I’ll admit it right now; I’m a fan of kitchen-oriented gadgets. I have several app-controlled meat thermometers, I love my WeMo-enabled Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker and Mr. Coffee Optimal Brew Coffeemaker, and I have turned an old iPad into my kitchen companion. The latest gizmo is the Anova Culinary Precision Cooker ($179), an app-controlled sous vide immersion circulator that can revolutionize the way you cook.
First, a bit about sous vide cooking. The phrase “sous vide” is French for “under vacuum,” which describes part of the cooking process. Basically, you take food, place it into a plastic bag (often with seasonings), take the air out of the bag and seal it, and then place it into a container of water with a pump and heater that circulates that water at a precise temperature — that pump and heater is the Anova Precision Cooker.
The food cooks at that precise temperature for a set amount of time, and at the end there’s usually some sort of finishing required. What’s wonderful about the sous vide method is that the item is cooked evenly at what would be considered a low temperature (131°F/55°C for steaks, for example) for a long time, and the inside is always cooked perfectly without overcooking the outside as you would with a grill. Being in a vacuum-sealed bag, the food also retains moisture. The finishing step usually adds a quick sear at high temperatures to the exterior of meat being cooked, both to get the textured “crust” and delicious flavors that browning adds.
So, now that you know everything about sous vide cooking, let’s talk about the Anova Precision Cooker. It’s a long, cylindrical device with a display on top. That display tells you the current temperature and time left for cooking, and it sits in front of the electronics that ensure the precise heat and that circulate the water.
You can use any sort of container for sous vide since the temperatures aren’t that high. Some people use repurposed ice chests; I decided to use a big pot that I use for cooking pasta. I filled it about 3/4 full with tap water, clamped the Anova Precision Cooker to the side, plugged it in, and then set it to preheat the water to 131°F.
My goal during a recent kitchen session was to cook three 6 - 8 ounce top sirloin steaks. To prepare the steaks, I just put salt and freshly ground pepper on both sides of the steaks, popped them into their separate bags, and then added about a teaspoon of butter to each. I didn’t use a vacuum sealer; instead, I just used regular zip-loc bags, dunked them into the water with the tops open (which pushed the air out of the bags), and then zipped the bags shut. There was only a tiny bit of air left in each.
All I had to do now was pull up the recipe that I was using from the Anova iPhone app and tap the red start button (see image at right). The display on the Precision Cooker was already showing 131°F, and it started counting down the time. Cooking these three steaks was expected to take about two hours, so I left everything running and went off to do some other work.
Two hours later, both the app and the Precision Cooker notified me that the cooking was done, so I shut off the device, pulled the bagged steaks out of the water bath, and prepared to finish the cooking. Inside each of the bags was a “juice” from the meat and spices; some people like to put that into a pan with a little wine and shallots to make a tasty sauce. I just tossed it. Next time I think I’ll try to make the sauce.
The next step was to heat up some vegetable oil to a very high, almost-smoking temperature while I patted the steaks dry with paper towel. Then it was into the pan with the steaks for a minute on each side, producing a nice sear while not cooking the center of the meat. The meat was cooked to a perfect medium rare.
The resulting steaks were honestly the best I have ever cooked and as good or better than what I've had at high-end restaurants and steakhouses. I love to grill, and it’s quite common for me to have a steak on the grill every week. Well, I’m not sure the grill’s going to get much of a workout this summer, since the sous vide steaks were much tender, much juicier, more flavorful and absolutely cooked to perfection. The steaks were not “compressed” and somewhat dried out like they can get on a grill; instead, they kept their initial thickness and were moist from top to bottom.
To say that I was thrilled with this app-controlled kitchen appliance is an understatement, and I intend to put it to good use in my kitchen for a variety of entrees and sides. The downside is that I’ll probably end up spending a bit more money on a vacuum sealing system to go along with the Anova Precision Cooker.
The design of the app is top-notch and there’s a vibrant community of chefs who supply recipes and ideas, the cooker itself is well-designed, quiet, and easy to clean, and the display is big and easy to read. The Anova Precision Cooker gets my highest recommendation for any iPhone owner who loves to cook.