScience’s professional model at $799. Quietly, PolyScience introduced a $499 “creative” series model designed for the home user, but when Nomiku announced it’s retail price of $359, price won out even though PolyScience is perhaps the heaviest hitter in this arena. Then, July hits and Nomiku announces yet another delay. The project has been plagued with design issues, production delays, and certification woes. To their credit, they have apparently addressed all these issues and loyal backers of their project will eventually get to cook sous vide. But I’m impatient, and once the delay hit, I checked out the Williams-Sonoma website to find that the PolyScience model was on sale for $399 (with a Cambro thrown in…so if you count the price of that, it’s more like $379). $40 extra dollars would get me a more powerful heater, more precise temperature control (0.1 degree vs. the Nomiku’s 0.2), and a product made by one of the most trusted names in the small but growing sous vide industry? All a pretty good deal. Available immediately? Done and done. Let’s get cooking.
(But first I should mention that on 8/7/13 Serious Eats pretty much answered its own question about the Nomiku from 6/28/12 with the headline “The New $199 Sansaire Sous-Vide Circulator is the Solution We’ve Been Waiting For.” My sister actually helped fund this one and barring any delays, it seems like it’ll ship almost at the same time as the Nomiku. The apparent specs are comparable to my PolyScience, adding further insult to injury to Nomiku backers.)
So what would be the inaugural meal cooked sous vide? Well, steak is probably the application most people are familiar with, but I’m usually pretty happy with my five to ten minute cooking method in a hot cast-iron pan and a nice accurate thermometer. What got me most excited about sous vide is a much humbler protein:
There it is, the first thing I ever cooked sous vide. An egg. The complex interplay of time and temperature that goes in to perfecting an egg yolk is discussed ad nauseum on blogs that are far more excellent and technical than mine. All I knew was that I wanted 62 degrees Celsius for about an hour.
The result is a yolk that is custardy, and whites that almost disappear on the tongue. It takes some getting used to…not only does the texture of the yolk depend on the temperature “history,” egg whites like these are something that were previously impossible by conventional cooking methods…frying, boiling, poaching etc.
This shapeless cloud of egg white might even appear raw, but there is absolutely no raw flavor (and having tried the raw egg in a glass, a la Rocky, I’m all too familiar with what that flavor is). It tastes wonderful, but from a presentation standpoint, not so great. There are some fixes to this, with a 62 or 62.5 degree egg that actually holds the shape of an egg. One could pre-boil the egg for a few minutes to set the white, while avoiding cooking the yolk. There’s also the option of giving a slow-cooked egg a quick poach afterwards to set up an outer skin.
But I went with a different strategy, by dropping it into a hole cut out of some excellent shokupan from the Mahorobu Japanese bakery in Sacramento and toasting it in butter. In order to make it a complete and balanced meal, there’s a spoonful of chow chow for some veggie intake.
This help set up the white, but it really isn’t necessary. The 62C egg is described as “the perfect egg to put on toast” by Dave Arnold on the Cooking Issues blog. I think another thing that might help is getting fresher eggs, which would help with avoiding the liquidy part of yolks that end up forming the stringy ugliness of poached eggs. For hard-boiled, eggs that are older are much easier to peel. But for other preparations, especially slow-cooked eggs, the fresher the better. This may be why this preparation is commonly seen in restaurants using a farm egg, which I would assume implies uber-freshness.
The farm egg at Empire State South in Atlanta is a good example of a slow cooked egg that has held its shape, and it’s a dish that I will relentlessly and shamelessly attempt to copy. In the future if I am entertaining, I will seek out the exorbitantly expensive farm eggs at the local markets, but for my own purposes I’ll just look for eggs with the highest Julian date I can find at the store.
So for eggs, sous vide cooking makes for results that can’t really be obtained otherwise, in addition to repeatability and predictability. With steak, as I said before, a 5 minute cook in a hot-ass pan and an accurate thermometer can pretty reliably get delicious medium rare results. Occasionally, there will be a screw-up (for example…the giant steak I had in Texas which I ordered medium rare and was fired more along the lines of steak a point or bleu). In the end I eat steaks infrequently enough that if it’s a little under or a little over I’m still okay with it. If I were to cook more than one steak and wanted them perfect and ready at the same time, sous vide would be perfect. Or…if I actually had some incentive to not tolerate failure even on a single steak, just for myself:
Yeah I think that’ll just about do it. The most expensive single serving of protein I’ve ever purchased. It’s not often you’ll find that Niman Ranch is the CHEAPEST option out of your ribeyes, but this 35 day dry-aged prime cut was actually less expensive than the Wagyu ($34.99/lb), and the certified Kobe ($99/lb). At the very least, they actually trim the cut down to only the useable part before weighing it. So yes…that is a 20+ ounce steak.
127 would be the goal internal temperature before a final sear, torch, and baste would bring it all up to just about 130. Either my Thermapen or my PolyScience is off by 0.1 degrees C…which I’m not gonna lie…kinda bothered me a bit though 0.1C is technically within the advertised specs. I dropped it in and left the house for 2 hours. When I got back:
Sous vide certainly makes for flawless execution. Edge-to-edge medium rare, and the funky, beefy, almost blue-cheese-like aroma flavor of dry-aged beef. It was verging on too much…almost exhausting to eat. I mean I finished it, but you know, I probably wouldn’t do it again (for about a week…until one of my co-interns brought over ribeyes that needed sous-viding).