Sous-vide cookery is one of those mysterious things I keep hearing about, am dimly aware it is delicious, healthy, fashionable and complicated, but until this excellent sous-vide starter kit arrived, couldn’t have told you what it is, how it’s done – or whether it can be performed at all outside a restaurant kitchen.
Sous vide, then, is a method for gently cooking fresh food that has been vacuum packed in plastic, at scientifically precise temperatures for long periods – often more than 24 hours. One advantage is that food doesn’t lose any of its nutrients or flavour. Another is that you can cook complex dishes (as do many of the great chefs) and then store them in the fridge for three or four days, before finishing them off to serve. Thus – for the well organised, at least – it’s possible to have several near-ready-to-go dinner parties in place without resorting to the freezer, microwave or (as happened when Marks & Spencer’s ready meals first became available) to outright cheating.
This, the Discovery Sous Vide Promotion by US company PolyScience, demystifies (almost) sous vide for home use. There are two gadgets involved: a vacuum-sealer machine; and the heart of the system – a yellow device that clamps to the side of a normal saucepan (or a suitably shaped bowl), heats the water to the specified temperature and maintains that heat for as long as required. How long is that? Well, following the superb book Sous Vide: The Art of Precision Cooking, which can be bought alongside the kit, we cooked a spatchcock chicken for four hours at 68°C, with a browning blast in the oven; burgers (excellent) for an hour at 60°C; and meatballs for 24 hours at 55°C. The book has many recipes we didn’t get round to – ice cream, for example, in toast, sesame and balsamic flavours, no less.
My conclusion on this fiddly and slightly scary parallel cookery universe? It certainly makes startlingly good food, and it’s great for anyone trying to lose weight and wanting every precious calorie they eat to be enjoyable and nutritious. Plus, there’s the potential for impressive home entertaining without seemingly breaking a sweat. But be warned: it is strictly for the committed, non-dilettante; you have to study the manual and you won’t get anywhere by being half-hearted and hoping for the best.