When I initially took advantage of a Woot daily deal on a Rival Food Vacuum Sealer, I thought maybe at best, I was going to be able to really take advantage of my Costco membership and actually start buying some of the bulk meat packages. I was looking forward to taking advantage of the discounts available for buying in bulk because now I’d have a way to actually save the meat in the freezer without getting freezer burn by the time I finally got around to using it all up. The last thing I expected that it was going to lead to two additional purchases and drastically change how I cook in my own home.
When the vacuum sealer from Woot showed up, I was hooked. I got a good deal on the unit, I spent a total of $24.99 for the sealer which was very reasonable for an entry level machine. The unit came with four bags, so I went to the store and bought some bags in the form of a FoodSaver roll that lets you custom make bags to your choice of size. And within a few days I was really enjoying the ability to vacuum seal food and finding the Rival unit to be decent but lacking in the ability to cut off the vacuum and move directly into sealing if I didn’t want to completely remove all the air. Also the Rival unit operated by applying pressure to the lid until the hands free operation light came on, at which point it would then take over and continue sucking out all the air until it could suck out no more then activate the sealing mechanism. The lid required quite a bit of pressure to activate it, which is fine, but I could see the complaint I later saw from a lot of people commenting on the unit in online reviews. But ultimately, I decided I was going to need a fancier vacuum sealing unit for my needs.
The Rival Vacuum Sealer was great as an introduction to the joy of vacuum sealing, but since I felt like a fancier unit would meet my needs better, I started to look around at what my options were. It seemed that the more higher end machines are made by FoodSaver or rather are branded under the FoodSaver name. It turns out that the company that owns Rival, also owns FoodSaver and Seal-A-Meal, meaning all three brands are made by the same company and are able to use the same bags interchangeably. Coincidentally, the same company also owns Ball and Kerr brands of mason jars and with a special hose (included with the fancier vacuum sealers) and a jar sealing adapter (available separately) the vaccum sealer is able to vacuum seal mason jars as well.
So now that I was looking for a fancier model vacuum sealer and it looked like it was going to be a FoodSaver brand one, it was now to figure out where to get the best deal on one. I looked at local stores and it was pretty much a choice between Wal-Mart, Target, Bed Bath And Beyond, and Costco as the most likely local options. I didn’t much like the selection available on the machines. Ultimately, I ended up checking out QVC.com and watched a couple of presentations for the various units and decided I liked the one that was able to be folded up against the counter. It was $95 and was available for four payments, so with the shipping and tax charges made it about $28 a month for the next four months. Not a bad deal in my opinion. The nice thing with this unit is that it had room to store the vacuum bag rolls inside the machine and the folding up against the counter makes it nice to get it out of the way (in fact, it’s right behind the Sous Vide Supreme Demi featured in the photo at the start of this blog entry in case you didn’t notice it in the picture.)
One of the selling points they made in the QVC presentation I viewed for the vacuum sealer was that the FoodSaver bags are able to be microwaved and boiled as ways to prepare the food that’s been sealed into the bags. Well I’m not so sure I want to be microwaving food in plastic bags but I thought I would Google what things would be best to cook by boiling the FoodSaver bags. And in the process of researching this I came across the process of cooking known as “Sous Vide.” Sous Vide is French for “under vacuum” and the process entails vacuum sealing food and cooking it in a precisely controlled temperature water bath. So I changed my focus of my research and started investigating the Sous Vide method of cooking.
Sous Vide cooking has been employed in high end restaurants for years. In fact, highly rated Michelin star restaurants have been knocking the socks of customers with this method and it’s amazingly simple and more difficult to screw it up than it is to just do it right. The main reason why it hasn’t become better known is that the equipment to employ Sous Vide style cooking is very expensive that basically it was only practical for high end restaurants to use. The water bath essentially uses immersion circulators to circulate the water at a very precise temperature (think a very fancy Crock Pot that’s able to maintain temperature within one degree plus or minus of the temperature it’s set on). And up until recently, it’s required the use of equipment designed for science labs to achieve this.
Using steak as the example, the so called “perfect” steak is one that is prepared to a medium rare temperature where the center of the steak reaches a temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit. Using traditional cooking technique, in order to cook a steak, the steak is grilled at a high temperature and flipped while cooking to get the internal temperature up to the 134 degrees, however, by the time the center of the steak reaches 134 degrees, the exterior has already been over cooked at a higher temperature trying to get the middle up to temperature. The traditionally cooked steak ultimately looks like a cross section of the earth and the various layers indicating the different temperatures the steak had been while cooking.
In Sous Vide, the vacuum sealed steak gets put in a water bath set for 134 degrees and is kept in the water bath long enough for the entire steak to be cooked through at 134 degrees all the way through. It’s impossible to overcook the steak because the highest temperature it can achieve is 134 degrees to match the temperature of the water. So the advantage here is that the steak gets perfectly cooked to 134 degrees and can remain in the water bath indefinitely, it doesn’t require being removed at precisely the right time like traditional cooking to ensure it gets cooked properly. For restaurants, this is fantastic, because they can cook the steaks all day and then when a customer orders the steak, they can remove one of the pouches from the water bath and then finish preparing it just before serving it. The steak stays moist and juicy cooking in its own juices in the sealed pouch until it’s ready to serve.
But there is an additional step for cooking a steak with the Sous Vide method. Essentially the water bath is “poaching” the steak, and the edges of the steak don’t look all that appetizing fresh out of a Sous Vide pouch. So what to make the steak perfect, we just need to give the steak a seared crust. So whether the steak is seared for about a minute on a pan, or a grill, or a cooking torch. Here the purpose is just to give the exterior of the steak a little caramelization, as the interior is already perfectly cooked, we don’t have to sear it for long. Essentially Sous Vide allows any one to make a perfectly cooked steak without being a culinary master. And it’s not just steak that can be done, pretty much any kind of protein such as chicken, turkey, pork, fish, and even more exotic options like duck and lamb or whatever kind of protein you want to cook. Vegetables can also be done to amazing effect in Sous Vide.
I personally love steak and while I usually like my cooked to medium well or well done (which most steak lovers consider blasphemy) but I want to make sure mine is cooked. I don’t want my steak still mooing which is what I consider the rare and medium rare steaks to be. But I was fascinated by the Sous Vide cooking method. One of the reasons why I don’t do more cooking at home is I’m not a cook, but if it’s possible to perfectly cook foods and not have to be stuck in the kitchen preventing my food from being over cooked, I just might be willing to cook more often. I love the “set it and forget it” aspect of Sous Vide and the fact that the method is also able to take cheaper and tougher cuts of meat and turn them into tender and delicious meals, it looks like it would be a cost effective way of eating better at home too. Now the trick was to find to get a sous vide cooker for a reasonable amount of money.
Naturally when I was researching Sous Vide, the Sous Vide Supreme kept coming up in my searches. The Sous Vide Supreme is a device made for the home market to bring Sous Vide simply into the home kitchen. The flagship model of their cooker is $399 and their newly released Demi models which are slightly smaller sell for $299 and come in a variety of colors. Another option for the home cook are “Do It Yourself” kits where you can add a temperature controller to an existing crock-pot or rice cooker you already own. While these could be bought for about $150 they create more of a “science experiment” looking device than a kitchen appliance because you have the crock pot or rice cooker hooked up to a separate device which has loose cords running into the crock pot for the temperature sensor. Not very appealing. And on the higher end, places like William Sonoma offer a home immersion circulator but it’s very expensive at $799, and requires either a giant stock pot or a commercial plastic tub to hold the water and not to mention is noisy to run while it circulates the water.
Ultimately, I decided on a Sous Vide Supreme Demi for several reasons. The immersion circulator was too expensive and far too noisy for me. And the Do It Yourself kits weren’t really much savings over the Sous Vide Supreme Demi because I don’t already own a rice cooker or compatible Cock Pot cooker, and by the time I added one, I’d be spending just as much as the Sous Vide Supreme Demi and I think the “science experiment” look would be too tacky to have in my kitchen. I’ll detail my decision more in a separate blog entry as this one is already running long. Suffice to say, it all started with a Woot deal on a entry level vacuum sealer and it ended up resulting in a purchase of a much better vacuum sealer and a new kitchen appliance that cooks the most amazing meals and easily making the two subsequent purchases the best combination of products I’ve bought in a very long time.