It used to be that a sous vide setup required significant capital investment and a lot of space for equipment: a large water bath, a water pump, a heat regulator. But in recent years, several innovative, small-scale sous vide circulators designed for the smaller kitchen have made it to market, making the cooking technique a viable experiment for many restaurants, caterers and even home chefs.
So how can you choose the best sous vide setup for your needs? The answer to that question begins with the answer to the question: "What is your intended end use?"
Are you going to be cooking for a lot of people every day? Are you cooking weekly to store product ahead of need? Are you developing innovative new foods for your enterprise? Or are you a food aficionado who just wants to try something new in the kitchen?
Pay Attention To The Technical Specifications
When you are evaluating your options, there are five technical areas you should concentrate on:
- Accuracy How close to the intended cooking temperature will the heater keep the water?
- Stability Will the circulator/heater combo give you a steady rise in the water temperature, or will there be alternating temperature spikes and troughs to contend with as you approach temp?
- Speed How fast can the heating element bring the water in a given container up to temp? Do you need to heat a large volume of water quickly or a small volume of water slowly?
- Price Obviously, you'll want the most bang for your buck.
- Safety Features Temperature and power monitors, automatic cut-offs, temperature thresholds, etc.
Sous Vide For The Home
We've talked on this blog before about the rock star of the home sous vide market, the Nomiku. Ever since its successful Kickstarter campaign, the hand sized circulator/heater combo has captivated the attention of foodies everywhere. But it's not the only small circulator out there. Nor is it the cheapest.
The Anova Precision Cooker is a great option for sous vide entrants who are both space- and price-sensitive, writes freelance food blogger Tim Barribeau. The Anova Precision Cooker features a bright digital readout, is built with a flexible construction that allows it to fit into a wide variety of water containers and, best of all, costs about $100 less than a Nomiku. According to Barribeau, it's a good blend of functionality and efficiency.
Barribeau's only concern with the Anova unit, relative to the Nomiku, was that it doesn't have some of the safety features that might make new sous vide cooks and home users a bit more comfortable.
The Nomiku, for example, can remotely alert the cook if there is a power interruption during the cooking process, so food borne illnesses resulting from unintentional undercooking are less of a concern. The Nomiku is also engineered such that it can't heat beyond a certain temperature, so there are fewer worries about water containers melting or counters catching fire while the cook isn't monitoring. While these are certainly not commonplace occurrences for sous vide cooks, the Nomiku's added safety features will certainly make your insurance agent happier.
All-in-one units like the SousVant are also great for the beginner, in that they are easy to operate and clean. They are, however, a bit more expensive, so one should carefully weigh the tech specifications of a unit against the amount spent before completing a purchase.
Should I Use Sous Vide Techniques In My Restaurant?
If you're cooking in bulk or cooking ahead, yes. Absolutely. Sous vide is a wonderfully efficient cooking method—it's low on energy use, low on waste and high on flavor. And it doesn't take a lot of manpower to accomplish; it's as close to fire-and-forget cooking as you're going to get, and it augments flavor and texture to boot!
But should you go all-in on investing in large-scale sous vide equipment without first testing out the technique? Probably not.
You need to get comfortable with thinking as a sous vide chef. You should develop your skills until you can approximate cooking times without first having to look them up in a table. And you'll want to develop your own innovative food recipes, certainly. To that end, it might be better to first purchase an immersion circulator for your home kitchen and run some small-scale trials.