Sous Vide Machines: Cooks Illustrated vs Amazon vs Good Housekeeping

August 30, 2015 · 7 comments

One of Rick’s more profound theories of life is this: “Things lead to things.”

The fact that we now own the Cook’s Illustrated “highly recommended” sous vide machine, the Anova Precision Cooker, is a perfect example of Rick’s Theory of Thingage in action.

Sous Vide-2Here’s how it went down, this time:

We had recently moved near a Costco, started buying mozzarella cheese and fresh salmon in bulk, and found ourselves shelling out for a kitchen vacuum sealer.

In addition to learning about the best and worst of vacuum sealers, our research also revealed that vacuum bagged foods were “perfect for sous vide cooking.”

Well, that’s just dandy! And here we thought we were just buying a vacuum sealer to portion and preserve 25-lb bags of coffee beans and raw almonds into household-of-two portions.

Um… remind me again what “sous vide” cooking is?

Sous Vide-3
Sous vide—French for “under vacuum”—is a simple, fuss-free and time-tested way to slow cook food sealed in airtight plastic bags. It uses longer and lower temperatures than normal in a precisely temperature-controlled water bath that’s heated to the food’s desired final temperature.

Sous vide cooking gently locks in essential juices and amplifies flavor (and exquisite textures) while preserving vital water-soluble nutrients and improving food safety (no guessing!).

The method is used in everything from poached eggs (reportedly producing amazing yolk textures unattainable by any other means) to delicate fish to custards to chicken to vegetables and even tricky “easy to overcook/dry out” cuts of inexpensive meat such as flank steak.

Better food with less fuss? Sign us up.

Sous Vide-7
We wanted a sous vide machine that, a) didn’t break the bank and, b) we could find room to store in our kitchen.

Both requirements were met by passing on the bulky and more expensive “water ovens” that have been the only options, until recently.

Instead, the answer lay in the more affordable, flexible, and storage-friendly stick “immersion circulator” styles, a conclusion that both Cook’s Illustrated and Good Housekeeping came to in their reviews and recommendations.


Anova Culinary Precision Cooker

(Technically speaking, the December 2014 Cook’s Illustrated “highly recommended” winner was the “Anova One,” but good luck finding one! Per Anova.com., the Anova One has been discontinued and has been replaced by the Anova Precision Cooker. Cook’s has committed to testing this new Anova soon. Stay tuned: we’ll update as soon as their results are in. Meanwhile, we’re loving the new model.)

At a current 4.5 star rating with over 300 reviews, the Amazon community thinks highly of this option. And at a (relatively) modest price tag of ~$180 USD, the Anova Precision Immersion Circulator—and sous vide cooking in general—is now within reach of us mere mortals, as opposed to being the quiet little secret of high-end restaurant chefs.

Even-tempered, quiet, gentle, a quick clean, and low maintenance… the Anova would make a terrific roommate.

Good Housekeeping reviewed two different sous vide machines, the Sansaire and the Nomiku.


Sansaire Sous Vide Immersion Circulator

Good Housekeeping gave them both an enthusiastic thumbs up without expressing a preference between the two. Great! But, not that helpful if you just want to know what the best sous vide machine is.

Once again, the Cook’s review shed some light on things. They ranked the Sansaire as their second-placed “recommended” option, and here’s why:

It’s about the outport, the vent where the water is circulated back into the pot after a trip around the heating element. The Sansaire has a fixed outport, meaning you can’t adjust where the flow of water is aimed in the container. The Anova, on the other hand, has a rotatable outport, meaning if the water churn is too vigorous for delicate items, you can rotate it to deflect against the wall of the pot instead of directly into the water.  This is, apparently, important if you don’t want your eggs to jostle audibly (and one presumes, in a manner threatening breakage) against the wall of the cooking container.

Albeit with roughly one third the number of reviewers, the review crew at Amazon rank the slightly more expensive Sansaire with a shade higher rating (4.6 stars) than the Anova. Why a higher ranking? This is not known at this time.

What is known is that no one reviewing the Sansaire complained about noisy eggs.


Nomiku Sous Vide Immersion Circulator

Cook’s Illustrated placed the Nomiku in their “recommended with reservations” spot, citing the squint-inducing “postage-stamp sized” display and narrower (and this is an important factor) water maximum-to-minimum range that meant more frequent monitoring and refills during a multi-day cooking task.

Amazonians were only so-so about the Nomiku, giving it 3.7 stars over ~180 reviews. Meh.

Enough about the machinery. Here’s how our first foray into Sous Vide Land went.

Sous Vide-4
We decided to try our new Anova out on the inexpensive $8 eye-of-round roast that Rick cut into 2-inch thick steaks.

Sous Vide-5
A healthy dose of salt and pepper on both sides—with our aromatic-of-choice, a sprig of fresh rosemary—as seasoning…

Sous Vide-6… a quick pit stop at our FoodSaver V3840 to seal in all the lean yet juicy loveliness, and into the tub they went for their 131° 24-hour water spa treatment. (More on time and temperature below.)

BTW, the Anova was super easy to use:

  • Clamp to stock pot or other suitable container
  • Fill with lukewarm-to-warmish (below the desired cooking temperature) water to somewhere between the “maximum” and “minimum” lines, depending on how big your bagged goodie is
  • Plug it in
  • For our North American buddies: hold down the “play” button for three seconds to switch between Celsius and Fahrenheit, or vice versa for the flipside
  • Dial the front wheely thing to the desired temperature
  • Hit “play”
  • Go away for anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 days, depending on what you’re cooking

Sous Vide-8(In a complete aside: dontcha love the chef poster Rick painted?)

To make sure the bagged meat stayed totally submerged during the process, we clamped the bags in place, per a random online recommendation (probably from a Sansaire user). In hindsight, the circulation feature wasn’t torrential enough  to make that 100% necessary, but hey… safety first.

On that note, be sure to read the Anova manual before starting use, which clearly states, and I quoth directly from the Anova Precision Cooker user manual:

Sous Vide-16
Whoops! Luckily, we caught it in the first hour of operation. We whipped our immersion circulation-enhanced stock pot off our brand-new Cambria quartz countertop and on to our trusty, indestructible butcher block. No harm, no foul.

Right around the same time that we discovered the kitchen safety info, we also stumbled on a food safety recommendation, which said that the minimal temperature necessary to safely heat meat for the length of time we had planned is 131°F.

Rightio. Two clicks forward of the handy temp wheel, and there we were at 131°F for the next 23.5 hours.

About 14 hours into the process, we noticed that the water level had diminished slightly due to evaporation, so we topped it up a little and loosely tented a piece of aluminum foil at the top of our stock pot, but other than that, it was a completely hands-off gig.

Sous Vide-9A full 24-hours later and this is what we removed from the bag: an inexpensive cut of beef cooked to a perfect medium.

However, as is the case for all sous vide meats, the external presentation needed a little touch up via a quick sear (think hot grill, hot pan, deep fry, etc.) to add that crispy, flavorful layer that every carnivore craves.


Fancy Schmancy Kitchen Torch Attachment

Apparently, there’s a fancy schmancy kitchen torch attachment that you clamp on to a standard propane cylinder torch that will make the searing even more exciting official effective, but we don’t have the fancy schmancy gizmo —yet—so Rick seared them briefly on both sides in a lightly-oiled saute pan.
Sous Vide-10I meant to take a photo of the meat getting its quick sear, but somehow I got distracted and lost the moment.

Oh well.

I now have this exquisite photo of one of my favorite things: an upturned sleeve snugged firmly against the very cherished forearm of a lovely man cooking me a delicious dinner.

Sous-Vide-12
Ahh….

It was moist, flavorful, tender and perfect all the way through.

 Sous Vide-14From Michael Pollan in “Food Rules” to gurus in Psychology Today, those in the know are saying that it’s a good idea to leave a little food on your plate at the end of a meal.

I don’t think this is what they meant, but I did force myself not to eat it anyway, just for the sake of personal discipline.

I gave it to Winston instead.


Helpful Sous Vide Resources

Sous Vide Cookbooks


Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide

This is a well-rated and gorgeously produced volume by Thomas Keller, chef and author of The French Laundry Cookbook and Bouchon among others. According to the official Amazon.com review by Arthur Boehm:

The book makes no bones about being addressed to professionals. Typical recipes, like Marinated Toy Box Tomatoes with Compressed Cucumber-Red Onion Relish, Toasted Brioche, and Diane St. Claire Butter, involve multiple preparations and dernier cri ingredients, and thus resist home duplication.

Given we have no idea what “dernier cri” ingredients might be—”behind the scream”?—we don’t want ’em and are more interested in the simple, fuss-free aspects of sous vide cooking, so we’re leaving this one on the shelf at Amazon.

However, if you’ve got a coffee table book-loving, trend-conscious foodie on your Christmas list, go for it!

 


Modernist Cooking Made Easy: Sous Vide

Published in 2014 (aka, newer) and available in paperback for around $20 (Kindle for $10), this more modest tome by passionate home cook, Jason Logsdon, gets high marks from reviewers looking for a solid primer with easy recipes.

Sous Vide Cooking Timing Chart

One of the first things we noticed about our new Anova Precision Cooker was, well, its precision. The temperature is calibrated to 0.1°, which instantly appealed to the geek in both of us as we imagined the prospect of producing perfect, predictable results with any food we cook.

But, as is the case for the rest of life, it’s always a bit more complicated than that.

Yes, the Anova Precision Cooker will keep a water bath at a precise temperature for a specific time period, but good luck finding a time/temperature chart that’s equally exact!

When searching the web for guidance on how long to cook our first dish (the 2″ thick eye of round steaks above) and at what temperature, we noticed right away that different “authoritative” sources don’t seem to agree on much of anything except how to cook root vegetables (183°F or so for 1-4 hours-ish):

Anova
Codlo
ChefSteps
°F
Hours
°F
Hours
°F
Hours

Beef Roast (Med Rare)

134°
1-4
131°
4:30-6:30
140°
6-14
Beef Brisket (Med Rare)
134°
8-30
131°
24-36
149°
16-24
Pork Roast
160-176°
12-30
167°
8-12
144°
3-4
Baby Back Ribs
165°
4-36
Leg of Lamb (Med Rare)
134°
10-48
131°
8-24
Chicken Breast
146°
1-4
143.5°
1-3
149°
1-2
Chicken (Dark Meat)
160°
4-8
149°
1.5-3
149°
1.5-4.5
Fish
126°
0:20-0:30
122°
0:30
122°
0:40-1:00
Egg (Creamy Yolk)
143°
1
Egg (Thick Yolk)
147°
1
148°
1
Egg (Hard Yolk)
160°
1
Root Vegetables
183°
1-4
183°
1-4
185°
1-3
Fruit (Apple)
134°
1-4
183°
0:45-1:30
154°
1:45-2:30
Sources: Anova, Codlo, ChefSteps

Interestingly, we also noted that most of the temperature recommendations we found were well below the thresholds considered safe by the USDA:

Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures

Food
°F
°C
Beef / Pork / Veal / Lamb
145°
62.8°
Poultry
165°
73.9°
Eggs
160°
71.1°
Fish / Shellfish
145°
62.8°
Source: USDA

How could the range be so wide, especially when sous vide enthusiasts tout the added safety benefits of the method? Not to mention our own experience, which is that we wouldn’t have wanted the steak any more well done than it was, and that was accomplished at a max temp of 131°F?

We discovered the explanation to the temperature/food safety riddle in this chart that shows the “Danger Zone” for harmful bacteria (salmonella and E. coli).

According to the chart, bacteria is killed instantly at 145°F. Given that the USDA is responsible for providing recommendations to everyone in the U.S. cooking everything by every method, this is logically where they must weigh in for meat.

However, the nasty bacteria will also be killed off eventually at temperatures above 130°F, given adequate sustained cooking time. It’s the combination of time and temperature that yields food that’s safe, for sure, to eat.

Sweet.

But what about the wide range of target sous vide cooking times and temperatures recommended by different sous vide authorities?

Our conclusion is that sous vide cooking is part art, part science, part personal preference in food “doneness,” and part learning how to partner effectively and safely with a new machine in your kitchen.

Bottom line: we’re just going to have to enjoy spending a bunch more time hanging out in our kitchen together as we figure out what works best, for us.

Good Housekeeping review: What the Heck Is Sous Vide?

Cook’s Illustrated: Sous Vide Machines Review

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

website April 6, 2016 at 7:12 pm

Appreciating the commitment you put into your blog
and detailed information you offer. It’s awesome to come across a blog
every once in a while that isn’t the same out of date rehashed information.
Fantastic read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account.

Reply

Christina Sirtak Mabaquiao January 23, 2016 at 1:50 pm

Have you actually seen and/or tried the Joule from ChefSteps yet? I’m wondering how it’s going to compare with this one, especially considering the price difference.

Reply

Louise November 3, 2015 at 11:57 am

Are there any issues with using this wee gizmo in hard water?
Is it feasible to mke yogurt in “canning” jars at about 115F, or can the Anova be set at that temperature?

Reply

kathy November 14, 2015 at 9:09 pm

Hey Ouisa!
All sous vide machines need occasional descaling if used with hard water: just run for a few minutes with a descaler occasionally.
And, yes, the Anova can be set to 115 degrees to make yogurt. You just want to be sure to heat in a saucepan the milk you’re using to 185 degrees first, let cool to between 100-110, then stir vigorously with your yogurt starter (and whatever other ingredients you’re using) before settling it into the Anova bath for 24 hours at 115 degrees.

Reply

Ed October 12, 2015 at 12:11 pm

Just purchased an ANOVA today. Very psyched about it. If you are looking for someone who has recipes and already done the geeky/science stuff for you, I recommend you check out Kenji Lopez’s “The food lab”. It’s actually his incessant testing of sous vide times and temperatures for just about everything that convinced me to finally pull the trigger on one of these guys.

Reply

Nancy Renzullo August 31, 2015 at 1:01 pm

Chez nous sous vide. Has a nice ring to it. Xo

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: