I promise I am not turning my blog into a sales blog! But I started a conversation in Facebook comments that required a little more space, so I’m moving it here so that I can rave about my love of the Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker. (And yes, that’s an affiliate link, but feel free to use Amazon Smile or some other affiliate site instead — or, you know, if you feel strongly that Amazon should get all the profits of its sales, use Amazon directly. Or buy somewhere else entirely. :))
I bought my Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker during Amazon Prime Day this summer because I thought it would be a convenient way to cook fish in the van without making the van smell like fish. I used to eat a lot of fish, but when I moved into Serenity, I stopped, because when your kitchen and bedroom are basically the same place, you wake up to leftover food smells and fish… eh. Not the nicest leftover food smell. Granola is much more pleasant.
A sous vide cooker works by heating up water to a precise temperature. The one I use, the Anova, is a wand-style immersion circulator. You attach it to the side of a container — I’ve been using the Instant Pot insert, but would like to get a plastic container eventually as they’re supposed to be more efficient. But it circulates the water and heats it up to whatever temperature you’ve set. You vacuum seal your food in plastic, either using the water displacement method or with a vacuum sealer, then put the food in the water, and let it cook slowly for a long period of time. It’s incredibly forgiving. Seriously, the cooking ranges offered on recipes are often things like “1-4 hours.”
The combination of the slow cooking and the vacuum sealing makes your food both tender and infused with flavor. One of the Serious Eats recipes describes itself as the most carrot-y carrots ever. Yep. Cook corn-on-the-cob with a little butter and it will be the most corn-on-the-cobby corn ever — every bite juicy and sweet and buttery.
And vacuum packing is a terrific way to make food last. I buy root vegetables (sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots), chop them up, individually vacuum pack them in appropriately-sized serving amounts. Then I pre-cook them using the Anova at 183 for an hour or longer. When I want to eat them, I open the bag, dump the contents into a frying pan (or the sauté setting on the Instant Pot or a baking dish in the oven), and cook them for a few minutes longer. Since they’re pre-cooked, it only takes 5-10 minutes more to have hot, delicious, fully-cooked, soft root vegetables. And if I put herbs or spices into the bag before sealing, they’re also richly flavored with whatever I’ve used.
Meat is the most well-known use for a sous vide cooker. Most of the raves about sous video cooking are about how well they cook steak and they’re true. But chicken breast also comes out delicious every time — moist and juicy and so intensely chicken-flavored. I’ve never been a huge fan of cooking chicken breast, because it’s just too easy to get wrong. By the time the middle is cooked, the outside can be dry and tough. Not with sous vide. When you cook sous vide, every bite is exactly the same amount of cooked. I assume you could overcook chicken and make every bite dry, but so far, not in my experience. I think you’d probably have to cook it for hours and hours.
One day recently, I ate white sweet potatoes sous-vide cooked with a spicy herb mix then finished in a frying pan; corn-on-the-cob sous-vide cooked with butter; and steak sous-vide cooked. When I finished, I looked at my empty plate and thought, “That wasn’t just one of the best meals I’ve ever cooked, it was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.” For some perspective on that, in a previous life, I worked at a magazine in San Francisco and ate meals in San Francisco restaurants on a business expense account. I’ve eaten at some incredible restaurants in my life. And the food I cooked in my van was absolutely competitive with the food that I paid serious money for which was cooked by professional chefs.
I actually felt sort of annoyed. Yes, it was delicious, but I’ve spent years teaching myself to cook and the best meal I’ve ever made for myself had nothing to do with my skills. It wasn’t even complicated! It was just a product of having purchased the right device and spent the time learning to use it. But there are some foods — steak, chicken breast — that I can’t imagine ever cooking another way again. I might have to, of course, if I’m camping in a place where I don’t have electricity, but I’m more likely to pre-cook my food while I have electricity and then finish it off on the grill or propane stove when I’m disconnected.
And there’s an interesting effect that I’ve noticed, too — I think that I eat less with sous vide cooked food. Doesn’t that sound weird? But every bite is perfect, so 1/3 of a steak feels like sufficient food. It’s as if with normal steak, I keep eating, wanting to have the perfect bite, and with sous vide steak, I have a perfect bite again and again and again and then… I’m willing to save the rest for later.
It does take some time and practice to figure out how to use it, though. Getting the food properly vacuum-sealed makes a big difference and I struggled with the water displacement method before buying a vacuum sealer that I’ve also struggled with. There’s a definite learning curve! It’s also important to get the food fully immersed in water and that’s sometimes been hard to figure out, too. Sometimes the bags float and setting a cup of water on top of the bag does not always work. Serious Eats suggests using a binder clip and a spoon, which I need to try once I have a binder clip available.
And, as always, the ingredients that you start with matter. Sirloin tips needed another hour or two, I think; the eye of round roast I made needed several more hours. Tougher cuts of meat are slower to get tender. Fresh fish is always going to be better than fish that’s been sitting in the freezer for a few weeks. And the corn has been delicious but I really can’t wait to try fresh new corn, the first of the season, because I think it’s likely to be mind-blowing. Plus, figuring out the right proportions of herbs and salt and oil to cook with the food is definitely a process — flavors are stronger than with standard cooking, so it’s easy to go overboard.
All that said, if I had to choose between my Instant Pot and my Anova, it wouldn’t even be hard. I’d keep the Anova. And if I had to choose between my immersion blender and my Anova… yeah, I’d go with the Anova. Ha, and if I had to choose between my micro-grater or my garlic press or both and the Anova, again, no contest. The only kitchen items I would keep over my Anova are my knives, because it’s impossible to cook without good knives.
So, yes, Instant Pot, lovely and useful and I’m glad I own it for things like making quick soup and stew. But the Sous Vide cooker is for food that makes you think, “Wow, I can’t believe I cooked this.”