Treasure

Why I love my sous vide wand

What is sous vide? This could be the best way to cook salmon

Treasure editor Dana Oland makes salmon with a sous vide wand, which cooks food slowly in a low temperature. It takes one hour to cook salmon, and two hours a steak, but Oland highly recommends this slow-cooking method.
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Treasure editor Dana Oland makes salmon with a sous vide wand, which cooks food slowly in a low temperature. It takes one hour to cook salmon, and two hours a steak, but Oland highly recommends this slow-cooking method.

Two hours to cook a steak? Are you serious? It almost doesn’t seem worth it, but after one bite, I was hooked.

Welcome to my shiny new obsession.

It all started when I bought myself a sous vide wand (pronounced soo veed), and this method of slowly cooking food with heated, circulating water has rocked my culinary world.

Here’s how it works and why I’m so excited about sous vide:

This is the ultimate slow-and-low cooking method.

It’s all about the physics of water. You see, food is mostly water and when you cook a steak or chicken, you’re actually “boiling” the water inside the meat. So the inside cooks more slowly than the outside. That’s why it’s so easy to overcook one or the other.

So, instead of using heated air or a super hot metal pan to cook from the outside in, you cook the whole piece of meat to an exact temp at the same time.

Then you finish the process with a quick sear or char on the outside.

The first thing I tackled was a chicken breast. I would normally bake it in an oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or so. With sous vide, I cooked it for an hour in the water bath, then seared it in a hot pan with olive oil. It came out tender, juicy and thoroughly infused with the flavors of garden-fresh rosemary, lemon and just a hint of garlic.

Perfect.

My version of Starbucks’ sous vide egg-bites, rib eye steak you can cut with a fork, a Cornish game hen that nearly brought tears, and scallops — firm, moist and creamy not fishy — all perfect.

(Note: You still have to buy quality ingredients. It won’t make cheap cut of meat taste like a better one.)

Until recently, sous vide ovens were bulky and expensive.

Enter the wand.

I chose Joule by ChefSteps because it comes with a cool app. You can set the temperature and time on your iPhone, iPad or Android. It gives you recipes straightforward directions and step-by-step video clips. And if a recipe provides temperature options, as for a burger, the app gives you images of each result.

It doesn’t mean I’m turning my back on my oven, but I’ve become addicted. I use it three to four times a week.

measure twice, cook once

Sous vide is French for “under vacuum.” Food is vacuum sealed while it cooks in the circulating water. French chef Georges Pralus discovered it being used in large industrial food operations such as hospital cafeterias back in the 1970s. He adapted it to cook expensive foie gras without wasting a morsel.

The wand heats the water to the internal temperature you want your meat, chocolate mousse, salmon or whatever food item it might be. You place it in a zipper-style bag and press the air out. You cook some things, such as homemade yogurt, in jars. (I bought a cheap vacuum sealer. It works well but the bags are more expensive.)

Because it’s so precise, it’s important to know exactly what you’re cooking. I weigh and measure everything to get the timing right. A 1-inch-thick pork chop takes an hour. If it’s 1-1/2-inches thick it takes 90 minutes. Cooking a steak can take a couple of hours. Hard boiled eggs are done in 15 minutes, but duck legs take 16 hours.

When the food reaches the set temperature, it’s done. You can hold it in the water bath for longer because the temperature will not increase.

Food nerd

I’m totally geeked out. Even when I’m talking to strangers, I inevitably pull out my phone and show off sous vide. I am fascinated with how and why it works, what it can do and who invented it.

So I went to the source — chef, co-founder and CEO of ChefSteps Chris Young. He heads a community of chefs, engineers and software developers who share an interest in food. Young used sous vide in the early 2000s at the British bistro The Fat Duck.

“We were buying used lab equipment and turning it into ovens, poaching lobsters and whatnot,” said Young, who now lives in Seattle.

He left The Fat Duck in 2007 to work with Nathan Myhrvold’s “Modernist Cuisine” project. He became a co-author of a cookbook set about the literal science of cooking.

“We were really surprised that it was such a success,” Young says. “We were writing for chefs, for us. But there are a lot of people who are open to new technology and creative and more efficient ways to cook.”

That gave him the idea to found ChefSteps.com with fellow culinary wizard and chef Grant Crilly, who also collaborated with Myhrvold. Crilly oversees the visuals on the app and is the animated culinary nerd on the ChefSteps videos.

I feel like this is my gateway to a whole new world because this makes something that seemed so lofty, completely accessible. Now, I’m finding myself curious about other cool techniques you can do at home like spherification — making little caviar-like balls of flavor — and using a nitrogen charger to make cake. I’m also getting more courageous with what I tackle at home. A few weeks ago I cooked an octopus!

So, what’s for dinner? Who knows? It’s all so exciting.

Dana Oland: 208-377-6442, @DanaOland

How to get one

Joule Sous Vide is $179 for plain white, $199 with stainless steel accents, (the devise is the same) at ChefSteps.com or at Sur la Table in The Village at Meridian, 3540 E Longwing Lane, suite 160.

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