If you want to try cooking sous-vide but don't want to clutter your kitchen, European appliance manufacturer AEG may have a solution for you. Just be prepared to defend it to your foodie friends.
Sous-vide relies on cooking vacuum-sealed food very slowly at a low temperature. The low heat changes the way chemical reactions take place in food during cooking, and the result is astoundingly tender meat and full-flavored vegetables. Because the food is vacuum-sealed, all juices are retained for maximum taste. It's a favorite of star chefs like Thomas Keller, and fans of molecular gastronomy and modernist cuisine.
But sous-vide requires a painstaking attention to consistent temperatures: Get it wrong by as little as a half degree, and your food could be overcooked or unsafe to eat.
Folks who think that's too much work or too much mess will appreciate AEG's new built-in sous-vide cooker, steamer, and wall oven. (As long as those folks are in Europe: AEG appliances aren't sold in the US, and we don't know of any plans for AEG's parent company Electrolux to import something similar.) There's a vacuum sealer beneath the cooking chamber and a water receptacle up top. Otherwise, it blends with nearly every kitchen style and promises authentic sous-vide.
Well, almost authentic.
In its most popular form, sous-vide (literally, "under vacuum") puts vacuum-sealed food in a temperature-controlled water bath. Originally, home chefs experimented with lab equipment, and some dedicated cookers now exist. But they take up room in the kitchen and cost hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars. AEG's sous-vide cooker dispenses with the water bath in favor of steam. In fact, the whole device is essentially a steam oven with highly precise temperature control.
And that's where the problem lies. See, a heated water bath is incredibly good at maintaining a consistent temperature. Steam? We're not so sure.
At the sous-vide oven debut at IFA in Berlin, AEG had a team of professional chefs on hand to assure us that their device could match any kitchen gadget or molecular gastronomist's water bath. It's the vacuum, they said, that made the difference, and the oven supposedly has exceptional temperature control.
They even served us food. A sous-vide pumpkin we tasted was a bit undercooked, but the steak was exceedingly tender. Most impressive: a chocolate pudding. Minute changes in temperature during sous-vide cooking can change the consistency of eggs a great deal, but the pudding's texture was exquisite.
Still, the pudding may not be where the proof is. Unless chefs and foodies embrace AEG's steam-based sous-vide, it could end up dead in the water.