I’m not entirely sure why I’ve gotten interested in this (other than a vision of an easily prepared, perfect medium rare steak). In retrospect, this kind of gear occupies space, lots and lots of space. Nothing has arrived, plenty has been ordered and after looking at how large a 6 quart slow cooker can be, I’m wondering where I’d have the room for an 8 quart.

Maybe I stash the toaster oven in the basement for a bit. My wife wouldn’t like that but it would make sense during a ‘sous vide’ run.

Ok, so what’s sous vide, really? Specifically, though sous vide is used in the vernacular for a style of low temperature cooking, soud vide by itself only means using a vacuum to cook, and doesn’t necessarily mean a low temperature technique. Sous vide can be employed at high temperatures. You can do low temperature cooking without any vacuum, and one of the best sites on the Internet for technical detail on sous vide, low temperature, and related technique, the blog of the French Culinary Institute, puts it this way:

While I love a commercial vacuum machine, about 90% of what a cook wants to accomplish with low temperature cooking can be achieved without a vacuum machine. When Nils was at restaurant Aquavit he did a lot of low-temperature work with a circulator, but didn’t have a vacuum machine. Back then restaurants weren’t required to have a HACCP plan; he didn’t have a commercial vacuum because they cost too much.

Today many home cooks use the Food Saver vacuum for low temp. I don’t use my Food Saver any more. I use Ziploc bags, without a vacuum. I find Ziplocs easier than the Food Saver – I don’t have to hunt down the special bags, I can easily bag sauces (a pain with the Food Saver), I can bag hot foods (foods to be vacuumed need to be cold – more on that in the next primer installment). My Food Saver has been relegated to potato-chip-bag-resealer.

To note, the FCI has a number of primers on their site, on things like transglutaminase (meat glue), and at least three primers on sous vide and low temperature (charts with explanations, part 1, and part 2). The chart info is also combined into a nice little PDF that you can download and keep. I think the temperature charts, particularly the ones that discuss low temperature food safety, are worth the download.

On the Kindle, I have the book Beginning Sous Vide, and if I’m reading my twitter feeds right, Jimmy of @EatItAtlanta is currently reviewing Under Pressure, Tom Keller’s book on sous vide and low temperature cooking. On the blog Curious Cook, Harold McGee has a warning about the dangers of leaving food out too long at too-low temperatures. Temperature control is a serious component of any low temperature cooking foray. I recommend the PDF I mentioned earlier. Download a copy and memorize the bacterial safety charts.

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