Tested: PolyScience Sous Vide Professional Creative Series
Can a $500 gadget turn you into Ferran Adrià?
At this point, sous vide cooking is nothing new. A peek into many respectable restaurant kitchen will reveal that immersion circulators are as common as sauté pans — and for good reason. Temperature controlled water baths yield perfect eggs, fall-off-the-bone proteins and scramble-free custards with almost zero margin of error.
But until recently, two obstacles have stood in the way of laymen interested in this cooking technique: limited access to information and cost-prohibitive equipment.
Now that tomes like Under Pressure and Modernist Cuisine have provided us with knowledge, PolyScience has given us a relatively affordable tool. At $500, its Creative Series immersion circulator is “specifically designed for the casual user.” But should any so-called casual cook spend half a grand on a single gadget? Let's take a look.
Compared to immersion circulators found in most professional kitchens, this is definitely designed for home use — it’s a compact, one-piece doodad with a single on/off switch and simple push buttons. It clamps to any pot or vessel (PolyScience provided a plastic tank, pictured, for testing) and heats up to 5.5 gallons of water — that’s two and a half fewer gallons than the fancier versions, but a negligible difference for a home cook. Five gallons is more than enough for four individually vacuum-sealed steaks and chicken breasts to swim in their hot water bath.
A handy laminated reference guide provided exact cooking times and temperatures for meat, eggs and various vegetables — making easy work of programming the machine. Testing two ribeyes that were sealed with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, I set the circulator to 138 degrees and left the steaks to cook for 90 minutes.
Once the timer went off, the meat was unsealed and given a hard sear on a cast iron skillet. For comparison purposes, two more steaks were cooked to medium rare in a pan. After they rested, the results were clear: the beef cooked sous vide had gently turned from brown on the surface to pink in the middle. The pan-cooked steaks were a little less even, with a sharper contrast in color between the crust and the center. Science had trumped human instinct.
Chicken breast cooked sous vide was also the best I had ever made. The meat was moist and alarmingly white throughout — an impossible achievement using any other cooking method. Even my husband — a total amateur in the kitchen — insisted that this was the coolest of any gadget I’ve tested to date.
In terms of design and functionality, there were two issues with the immersion circulator. The first is that the backlit LCD screen was almost impossible to read. The temperature reading is ultra-accurate and constantly changes as the water moves up and down by a few degrees. But all I could see were the shape of zeros under ordinary lights. A cook would have to shield the display screen with his or her hands to see the numbers clearly.
The second is that it seems to use a lot of juice. Maybe my apartment has awful electrical wiring, but after an hour of running the machine, the power in my kitchen went out. This happened twice and has never been a problem in the past with other appliances. A single flip of the switch in the fuse box was an instant fix, but resetting the clocks twice on my oven and microwave was enough to send me reeling.
Finally, price is a concern. The machine will not only set you back 500 bucks, but you’ll also have to purchase a vacuum sealer and its accessories. This isn’t only a costly investment but one that takes up half the room in your kitchen.
After a week’s worth of making perfectly executed (but time consuming) dishes, I’m still convinced that the average home cook wouldn’t consider this a must-have in the kitchen. But maybe you’re a Type A cook who likes clear instructions and precise results. Or perhaps you kneel at the altar of Adrià, Andrés and Achatz. In those few cases, this would be just as invaluable as a chef’s knife or skillet. PolyScience Sous Vide Professional CREATIVE Series; $499.95, cuisinetechnology.com
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