You may remember a fair while back I started a little project to build my own sous vide machine – more properly known as an Immersion Circulator. As I mentioned then, using an Immersion Circulator isn’t something particularly new, it’s just mostly new to home kitchens. In the food world though, everyone from the highest end restaurants to catering businesses are serving food done via sous vide as a way to precisely control the temperature of the food being cooked. As for the concept in short, sous vide is where you vacuum seal food inside plastic bags (using gizmos like a Food Savor), and then ‘cook’ it in water at a very precise temperature – so the food will come out at exactly that temperature. Most of these machines have cost over $1,000, but over the past year there’s been a few home-use type entrants. I meanwhile, made mine for $75.
If you think about a typical cooking process, you’re trying to cook a steak to say – 130*F (medium rare), but you’re using heat at 500*F, so your window of ‘perfection’ is super small before it gets overcooked. But in the case of Sous Vide, the water temperature is set for exactly what I want my meat to come out as – so even if it stays in there longer due to the kitchen being all busy, that’s perfectly fine.
Anyway…back to my workmanship!
So, the whole process has taken a few months – mostly just due to other items pulling my time, and because of some minor technical issues. I‘ve been following SeattleFoodGeek’s instructions, which are super detailed on how to build it. And luckily since we work together, he was able to help out on one last piece using video conferencing to sort out the final issues:
But, if you know what you’re doing you can knock out the whole thing easily in a few hours each over the course of a few nights. Here’s a quick gallery of all the construction pieces:
From there, I had myself a little machine, ready to heat water. There’s a few key parts to it. First, is the heating coils:
Next is the temperature probe, which helps to determine if the coils need to be turned on or off:
Then we have the water pump – to the left of the coils. This is simply a small aquarium pump that keeps the water circulating (hence the ‘circulator’ part of ‘immersion circulator’). This ensures that the entire tub is kept at a constant temperature and removes any hotspots in the tub’s water.
And finally – we have the brains of the operation: The temperature controller. This piece watches the readings from the temperature probe, and then turns the coils on/off as required to maintain a very exact temperature. On the top number I have my current temperature (in Celsius), and on the bottom I have the target temperature. And then I have a big red button below it to turn it all on/off.
With my little machine all ready for action I filled up the tub (the Rubbermaid one, not the bathtub, or the turtle tank).
After that I opened up a package of steaks I picked up at Trader Joe’s and got to work vacuum sealing them. I used a cheapo vacuum sealer I got at Target, but really any of the Food Saver type ones will work for the most part.
From there I just stuck my steak in the little bag and got it all sealed up. Exciting stuff! The little food saver whirled and buzzed and before I knew it, I was done.
Now, into the hut tub they went! Party on!
I set my little machine to 51.5 degrees C (for a rare steak) and then followed the detailed cooking times on this page. That told me I needed 1hr and 32 minutes for a steak of the thickness I had.
About 90 minutes later, out of the tub it went. At this point, it’s fairly bland looking because I haven’t browned the outsides. But inside, it’s perfectly done. Before we can get to the insides though, we need to fix up the outsides. After all…what’s on the outside matters too!
You have basically too options – pan sear it, or use a blowtorch. And let’s be honest – if I have an opportunity to play with things like a blowtorch…I’m there!
I have both a large blow-torch (above), and also a smaller one that I normally use for things like Crème Brule.
Soon, the steak was looking pretty nice and ready to slice!
But, my exploits aren’t over yet. I then stuck in two steaks overnight and let them cook for 8 hours, and 12 hours. And this time, I used both the pan sear method (super high heat for just a very short period of time), and more blowtorch action. Both came out great, but I think I like the pan sear method a touch bit more:
(On the left – Pan Sear, on the right – Blow Torch)
From there, I went on and made a little steak slider for lunch – complete with some blow torched cheddar as well:
Finally, tonight for dinner I went ahead and made a pork tenderloin – also Sous Vide. The nice part here is that it came in a perfectly Sous Vide-able package from Trader Joe’s…so no mess!
I just simply tossed it in for about 3 hours, and then went off and did my workouts.
The Girl was quite intrigued by the pork submarine:
When I was ready to eat, I took it out, seared it, and called it done!
But, this is just the beginning. After all, I bought the big massive Sous Vide book – Under Pressure – from French Laundry chef Thomas Keller, as well as having the Fat Duck book – so tons of opportunity to make all sorts of really cool and incredibly whacky things. Woot!
To me the biggest benefit I see in this particular cooking technique is the workout factor. If I go and have a 2hr non-stop workout on a Tuesday night – the last thing I want to do is cook a nutritional dinner afterwards. But in the case of this, I can have the chicken or vegetables basically just sitting there ready for me whenever I’m done. Whether that be 2 hrs later, or 2.5 hrs later.
If you’re interested in this kinda stuff, there’s a ton of resources out there, here’s what I’m reading:
1) How to build your own Immersion Circulator for $75 – Seattle Food Geek
2) Another option for building your own using a Slow Cooker – Popular Science
3) The defacto standard on cooking times – The Practical Guide on Sous Vide
4) A great blog on cooking all sorts of things Sous Vide
5) Awesome books – Under Pressure, Fat Duck
6) The expensive immersion circulator option – Sous Vide Supreme
The practical guide also has a lot of good information on food safety issues and understanding them. Oh, and yup – you can do vegetables and fruits and all sorts of things this way too, I just haven’t done them quite yet. Soon!
Thanks all for reading!