Editor's Note: Check out our updated review of sous vide circulators here.
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With the debut of the SousVide Supreme four years ago, sous-vide cooking—the process of cooking foods in precisely temperature-controlled water baths in sealed bags—hit the mainstream. Sort of.
The technique has been used by chefs and the food service industry for many years now. Initially, as a method of maintaining consistency in cooked products, and, in the last decade, as a means of achieving new textures and flavors that were previously unattainable using conventional techniques. (Read up a bit more about the basics of sous-vide cooking here).
The problem for home cooks has spanned familiarity, price, convenience, and design quality. Familiarity is slowly being solved as more and more advocates of the process teach the basics. Price, convenience, and design quality are bigger issues.
Scott Heimendinger, the Director of Applied Research behind Modernist Cuisine, thinks he might have the solution: The Sansaire, a new all-in-one sous-vide solution that is designed to work in any container and retails at just $199.
It's not for sale yet, but they've just launched a kickstarter campaign to roll out their first production run. You can make a donation and pre-order one for $179.
Is it worth the dough? We got our hands on the first working prototype to test it out. We cooked everything from steaks to eggs to slow-braised short ribs to put it through its paces.
In terms of functionality, it operates very similarly to the $1,000+ Polyscience models. You stick the base of the device into any vessel filled with water, turn it on, and adjust the target temperature. The unit immediately begins circulating water with a pump, while heating it to your specified temperature, with a precision level of 1/10th of a degree (you can switch between °C and °F).
The controls are sleek and integrated. You adjust the temperature by rotating a smooth silver ring at the top of the unit, and the digital readout is clearly visible, even across the room or with the lights out.
I was immediately impressed by how powerful the heating element is. We got our water up from 58° F to the target temperature of 130° F in under ten minutes—far faster than the SousVide supreme can do.
One of the major issues with the SousVide Supreme and other consumer units like the Codlo is the lack of an active pumping system. They rely on convection currents to circulate water—convection currents that by definition require regional temperature variations. This means that for extremely temperature-sensitive foods like eggs or fish, results can be spotty. Not so with the Sansaire.
Eggs cooked at 145° F came out with perfectly tender whites and soft yolks. Chicken at 145° F was succulent and juicy throughout, and salmon at 130°F was barely opaque, while retaining a custard-smooth texture.
The other problem I've had with my SousVide Supreme is its bulkiness. Even though the company came out with the half-sized SousVide Supreme Demi, the hassle of unplugging and lifting the whole unit to and from the sink can be enough to make me rethink my dinner plans. With the Sansaire, you can use any pot or heat-proof container in your kitchen. Cooking a steak sous-vide is as easy as putting on a pot of water for pasta.
There were a few minor issues with the test model we received. The microcontroller on occasion would read a couple tenths of a degree too high, and the power cable seemed to get very hot during a three day-long short rib braise, but both of these are known issues that are being addressed as we speak. Overall, I couldn't have been happier with build quality, functionality, design, and especially price.
Keep scrolling to take a look at some of the things we cooked.
Poached eggs cooked at 145°F for 43 minutes, served straight out of the shell with a drizzle of soy sauce and Frank's hot sauce, and a sprinkle of furikake. This is one of my favorite snacks, period.
Poaching soft-cooked eggs is a technique I learned from Nick Anderer, the chef at Maialino. The idea is to slow cook eggs, then drop them into simmering water for just a moment to set up a "skin" on the outside. The result is poached eggs that have the perfect texture of slow-cooked sous-vide eggs, but a slightly more conventional appearance and texture on their exterior.
I put the eggs on top of asparagus stalks cooked at 183°F for 40 minutes along with a drizzle of some extra-virgin olive oil. It was delicious.
Steak is one of the classic sous-vide preparations. This is a top sirloin, cooked at 130°F for 45 minutes, blotted dry, and seared in butter and oil in a hot skillet. See how juicy it is, and how all that juice stays in the meat?
I find that when cooked sous-vide, rare salmon becomes a little too soft for my taste, at least if I'm eating more than a bite or two of it. I prefer the slightly firmer, yet still extremely tender and moist texture of 130°F salmon. This piece was cooked in a bag with nothing but olive oil.
Pork chops cooked to 135°F and seared in butter and oil come out supremely tender, with a sweet, dark brown crust. The fat is only lightly rendered; if that's not your thing you can always give the fatty side an extra sear.
This is what chicken breast should look like. When cooked to 145°, the skin becomes very soft, allowing it to render quickly in a hot skillet. The trick here is to angle the skillet slightly while frying the chicken and nestling it into the bend of the skillet where the oil pools in order to get an even brownness all over.
Chicken this moist is nearly impossible without a sous-vide ciruclator.
And how about some glazed carrots? Cooked at 183°F for an hour with butter and a touch of sugar, this is just about as carrot-y a carrot as you could imagine. Sous-vide cooking has a way of intensifying flavors like that.
These tender, moist chunks of short rib were cooked at 143°F for 72 hours with nothing but a pinch of salt and pepper before being seared and incorporated into a hot-and-sour soup we made. The glazed carrots made their way into the dish as well. This is one of the most powerful uses of a dedicated sous-vide circulator capable of holding temperature for days at a time. Due to the low temperatures used, the meat comes out far more tender than would ever be possible inside a conventional oven or on the stovetop.
Interested in seeing more of it in action? Check out their Kickstarter page here.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Check out our updated comparison of the Nomiku, Sansaire, and Anova here!