Sous-vide cooking is one of the crown jewels of molecular gastronomy. Far from "boil-in-a-bag," sous-vide cooking holds ingredients sealed within a plastic pouch at a truly constant (and low) temperature for hours or days. The resulting food is tender, moist, and other-worldly delicious. Unfortunately, this technique has long been priced out of the home kitchen market, with professional units starting around US$1,500 and from there going into the stratosphere. The Nomiku company changes all that, providing a sous-vide accessory about the size of a hand blender. The price? US$359 retail.
The Nomiku is about the size of a hand blender, so avoids having to dedicate a plot of precious counter space to a dedicated sous-vide cooker - it is designed to clamp onto the side of any cooking pot. The Nomiku circulates ten liters (2.6 US gallons) of water each minute, can provide a water temperature from room temperature to boiling, and maintain a given temperature to within 0.1ºC (0.2ºF). The Nomiku is controlled by an on-off switch and a single knob which sets the temperature, seen on an OLED display.
Sous-vide cooking was first described in 1799 by the American physicist and inventor Count Rumford. After having been largely forgotten for nearly two centuries, the method was adapted and updated in 1974 to serve the demands of gourmet cooking by Georges Pralus, chef of La Maison Troisgros, several times Zagat's "best restaurant in the world." Most haute cuisine restaurants now use the method, which has been popularized by such chefs as Thomas Keller, Joel Robuchon, Charlie Trotter, and Grant Achatz.
Proper sous-vide cooking requires that hot water at a precise temperature be circulated throughout the cooking pot. This is the job of an immersion circulator, a piece of scientific equipment now adapted for the kitchen. Without circulation, the water near the food pouch is cooled by heat transfer to the food. This means that the food is not exposed to a constant cooking temperature, which is responsible for most of the extraordinary benefits of sous-vide. "Sous-vide" cookers without circulation near the price point of the Nomiku have recently enetered the market, but these will not enable the cook to take advantage of the full range of sous-vide cookery.
Consider the egg. The egg has a complex structure whose response to temperature can be finely tuned using sous-vide methods. The most common protein in the egg white coagulates in a few minutes at 84ºC (183ºF), while the yolk coagulates at about 65ºC (149ºF). Chef Joel Robuchon says that his ideal sous-vide egg is held at 63.5ºC for four hours! This gives the yolk a custardy texture unknown in conventional cooking, while giving enough time for the (very slow) coagulation of the egg white to reach the point where the whites are not runny.
Sous-vide cooking produces remarkable results when applied to tough meats. For example, beef short ribs can be held at a temperature of 57ºC (135ºF) for two or three days to allow the enzymes time to tenderize the ribs to a melting texture.Thus, both temperature and time are important variables in sous-vide cookery, especially considering cooking involves not a single chemical reaction, but many that have different characteristic temperatures.
Sous-vide cookery has proven its value both to the professional kitchen and in the home. Yet the ultimate potential of the technique is still unexplored. Devices like the Nomiku immersion circulator now provide the foodies of our world with a vast new ocean to explore. Your boat is waiting at the dock.
Check out the Nomiku promo video below.