If it sometimes seem as if cooking has become an arms race of gadgets, then sous-vide falls into the secret weapon category. But like many secret weapons, sous-vide units tend to be a bit pricey. The Anova Precision Cooker aims to bring sous-vide into the more affordable end of the spectrum with a self-contained unit that turns an ordinary cook pot into a sous-vide appliance.
French for "under vacuum," sous-vide is the product of molecular gastronomy; the field of studying how cooking processes work and using that knowledge to come up with new ways of preparing food. While most of us are familiar with molecular gastronomy being used by trendy chefs to make edible menus, guava-flavored caviar, and snail porridge, sous-vide goes a step beyond culinary tricks.
Though the science behind it is subtle, sous-vide is surprisingly simple. It involves taking foods and sealing them in plastic bags with all or most of the air expelled. The clever bit is that the bags are then immersed in a water bath that is kept at exactly the right temperature until the food heats through. It’s slower than conventional cooking, but the results are remarkable.
Since cooking is a question of temperature instead of time, this allows chef’s an incredible degree of control. When a steak reaches the temperature of rare, for example, the cooking process stops and the steak stays rare no matter how long it stays in the bath. When it’s dinnertime, the steak just needs a few seconds on a hot grill to sear it, and it’s ready to serve without any spots that are under or overcooked..
The main drawback of sous-vide is that it started out as a piece of laboratory equipment that was then drafted into culinary service, and the cost of most sous-vide appliances reflect this with home units costing upwards of US$1,000. In recent years, some consumer versions have been marketed and even one that can convert a rice or slow cooker into a sous-vide appliance, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
Developed from the Anova 1, which was launched in 2013, the Anova Precision Cooker is a lighter, slimmer version with a simpler user interface and a shorter length to allow it to fit into ordinary cook pots. The 2.5 lb (1.1 kg) Precision Cooker is made of polycarbonate and stainless steel and comes in a choice of black or white finish. Installed inside of the pot using a detachable clip, the Cooker maintains the water at a temperature within 0.01 degree while circulating the water for uniformity when the food’s ziplock bag is clamped to the side of the pot.
Anova says that it has made the control interface as simple as possible with the temperature set by a simple thumbwheel. In addition, the Precision Cooker has Bluetooth connectivity, which allows the user to control it through a smartphone. According to the company, the app takes the guesswork out by allowing you to select the desired food and then automatically setting the Cooker for the precise temperature and time. The company also plans to make the Cooker open source, so users can write their own apps.
The Precision cooker is the focus of a Kickstarter campaign which aims to raise funds to compete injection molding work and begin production ... and it's already surpassed the US$100,000 goal by a huge margin. If all goes according to plan, it's scheduled to go on sale in October for $169.
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