Five Problems With Sous Vide Cooking

While cooking sous vide can have some awesome effects, it is far from perfect. In my two weeks of experimentation, I found five big problems with the technique.

  1. Sous Vide Cooking Is Slow Some things cook reasonably quickly, but they are outnumbered by the variety of foods that cook for hours, or even days. This would normally not be a huge problem, but - unless you are a professional chef (or Nathan Myhrvold) - you probably only have one set-up for cooking sous vide (see #3 and #5, below).
  2. Food Cooked Sous Vide Is Ugly Now, if you have a high-end vacuum sealer, you can apparently get some pretty cool results by shaping your food. Still, most food coming out of the water bath is unappetizing in color. Vegetable pigments break down. Meats end up in various shades of gray-brown. Saucing is recommended.
  3. You Can Only Cook One Thing At A Time Most of the point of sous vide cooking involves precise temperature control. Chances are, if you want to cook two things sous vide, you are going to want to cook them at different temperatures. With a single set up, you can't do that.
  4. It Doesn't Produce The Malliard Reaction This is related to #2, but it isn't just a visual problem. The Malliard Reaction and related chemical processes are responsible for adding a ton of flavor to food. You aren't going to get a nice sear or crust on food cooked sous vide, unless you add it afterward... which isn't always ideal.
  5. Sous Vide Equipment Is Expensive If you're good with wiring, you should be able to hack together a temperature controller on the cheap. If you're not, a temperature control setup will set you back hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Vacuum sealing equipment is not much better. You can use a $10 handheld unit, but I found it to be unsatisfactory. Air would sometimes be left in the bag, causing it to float to the surface of the water bath and cook unevenly. A good foodsaver would help, but a chamber sealer would be even better (and let you vacuum seal liquids, too).

Comments

I think this explicates my reservations well. I tend to like seared food and it seems like this won't generate that. Anything that benefits from long and slow seems like it's a winner, though, so this makes plenty of tougher (and thus typically cheaper) cuts of meat into winners. Chuck steak, pork or lamb shoulder, etc., all blossom. The other thing that really wins would be items like fish that really can't handle too high temps.

The price issue seems to be the biggest reservation. Thus I guess I agree that the admonition to concentrate on other techniques to develop your skills seems like pretty good advice, unless you've got some money to burn. While the notion of dropping a freshly browned chuck steak all sealed up in a bag and having kickass pot roast two days later seems pretty cool. I'm just dubious about whether it's >$500 worth of cool....

Stuart Broz's picture

Don't think of the result of the chuck steak as pot roast; it isn't. My brother described the resulting steak as being a bit like filet. I think it tastes more like prime rib than anything else.

If you eat a lot of beef, I can see this definitely being worth it. In the long run, you could save a ton of money by buying less expensive cuts of meat.

Don't think of the result of the chuck steak as pot roast; it isn't. My brother described the resulting steak as being a bit like filet. I think it tastes more like prime rib than anything else.

Interesting. Yeah, this could save a bunch of money but it does require a substantial up front cost.

I had the exact same reservations as you re: price until I read how to do it at home. this should help: http://sousvidedeeds.blogspot.com/2010/02/sous-vide-at-home-cheaply.html

Stuart,

1. Sous vide cooking is slow.
True, this cooking technic will not make you saving time but will help you managing in a better way your time. You can prepare in advance your meal, chill it and store it in your fridge and reheat it whenever you want.

2. Food cooked sous vide is Ugly.
The "unappetizing" vu of the food is the result of the non exposure to oxygen during the cooking phase. I made some beef filet some days ago. The colour was grey. I let it 15 minutes in the air and the meat was of a marvellous rosé. This is just a question of habit. I perfectly understand what you mean and had the same feeling than you when starting sous vide.

3.You Can Only Cook One Thing At A Time
True, but you can prepare them in advance.

4 It Doesn't Produce The Malliard Reaction
True, and I would add that the smell of the food cooked in a oven is missing in the kitchen when cooking sous vide.

5 Sous Vide Equipment Is Expensive
Yes and no. Depends if you want to have a perfect reproductive result or not. PID temperature controller and a rice cooker are competitive in price and results are good. The sousvidesupreme is a better looking and a little bit more expensive version of the PID controller and rice cooker. Rolls Royce to cook sous vide is definitely an immersion circulator. Price of immersion circulator is drastically going down with some high quality equipments that can be found below 450€.
I agree with you about the vacuum sealer. A quality vacuum sealer is highly recommended but a vacuum chamber is not necessary.

Jean-François

Stuart Broz's picture

Jean-François,

I generally agree with your points here. I like the technique overall, but I wanted to address some reasonable concerns that people could have.

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