Today, I got to hear Heston Blumenthal talk about a new piece of equipment that will allow people to cook food sous vide at home. He consulted on the development of SousVide Supreme, created by Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades. I arrived late because I was attending a talk by Jurgen Habermas and Charles Taylor earlier that afternoon, so missed the founders’ introduction and the early part of Chef Blumenthal’s presentation, but when I got there he was talking about how the Fat Duck came to be, the fact that he has been cooking the way he does–thinking about technology and science–for 15 years, and how useful sous vide is as a technique. He called it the single most important development in the kitchen in decades. The event was intimate and the chef generous with his time, so we got to chat a bit afterward, as he showed us the new, cheaper edition of the Fat Duck Cookbook, which has the exact same content as the deluxe edition from last year. He’s most proud, I got the feeling, of the third section of the book, which includes scientific contributions by his longtime collaborators. That’s what makes this book a long-lasting one; recipes age, but this information will always be of use. He was having dinner at Ssam Bar tonight and likes going to steakhouses and places like Katz’s while in New York, he told me.
Back to the product he was showing, since it is thanks to the courtesy of SousVide Supreme and its PR company that I got to hear Chef Blumenthal, after all. I have been wanting to buy sous vide equipment for a long time, but both space limitations and the expense stopped me. My first instinct is always to be skeptical of products and technologies that have been adapted for home cooks, since I am worried they will have been dumbed down and cheapened. So I went in not expecting to be blown away, but certainly curious. I was quite impressed with what I saw: SousVide Supreme seems simple to use (we could look at the machines but this was not a hands-on session for the guests), with just five control buttons. You can switch between Celsius and Fahrenheit measurements, which I appreciated since users will be spending a lot of time online looking for recipes from all their favorite experimental chefs, I would guess–at least I will. The unit is larger and taller than a microwave but still compact and light, while still accommodating a lot of food, we were told: Chef Blumenthal and the chef who assisted him cooked 12 bags of salmon and five bags of steak in one machine. A rack ensures that the bags are not stacked on top of one another and that water can circulate.
We were served soft scrambled eggs with white truffles, salmon (brined and without brine), chicken (with and without skin that had been browned after coming out of the water bath), steak, glazed eggplants, and poached pears. The eggs were very creamy, which can be adjusted by length of cooking time. The non-brined salmon was firmer and had a more complex flavor, which I preferred. The chicken and steak were like many others I’ve had before, so very good (with a preference for the browned chicken). The eggplants and the pears were outstanding. The texture of both was still a bit firm but also just the right amount of soft and they were full of flavors. These two dishes were also the most creative of the list, I would say. Which is why the glance I had at the user manual’s recipes was somewhat disappointing: the recipes it contains had no appeal to me. I have chi-chi tastes, which might be why, but it’s worth noting. So were I to get the machine, I would likely rely on other sources to cook in it, aside from using the cooking time grid.
So will I get it? Probably. SousVide Supreme costs $449 ($399 if you order before November 13), which is reasonable for something so convenient and versatile. It shares the advantage of the crock-pot in that it allows you to start a dish in the morning and come back to it finished at night, for example, but with much more control (and, let’s be honest, style). No chance of burning anything, for example. You can cook meals ahead of time and reheat them as needed. And you can play.