Sous Vide Cooking: Healthy Breakthrough?

Sous vide cooking promises to preserve more nutrients—but at what price?

By Susan Toepfer

The large stainless steel container—bigger than a breadbox! More terrifying than a pressure cooker!— sat ominously on my kitchen counter for days before I got up the nerve to open it.  Not exactly an early adopter— I was the last woman in suburbia to purchase a microwave oven (c. 1993) –I am further constrained by decades of accumulated health and environmental warnings. Cooking in plastic? How can this be a good thing?
But the SousVide Supreme—the first such machine “designed for the home cook”—comes with a DVD introduction starring two doctors. Married to each other! And in lab coats! Both extolling the benefits of sous vide cuisine.
Sous what, you say? I hadn’t heard of it either. And yet it’s been around since the ‘70s, and is all the rage among such renowned chefs as Thomas Keller, who even wrote a sous vide cookbook. You might even have been in a restaurant savoring a perfectly broiled medium rare steak, little suspecting it had just come out of tepid water.
Sous Vide—French for “under vacuum”—is a technique involving sealing food in plastic packages and cooking it at low, consistent temperatures for a very long time. There’s a lot of mathematical mumbo jumbo involved, which seems to boil down to: You lose fewer nutrients and produce consistent, tender results. Sort of a crock pot for rich people, a home version of Sous Vide is available for around $449 (plus taxes and shipping) from SousVide Supreme. You need the big machine because it would be impossible to maintain a steady temperature by, for example, heating water on your stove. You also need a vacuum sealer—-and the SousVide Supreme version will cost you an additional $129.
Day One: Scallops Sous Vide
Since my husband isn’t home tonight, I figure it’s a good opportunity to kill the proverbial two birds (or sea creatures): He hates scallops, which I love, and he has also made it quite clear he wants nothing to do with this testing (“You’re going to boil steaks???”).
A recipe I find on the web says that by cooking scallops sous vide, I will avoid turning them into cracked, rubbery balls. What’s more: I’ll never want to eat them prepared another way again!
Sounds great, except I never found preparing scallops especially challenging. Also, the recipe comes from a cook who boasts a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. This does not make sous vide sound like a snap.
It isn’t. By the time I’ve read through the recipe (you have to cook the scallops twice, first in the water bath, and then quickly searing them stovetop), and filled and plugged in the scary machine, it’s 8 pm. I decide to bag it and instead saute the scallops and whisk them into my usual sauce (butter, minced garlic, minced shallot, lemon juice, white wine, oregano, red pepper and crème fraiche). It takes about 10 minutes.
Day Two: Lamb Chops Sous Vide
Okay, today’s the day. Not putting it off any longer! Fill the machine with water, plug it in, set it….and wait. And wait. It takes about a half hour to reach 134F, then another 10 minutes to get back to that temperature once the lamb chops are plopped in.
I’m using the “Succulent Lamb T-Bone Chops” recipe that comes in the instruction book. You water-bathe ‘em then quickly brown before serving.
First hurdle: Vacuum sealing. I seem to be able to handle the sealing part, just not the vacuuming. The pricey SousVide Supreme Vacuum Sealer doesn’t do the job as well as the supermarket pump I once bought for maybe $10. It takes me 45 minutes to make six little pouches.
Also, I realize too late I had underestimated the cooking time—by mistake, I read “two hours,” the time for the “Steaks in Browned Butter” on the facing page—when, bizarrely, the lamb chops need three hours.
“Which would you prefer—lamb chops at 9:30 or pasta right now?” I ask the spouse.
Twenty minutes later we’re twirling linguine with cherry tomatoes and artichoke hearts.

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