See you in San Francisco

I’m putting up a short post just to let everyone know I’m still alive.  MD and I have both had incredibly hectic schedules lately that have precluded us from attending to our blogs.  MD and the Santa Barbara Choral Society just performed Ralph Vaughn Williams A Sea Symphony over the past weekend, which activity (the aforementioned wretched choral society) has consumed all her time.  I, for the first time in a long time, have become a working stiff.

The sous vide project has gone wild.  Instead of watching from the sidelines and showing up at board meetings, which heretofore has been my chief activity vis a vis the company, I am now in charge of the entire direct-to-consumer operation.  Consequently, I have been on the road and will continue to be a road warrior for a while.

Tomorrow, in fact, will find MD and me in San Francisco at the Sur La Table store for a Sous Vide Supreme demonstration.  Richard Blais, the chef pictured above with the two us (he’s the one with the faux hawk), will be doing the demo, but MD and I will be in attendance.  So, if you want to drop by and meet us, have a chat or just see how much older we look in person than in our photographs, come on down to the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco tomorrow (May 8th) from 10 ‘til 2.  Hope to see you there.

And I hope to be back to some sort of regular blogging schedule maybe next week.  I don’t have to leave until the end of the week.

Merry Christmas from Dallas

A quick post just to let everyone know that I’m still among the living and that I haven’t given up posting for good.

MD and I have taken off a few days and are in Dallas with kids and grandkids celebrating Christmas.  It snowed like crazy all yesterday afternoon, and, according to the newspapers, Dallas has had its first white Christmas since 1926.  And we were here to witness it.  At left is a photo looking out the back door.  Granted, it’s not a New England eight inch snow or a Colorado two foot snow, but it’s a pretty substantial snow for Dallas.  Maybe it’s a harbinger of good things to come, although the last white Christmas preceded the year in which the Great Depression started.

I’ve been absent from posting because MD and I have been incredibly busy with Sous Vide Supreme stuff.  I just thought we were busy during the developmental stage.  The post-developmental era has consumed enormous amounts of our time.  Especially since our invention had such a nice write up in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago.  We’ve been inundated with requests for interviews from multiple media sources and for write ups for this and that.  And all that is not to mention a week’s worth of filming in Seattle.  We’re making a true infomercial on the Sous Vide Supreme with emphasis on the ‘info’ part.  So many people are unaware of what the sous vide process is, so we’re going to tell them.

We’ve teamed up with chef Richard Blais, whom many of you may know from Top Chef, Iron Chef America and other TV cooking shows.  He couldn’t be any nicer nor any easier to work with – a really great guy who can cook like you wouldn’t believe.  He will appear with MD on the infomercial that will start running early next year.  Below is a photo of the two of them camping it up on the set.

The infomercial filming went without a hitch, and the food that Richard Blais prepared in the SVS was incomparable.  On the eve of the filming my brother sent me a YouTube of an infomercial that had a few problems.  I forwarded it on to the rest of the team, and fortunately the Sous Vide Supreme functioned a little better than the popcorn popper in the video below.

We’ve also teamed up with the retailer Sur La Table.  They will be carrying the Sous Vide Supreme in their stores and in their catalog right after the start of the year.  MD and Richard will be doing demos in several of the stores, so if you want to see the SVS in the flesh, so to speak, head on over to a Sur La Table near you and take a look.

This entire sous vide experience has been different than anything we’ve ever done.  It’s really nice to see articles and reviews that are all positive instead of the hatchet jobs we’re used to getting while promoting low-carb.  No one accuses us of being purveyors of dangerous fad diets, of encouraging people to eat more artery-clogging saturated fat, of being doctors of death (which we’ve been called on live radio) or of simply trying to make a quick buck at the expense of the health of those gullible enough to follow our recommendations.  The new experience has been rewarding and a lot of fun but incredibly time consuming.  Thus my absence from my blogging duties.

But I’ve been absent in electrons only.  I’ve been flying all over the place carrying a satchel of scientific papers that I’ve been reviewing and preparing to blog about.  So I’m fully loaded with ammo and ready to write after I’ve taken a fews days of a breather.

I haven’t been totally offline, however.  I’ve been keeping up with the blogs I  read regularly and haven’t been able to resist commenting when something gets under my skin.

Food writer Michael Ruhlman did a great review of the Sous Vide Supreme, and in the comments section someone took me (and the SVS team) to task for profiteering.   As you might imagine, this kind of thing really gets my hackles up, especially since we are still way, way in the red on this project.  I kept myself in check (the good Mike won out as MD would say) and wrote a couple of mild  but informative comments.  You can read them here.

My friend Amy Alkon, the Advice Goddess, whose blog I read religiously, wrote a funny post on bacon featuring the kind of ill-disciplined child who gives the South a bad name.  Amy, who is an inveterate low-carber, wrote the post from the perspective of how much she likes bacon.  Of course some commenter couldn’t resist slamming low-carb diets in general and Gary Taubes in particular, so I couldn’t resist resorting to form (the bad Mike sort of won out on this one).  If you’re interested, you can read that exchange here (two comments). The guy turned out to be pretty nice and even sent me a friendly email via Amy.

Speaking of Gary Taubes… he tipped me off on an interesting paper on HDL that I’ll post on soon and I’ve uncovered a few others on the fallacy of the lipid hypothesis.  It looks like the mainstream is ratcheting up its jihad against low-carb again with a few spurious papers badly in need of a public dismantling.  I’ll soon be tanned, rested and ready to shred.  And to go after the statinators, the great medical menaces of our time.  Plus I’ll throw in a nice post on how long it might take the low-carb diet to become the diet recognized by all as the correct diet for most everyone.

Until then, I’m going to lay low and try to catch up on my non-scientific reading.  Speaking of which, I got a great book as a Christmas present from my grandkids today.  It is Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudson and is about US Air Flight 5149 that went into the Hudson River last January.  Although the book extols the skill and courage of Capt Sullenberger and crew, its main emphasis is on the aircraft they flew: the Airbus 320.

Twenty five years before Flight 1549 took its plunge, a highly intelligent, charismatic French fighter pilot and test pilot named Bernard Ziegler talked the management at Airbus to let him design a plane that almost flew itself.  Ziegler recognized that pilots exhibited a bell-shaped curve in their level of skill and expertise and that some of the less skilled had ended up killing themselves along with all their passengers after getting into situations that more skilled pilots may have gotten out of safely.  He wanted to design a plane with layers of built-in redundancies that would allow all pilots, but especially those less skilled, to worry about the major goal of any pilot who is in trouble – getting safely on the ground – without  being distracted by all the little details of flying.  In other words – and in very simplistic words – if pilots could simply make the decision to land, the plane could almost fly itself.  When pilots get in tricky situations it is sometimes difficult to get out of them without stressing the plane to the point of structural damage.  As the pilots are trying to avoid disaster they have to worry not only about their main problem – a loss of power, say – but have to baby the plane to keep it from breaking up.  Ziegler fixed all that with the Airbus by designing it to perform maximally under control of multiple computers while the pilots tend to the main problem at hand.  Since the computers control these functions of the plane by electricity it’s called flying by the wire.

When Sully and crew brought the plane down safely in the Hudson, they were flying by wire.  And as the author William Langewiesche puts it

They had no choice.  Like it or not, Ziegler reached out across the years and cradled them all the way to the water. His assistance may have been unnecessary, given the special qualities of these particular two [the pilots of Flight 1549], but there is no question the practical effects were profound.  At the moment of the bird strike, when the engines lost thrust, a conventional airplane would have tried immediately to nose down.  It would have wanted to go into a sharp descent, and would have required whoever was flying to haul back on the controls with some strength and to retrim the airplane for a slower, more moderate glide, while disciplining the wings to stay level until the decision could be made to turn around.  None of this is inherently difficult, but it imposes insidious demands on the crew in an emergency, when they are already busy with more important concerns.  It is an accepted reality that the repetitive and menial jobs, associated with baseline control subtly impinge on a pilot’s capacities, and that during periods of truly high workloads, even simple thoughts are difficult to have.

Imagine trying to disarm a bomb while also having to deal with menial chores and talk on the phone at the same time.

This fascinating book doesn’t detract from the skill and heroism of the crew of Flight 1549, but explains in detail why they were able to make it look so easy.

I loved this book.  I opened it in the morning and had it finished before lunch (lunch was sous vide turkey, if you must know).  If you have any interest in aviation, Fly by Wire is a must read.  Despite the fact that the author dissects in detail a number of commercial aviation disasters in the recent past, the book actually makes one feel safer flying, especially in an Airbus 320.

This post is already longer than I had intended it to be, so I wish you all a Merry Christmas.  I’ll be back soon.

Merry Christmas from Dallas

I’ll leave you with a couple more photos.  Below on the left is my Southern grandson testing the snow barefooted.  On the right is MD slicing the sous vide turkey we had for lunch.

DIY sous vide

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving, and in the words of Arlo Guthrie, we had “a Thansgivin’ dinner that couldn’t be beat.”  Along with all the traditional Thanksgiving fare at Casa Eades, we had dueling turkeys: one cooked the traditional way and one cooked sous vide.  And let me tell you, there was no comparison.  I’m not saying this just because we’ve got a sous vide cooker for sale, either.  I’ve never had turkey that tasted so good.  Because I’m not really a big fan of turkey, I eat turkey on Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving only.  I found our sous vide turkey to be so good, because it didn’t really taste like turkey.  At least not turkey cooked in the traditional way that I’m used to tasting.  It was like a different meat entirely.

MD has posted on how she cooked both turkeys on her blog and on the Sous Vide Supreme blog, giving precise recipes for both.  As you can see when you read the posts, cooking a turkey the traditional way is a major pain (both figuratively and literally).  It’s just not worth it when the taste and texture outcome is so much better using sous vide.  Especially since the sous vide method is so much easier and less time consuming. Vastly easier, in fact.

Lest you think this is another post cleverly designed to promote and sell the Sous Vide Supreme, let me disabuse you of that notion.  I’m going to show you how you can try the sous vide method at home without having to purchase a machine to see if it’s really for you.

Not long ago I wrote a post on how MD and I came up with the idea for what ultimately became the Sous Vide Supreme.  We wanted to try cooking sous vide, but there were no sous vide units available for the home cook, and we weren’t about to fork over $1500 for a commercial unit just to give the technique a try.  So, we cobbled together a Rube Goldberg kind of set up and tried it out.

I went back and pulled some of the photos I took of our contraption, which was made of a stock pot, a steaming basket turned upside down, and a candy thermometer.  And, the most important piece of equipment of all: constant attention.

The secret of cooking sous vide is the maintenance of a constant temperature over the cooking period.  Since most things are cooked sous vide at a significantly lower temperature than 212F/100C (the temp at which water boils), you can’t put the container directly on the stove even with the burner on its lowest setting.  The lowest setting is typically for simmering, which holds the temp right at the boiling point.  When we were trying to set up our first try, we experimented with several different ways to get the stock pot high enough up off the flame of our gas stove so that we could get the low temperatures we needed.  We found that the steaming basket (made to set inside a pan) turned upside down gave us the height we needed given the flame on our stove.

Sous vide cooking requires that the temperature be maintained precisely for long periods of time, sometimes up to 72 hours for, say, fall-off-the-bones beef ribs.  On the Sous Vide Supreme, you simply set the temp and walk away.  It’s not so easy with a homemade unit.  You’ve got to monitor it closely because temperature fluctuations of even a degree or two will make a difference in your outcome for many foods.  One of the ways you keep the temp where you want it is to use an important piece of equipment not pictured in the photo above: a pitcher of ice water.  You watch the temp carefully – you don’t have to stand there and watch it minute by minute – checking the candy thermometer every few minutes or so.  If the temp starts to drift up a little (the most common thing), you need to pour in a tiny bit of ice water to bring it down.

Since you’ve got to stay on top of it, it’s best that you limit your cooking in a homemade device to foods that don’t require a long time in the bath.  Which means you’ve got to stick with good-quality beef cuts such as rib eye, New York strips or tenderloin, chicken breasts, salmon, turkey breast, etc.  If you read MD’s post on cooking our Thanksgiving turkey, you’ll notice that she cooked the breast for 2.5 hours at 140F and the dark meat at 176F for eight hours.  If you’ve got a Sous Vide Supreme, you can stick the dark meat in, set it for 176F and get it out eight hours later.  If you’re cooking it using the homemade device, you’re going to be standing close by watching it for eight hours.  Since you probably don’t want to spend eight hours fiddling with it, I would avoid trying the dark meat of a turkey as your first outing in the homemade device.  Try the breast or, better yet, some salmon or even steak, lamb or pork chops.  You want to minimize the amount of time you have to remain vigilant in your temp watching.

Let me give you a couple of never-fail recipes so you can give it a try. And let me say that these were not the same recipes we used the first time we tried our rigged-up machine.  These are recipes that we’ve developed after a lot of bad experiences.  We suffered them so you don’t have to.

Chicken breast sous vide

The first thing you should try is chicken breast.  Why?  Because it’s easy and because the taste difference between a chicken breast cooked sous vide and one cooked any other way is so huge that you can really experience the virtue of cooking this way.

Take your chicken breasts (they can be skinless or with skins in place) and brine for for hours in an 8 percent brine.  You make an 8 percent brine by putting five tablespoons of salt in one quart of water.  Make your brine, put the breasts in, and put in the fridge for four hours.

Pull the breasts from the brine, rinse with fresh water and pat dry.

Put each breast into a food-grade plastic bag along with a big pat of butter.  (If you like it, you can add some cracked pepper or herbs to the bag at this stage)

Vacuum seal the bags with a Food Saver or one of the little hand vacuum pumps.  (You can even press all the air out with your fingers if you don’t have a pump of any kind, though you risk having your meat float and cook unevenly–and perhaps incompletely, which isn’t good with poultry–if any significant amount of air remains.)

Bring your sous vide machine to 140F and put the bags in.  Watch it like a hawk (assuming you’re using your homemade setup) to maintain that temp for about 1.5 hours.

Remove the bags, open and dump out the breasts.  They won’t look particularly appetizing, especially if they have been cooked with the skins on.  If the breasts are skinless, you can actually slice and eat just as they come out of the bag, and they’ll taste something like poached chicken, but infinitely better. But they are better yet if you sear them first to give them a little color and caramelized flavor.

To sear them, you need to put a stainless or cast iron skillet on the stove at the highest temperature you can get.  Gas or electric both work, just put the burner on its highest setting.

Leave the empty skillet on the hot burner for about ten minutes.

Add some clarified butter (ghee), which will sizzle and steam like crazy if the skillet is hot enough.

Put the breasts in the hot skillet and turn from side to side about every 30 seconds with tongs until you get a nice golden brown exterior.

Remove and eat.  You won’t be disappointed.

Steak sous vide

You can also try steak.  Here’s how we did it last night.

Get a nice cut of steak, a rib eye or porterhouse or something tender.  I wouldn’t use grass-fed beef for this experiment because you have to cook it too long to get it nice and tender.  If you use a regular grocery-store steak that isn’t too think – one inch, say – you can get by cooking for only 40 minutes to get it perfectly medium rare.

MD puts a sprinkling of sea salt on each side, a few turns of the pepper mill and a little garlic powder then puts each steak in a food-grade plastic bag and vacuum seals it.

Heat your water bath to 135F, put the bagged steaks in the bath, and watch carefully.

Pull the steaks out after 40 minutes and let them sit at room temperature for 5 or 10 minutes to drop their internal temperature just a bit.  Remove them from the bags and pat dry.  (The patting dry is actually an important part of the process.)

Do the deal with the skillet as described above for the chicken breasts.  Get it hot, add the clarified butter, then sear the steaks.

sous vide steaks cooking1

Sear them on each side no longer than about 20 seconds.  If you want, you can flip them around a bit from side to side.  You should even hit the edges of the steak with the hot skillet as well so that they are seared all around and the fat on the edges gets a nice color.

Serve immediately.

You can see from the photo on the right how the interior looks.  Perfectly medium rare from side to side with a tiny layer of caramelization on the surface.  Must be tasted to be believed.

Several of your fellow readers have used the sous vide method and posted on it.  You can read their posts here, here, here and here.

One of the nice (and sometimes aggravating) things about the sous vide method of cooking is its precision.  If you don’t like your steaks at 135F, try them at 130F or 140F.  Or even at 133F.  You can get as precise as you want.  The meat at each temperature will be a little different than when cooked a degree or two hotter or cooler.  It takes some diddling with and experimentation to find the temperature that works best for you.

Once you do, you can turn out steak after steak after steak or pork chop after pork chop perfectly cooked just as you like it.  The food will be more nutritious because nothing is lost in the cooking process, including the moisture, which is why the meat is so tender.

Sous Vide Supreme tour

I’m throwing up a quick post just so you all won’t think I’ve been captured and sold into slavery.  MD and I are on the coast-to-coast Sous Vide Supreme introduction tour, which  ends today.  I thought I would have plenty of time to blog and Tweet on this tour, but it has ended up being a huge time gobbler.  What with getting all the stuff set up, checking in and out of hotels, running for flights and flying all over heck and gone, there has been barely any time to keep up with emails let alone fiddling with the blog.

As I type these words, we’re at 37,000 feet somewhere between Chicago and New York.  After all the complaining I’ve done in previous posts about my disastrous experiences with a multitude of airlines, I’ve got to say that this tour has gone without a hitch.  We’ve flown U.S. Air, American, Alaskan Airlines, and now Delta, and all flights have been on time on both ends.  We’re traveling with a crew of nine, so I am thankful for all the airlines we’ve flown and the weather gods for allowing all this to come off on schedule.

I planned to post about the different venues as we went from city to city, but as I said, the time constraints have been such that I really couldn’t do it.  I’ve got a zillion photos that I’ll post in due course and a lot of info about cooking that I’ve learned from the best.

Richard Nikoley, of the Free the Animal blog, came to the San Francisco event and posted on it, so you can read his take, complete with photos, here.

Another writer who attended the San Francisco event wrote about it after.  It’s a good article but I object to the word ‘shilled.’  In my obviously biased view, ‘touted’ or ‘promoted’ or ‘recommended’ would have been much better choices.  Other press reports that are much better (from my perspective, at least) are here, here and here.

As you can see from the above articles and blog, Heston Blumenthal, chef of The Fat Duck, one of the world’s best restaurants, is traveling with us and helping us introduce the Sous Vide Supreme to the world.  Heston and team (several of whom are with us, too) did the testing of the Sous Vide Supreme in The Fat Duck Experimental Kitchen in the UK.  As one of the preeminent and most knowledgeable sous vide chefs in the world, Heston is also doing cooking and teaching demos with the unit on this tour.

At this point in my narrative breakfast arrived.  It is pictured below.  You can see to what depths airline food has fallen.

Low-fat yogurt, 2% milk, Raisin Bran, fruit, a bagel and coffee.  How nauseating.  I will admit, however, that I ate almost all of it, middle-aged middle be damned.  I did leave over half the bagel because it was totally tasteless, much like eating cardboard and as cold as stone.  I haven’t worried much about diet on this tour because we’ve been eating one meal a day – if we’re lucky – so I’ve been viewing the experience as an intermittent fast.  We get little shards of the foods prepared for the demo, but that’s about it.  The rest of the time we’re on the run and haven’t eaten much at all.

So you can see how the demo events are set up, I’ve put up the schedule and menu to the left below.

MD and I introduce ourselves and talk about how the Sous Vide Supreme was developed, much as I did in a recent blog post.  We then introduce Heston, who shows a video of the preparation of Mock Turtle Soup, which I also blogged about not too long ago.  He follows that with a short video of a dessert composed of all the essences of smoke, apples, leather and tobacco and four different whiskies – all incorporated into a flaming sorbet.  He then talks about how he started The Fat Duck with just himself, a dishwasher and a couple of waiters.  Then he moves into the different foods prepared using the Sous Vide Supreme and talks about all the extensive testing he did of the unit at The Fat Duck.  The staff passes around tasting plates of the food selections to the guests, most of whom are media people, food writers or chefs.  The food is absolutely beyond compare.  When I have more time, I’ll post a description of how each different food is prepared and show photos, of which I have a multitude.

After the event in New York is over today, MD and I have to do a little Middle-Aged Middle promotion tomorrow with some radio, then it’s off to Las Vegas (of all places) for a couple of days.  My niece is getting married there on Sunday (she lives there and is a graphic artist for one of the casino operations), so we’re stopping on the way back to attend.  Then, finally, home on Monday.  At which point, after going through all the mail and other stuff that has stacked up while we’ve been on the road, I’ll get back to more regular posting.

I got word yesterday that the 6-Week Cure blog is set up and ready to go, but so far we haven’t been able to post anything to it.  If you’ve got a 6-Week Cure question or comment, hold it for just a couple more days ‘til we get that blog up.  And if you’ve had a question languishing in the emails, we’re working on that, too.  We had an unexpected glitch, when the new email contact points got mistakenly routed to an email that we never use by the web gurus.  There they sat for about a month before we realized that was why we weren’t getting any emails from the new site.  We apologize and as soon as we get back to Casa Eades we’ll get busy answering those we can answer.

I’m working on another fun post that I’ll maybe be able to get up before we get back, but I can’t promise.  At any rate, it’ll be up soon after we’re home if not before.

Thanks for hanging in there during my absence.

Sous Vide Supreme

The long-awaited announcement of what MD and I have been working on for the past couple of years is at hand.  We have developed (along with a team of engineers, designers, manufacturers, business people and a host of others) the first stand-alone sous vide unit made specifically for the home kitchen.  It’s called the Sous Vide Supreme and is pictured at left, getting ready to ship.  The Sous Vide Supreme is the first new category of kitchen appliance since the microwave, so we’re incredibly excited about our role in what we think is a world-changing event.  At least world changing in the same way the microwave was world changing.

For those of you unfamiliar with sous vide, it is a French term meaning ‘under vacuum’ and refers to a method of cooking in which vacuum-packed foods are cooked in a water bath creating a taste and flavor that can’t be replicated any other way.  Though many of you may never have heard of the term ‘sous vide,’ it’s a good bet that you have tasted food prepared using the ‘sous vide’ method, especially if you have eaten at a fine restaurant.

Why on earth would two physicians who made their reputations caring for overweight patients and writing books about diet and nutrition veer off in the direction of manufacturing a kitchen appliance?  As is always said in situations such as this one, it’s a long story.  But not really that long, so I’ll tell it.

A couple of years ago I was trolling through the internet looking for something – I don’t remember what – and I came upon an article about the sous vide method of cooking.  I read about it and did a little more research.  Once I understood the concept, it all made perfect sense to me, so I did what I always do in cooking situations: I dragooned MD into doing all the work.  I did help a little, but she was the real technician in putting our first sous vide contraption together.

So you’ll understand how sous vide works, I’ll digress a little from the story of our development of the Sous Vide Supreme to explain.

Say, for instance, you want to cook a perfect medium rare steak.  You throw it on a very hot grill (or skillet) and try to guess the amount of time it will take for the extreme heat to penetrate the steak until it raises the temperature in middle of the steak to 134 degrees F.  Often you miss and either under cook or (more commonly) overcook the steak.  You can be more precise if you use a meat thermometer and pull the steak off the grill when the temperature reaches 134 degrees.  This meat-thermometer technique is obviously a more accurate way to ensure the perfect medium rare steak, but it has its drawbacks.  If you pull the steak off the grill when the center is at 134 F, the steak continues to cook and will end up more well done than medium rare.  If you pull it off at, say, 128 F, you are playing the guessing game again, hoping that it will cook to the 134 F on its own.

And we’re not even talking here about the problems you run into if you are cooking several steaks of differing thicknesses, a situation that multiplies the probability of having a not-quite-right outcome – at least with some of the steaks.

If you use either of the above methods precisely, you end up with a perfect medium rare steak…right in the middle.  The center of the steak is medium rare, but it gets more and more well done as it gets closer to the surface.  You have what looks kind of like a target with the perfect medium rare center being the bulls eye with the rest of the target being progressively more well done as it gets nearer the edges.

Sous vide solves this problem.  You season your steaks however you like them seasoned, then you put them in vacuum bags and seal them.  (You don’t have to have an expensive machine for this.  You can find vacuum bags and pumps for just a few dollars at most grocery stores.)  You then put the seasoned, sealed steaks into a sous vide water bath set for 134 F and walk away.  You can leave them in for an hour or eight hours – the time doesn’t really matter that much because as soon as the steaks reach 134 degrees throughout, they are perfectly medium rare and they don’t get any more well done beyond that point.  So if you’re having a dinner party and your steaks are in a sous vide cooker awaiting the meal and the pre-dinner chit chat runs a half hour (or an hour or two hours) over, it doesn’t matter.  You take the steaks out, remove them from the bag, finish them off for about 30 seconds, and you’re finished and have perfect medium rare steaks.  And it doesn’t matter if some of your guests want thick fillets while others want thinner sirloins and yet others want rib eyes – they all come out perfect at the same time.

Sous vide is the perfect method for cooking tougher cuts of meat.  Grass fed beef, though tasty, isn’t always the most tender of selections.  If, however, you put a couple of grass-fed beef steaks in a sous vide bath before you go to work, by the time you get home, they are as tender as a mother’s heart while still retaining all their taste.  MD blogged about flank steak cooked sous vide a while back.  You can cook flank steak, which is really tasty but tough, using the sous vide method and have a meat that is as tender as filet but with all the taste of the flank steak and best of all, not overcooked.

Here is a link to a full-page Wall Street Journal article from about a year and a half ago that describes the sous vide process and has a pretty good video showing how it works to cook a steak.

But it’s not just for steak. You can use the Sous Vide Supreme to cook any kind of meat and vegetables.  And can even use it to make ice cream base, béarnaise sauce, creme anglaise and anything that requires a precise temperature to cook properly.  Vegetables cooked sous vide are out of this world.  For instance, if you cook beets the traditional way by boiling them, you’re left with a lot of beet-colored water in the pan after you’ve removed the beets.  This beet-colored fluid contains flavonoids, carotenoids and other beneficial nutrients that you would prefer not to lose. If you vacuum seal the beets and cook them sous vide at 185 F, you end up with beets that are unlike any beets you’ve tasted before.  They look the same, but taste much more beet-y, because they have retained all the nutritious fluid that you previously threw down the drain after boiling.  The beets are tastier, have a better consistency and are more nutritious than beets cooked any other way.  It works the same with all veggies.

When MD built our first home-made sous vide contraption on our stove, she used a stock pot that she had to put up on a scaffold she built out of odds and ends she rounded up from the kitchen.  She had to get the pot above the flame because even at its lowest setting, the fire was hot enough to simmer water, which meant that the temperature was 212 F, way, way too hot for sous vide.  She had to get the bottom of the pot high enough, so that the temperature in the water in the pot was around 140 F (at that point, we thought 140 was the temperature required for a perfect medium rare steak).  It was no mean feat to do so.  She had to keep a candy thermometer in the pot and keep adding little bits of cold water and even ice to keep the water at 140 F. (I now wish that I had photographed this early contraption, but, alas, I didn’t, so you’ll just have to imagine it.) After keeping a couple of vacuum-sealed steaks submerged at roughly 140 F for a couple of hours (which required her constant attention), MD pulled them out, finished them off on the grill for a few seconds, and we cut into them.  We learned a couple of things.  First, 140 F is too hot for medium rare, and, second, finishing is an important part of the process.

MD with my invaluable technical advice fiddled with our device for another few runs of steaks before she hit on the way to cook them perfectly.  Once she did, and once we tasted them perfectly done, I was sold.  I decided that we needed to purchase a sous vide unit for our house.

I got online and searched.  What I discovered to my absolute amazement is that there was not a sous vide unit made for the home kitchen.  There were several companies making sous vide units for restaurant use, but the price of them would knock your socks off.  The least expensive one – and it was tiny – ran to over a thousand dollars.  Most costs many thousands of dollars.  I kept thinking that there had to be a home sous vide unit somewhere, but search though I did, I couldn’t find one.

The light bulb went on.

I reasoned that I couldn’t be the only one who wanted a home sous vide unit.  And of such thoughts are opportunities made.  I figured it couldn’t be that tough to make a unit, since, after all, they were nothing but sophisticated Crock Pots.  So I thought.  As it ends up, nothing is further from the truth, but I didn’t know that at the time.

During my online searches for some kind of home sous vide machine, I came across countless articles on sous vide cooking.  One of these articles contained a quote by Nathan Myhrvold – the retired Chief Technical Officer of Microsoft who has devoted his post retirement to cooking, photography* and various other endeavors – a sous vide expert who figured prominently in the Wall Street Journal article mentioned above, and who is the go-to guy whenever a writer needs a comment about sous vide.  When I read these words, I knew  there was a real opportunity.

Most dedicated home cooks purchase laboratory water baths, which are available on eBay, says Myhrvold.

“I believe someone will produce a home sous vide machine in the not-to-distant future,” says Myhrvold.  Basically, “a Crock-Pot with [a] very accurate thermostat.”

Knowing as I did Nathan Myhrvold’s status in the food world, I reckoned he would know if someone was already working on one, and since he didn’t mention it (and since I’m an eternal optimist), I figured there wasn’t anyone working on one.  So, it was full speed ahead.

What I didn’t realize was that Nathan Myhrvold was wrong.  Not about the no-one working on one, but about the technology required.  He made it sound easy.  But, as it turns out, a sous vide cooker is much, much more than a Crock-Pot with a very accurate thermometer.  To be able to cook sous vide, the temperature can’t fluctuate more than a half a degree in either direction.  For example, eggs cooked at 63 degrees C (you can set the Sous Vide Supreme for either C or F) are totally different from eggs cooked at 62 or 64 degrees.  Try to cook perfect eggs by setting a Crock-Pot at low, medium or hot, the temperature selections available for most.  You can’t do it.  The maintenance of a specific temperature for hours (and even days) is an absolute necessity in cooking sous vide, and that was what we set out to do in developing our machine.  This kind of temperature control can’t be maintained with a simple thermostat mechanism.

Once we decided to make the leap and try to develop a home sous vide unit, it dawned on us that neither of us knew anything about the appliance business.  So we hadn’t a clue as to how to launch such a venture.  But we allowed as how there were bound to be people who did.  So I set about finding them.

Through a business acquaintance, I got introduced to an entrepreneur and businessman who had some experience in the small appliance development business. (A pedigree in small appliance development would be more correct.  He took The Juiceman and The Breadman from concept to success and was also an executive VP at Salton with the George Foreman Grill.)

Bob Lamson, who is now a partner in the business and a great friend, is just the kind of guy I enjoy being around.  I, of course, don’t think he is nearly as smart as I am, but he may disagree.  He is trained in philosophy, has a undergraduate degree from Yale, has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Washington, ran for US Congress as a Democrat (and almost won), is the author of a book on the economics of the defense industry, and was in a small high school philosophy study group with Barrack Obama’s mother.  As you might imagine, Bob and I have many spirited conversations about many, many topics, which keep all our get togethers stimulating. He is a Seattle resident of long standing, thus our many trips to Seattle where a branch of the Sous Vide Supreme offices are located.

MD and I (MD mainly) came up with the specs for a home sous vide unit, and Bob, who knows everyone involved in the appliance business the world over, after gathering bids, recommended an engineering and design firm in London that got started on the design work.  After much back and forth, and many prototypes, we finally got the design we wanted and a prototype that worked like a charm.

After a lot of consultation, we concluded that if we had any hope of bringing our product to market at a reasonable price for the home consumer, we were going to have to have it made in China, a situation about which I had considerable angst.  We were confronted with the reality that if we made it somewhere else, our appliance would be too costly, and if we made it in China, it would, well, be made in China.  Bob assured us that many Chinese factories were state of the art, and that it was just a matter of selecting the right one.  Bob had had many products made in China (just about everything, I discovered, including the Macbook Pro I’m typing these words on is made in China) and had had no problems.  He told us he would go to China himself and check out any factory we might end up using.  MD and I decided to go as well.

I was in for a huge surprise.  During my years as an engineer I visited many factories, so I have a pretty good feel for what US factories look like.  The factory we decided to work with in China was a marvel of high technology.  In their showroom were many of the products we’re all familiar with here in the US, and as we were shown through the huge work spaces, there were all these same familiar products rolling off the assembly lines.  The testing facilities were beyond compare, and the engineers were terrific.  In fact, the engineers there solved many of the temperature-control and cooling problems that had been plaguing us.  Whenever we found anything problematic, the folks at this factory were immediately responsive in getting it fixed.  After spending a couple of days at the facility, meeting the engineers, and watching the testing processes, we felt more than comfortable using this factory for our product.

What we didn’t realize when we started this venture was that the difficulty in achieving the precise temperature control necessary to sous vide cooking meant that each and every machine had to be calibrated by hand after it came off the line.  The engineers at the factory developed a system to do this that required filling each machine with water and testing multiple temp settings without the process adding huge amounts to the cost of the system.  I found the Chinese engineers easy to work with and incredibly understanding of all the hassle required to bring a product to market in the US.

After designing, building and working all the kinks out of our Sous Vide Supreme, one hurdle remained for us.  We had to get it approved by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).  No UL approval, no US sales.  It was as simple as that.  No retail stores will touch an appliance that isn’t UL approved, and let me tell you, UL approval isn’t easy to come by.  The UL people visited the factory in China, worked with the engineers, made suggestions as to how we could improve our machine, and finally granted us the coveted UL Approved moniker just a couple of weeks ago.  It was this approval I was waiting for before I wrote this post.  I didn’t want to alert the world as to what we were doing until we had this final and most important process firmly in hand.

I can’t begin to tell you what an enormous project this has been.  You don’t really know (I certainly didn’t) what’s involved when you go down to buy a small appliance at your local department store.  We’ve had to hire designers to create logos, do artwork for the box; we’ve had to come up with how-to-use manuals (which are a part of getting a product through UL) and cooking instructions. We’ve had to test multiple iterations of the machine and tweak each one until we got it right.  We’ve had our units tested in major test kitchens here and in Europe, and worked with famous chefs to get it right.  We’ve had to deal with trans-oceanic freight companies and packing and shipping facilities in the US and China.  We ourselves have cooked a zillion different foods in our own test kitchen. It’s been a seemingly never-ending process as you can tell by how long I’ve been putting off the great revelation.  But now it’s done and ready to go.

Our PR firm, Duo PR, is sending us out on a cooking/demo tour that should start on October 18 if all goes well.  Most of the gigs we’ll be going on will be private affairs for potential retailers, but if any are public, I’ll post them so that any of you who have the opportunity and so desire may come to one of the events.

If you want more information about the Sous Vide Supreme, here is the website of our company, Eades Appliance Technology, aka EAT.  Sign up where indicated and we’ll email you information as it becomes available.  And, BTW, the ‘Eades’ in Eades Appliance Technology means a bunch of Eadeses, not just MD and me.  We’ve tapped our family for legal advice, financing, food tasting and creative assistance.  So it is truly a family enterprise plus Bob, Mo and the rest of the staff at the Sous Vide Supreme office in Seattle.

Since this blog isn’t really a blog to sell stuff – other than an occasional recommendation here and there – I’m not going to be writing much on the Sous Vide Supreme.  I’ll have links to the website on the links, and I’ve started a Twitter account so I can put up links on sous vide cooking.  But other than those, this is pretty much it. (I may have one other major announcement, if we can get the legal-contractual issues worked out, but that should be it.) Many people have wanted to know what we’ve been working on so mysteriously, so this is it.  In fact, this is the very first piece to go out into the world about the Sous Vide Supreme. Other than the team working on it, you are the first in the world to be learning about this product.

Next post I’ll be back to the nutritional stuff.

Here are a few photos of MD cooking steaks in one of the sous vide machines in our kitchen.

Here you see a couple of units on our counter so you can get the feel for the size. To the right are cooked, vacuum-sealed steaks pulled from the water bath ready to be finished. The steaks are lying in the inverted top of the Sous Vide Supreme. This top as tray was one of MD’s innovative brainstorms.

SVS steaks up close1

In this close up of the perfectly medium rare steaks, you can see that they have been seasoned before being put in the vacuum bags. They are now ready for the skillet. But first, you’ve got to put some butter in the skillet and heat it until the butter is foaming. Then you put the steak in and leave it for just about 20-30 seconds on one side, then flip and sear on the other side for only a few seconds.

SVS steak being cooked1

One steak in the pan searing on one side and about ready to be flipped.

SVS steaks being cooked1

Two steaks cooked perfectly. I wish the photo were as perfect as the steaks. I intended to take a picture of the steak after it was cut, but my hunger got the best of me and I forgot.

* Nathan Myhrvold took the photos I displayed in a previous blog post.