on April 9, 2017
I am not one who is easily impressed. While I admit a lifelong love for cooking, and the associated collection of kitchen tools, I can tell you I have sent a number of supposedly high-end items back because they did not live up to the hype.
I got my Joule 3 weeks ago, and I am compelled to write this. On the day it arrived, and anxious to try the new toy, I scavenged the freezer and came up with a rather sad, most likely somewhat freezer-burnt pair of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I religiously buy meat fresh from the butcher, so these had been sitting there so long I did not remember when. They were in a ziplock, not vacuum sealed, so I did not expect much. What the heck I just want to experiment. I grabbed the 6qt stainless liner from my Instant Pot, filled it with hot tap water, clipped the Joule on the side and plugged it in. I had already loaded the app on my phone, so I followed the tutorial and got Joule renamed and running on my WiFi. It had me do a control test and heat some water from the phone, worked great and quite fast. I then selected the app’s Guide (their term for recipe) for chicken breast and followed the steps. I selected the “juicy” temp setting of 149°F, looking at the visual doneness videos to choose. I described the breast to the app as frozen and about 1.5 inches, and from that info the app chose the cooking time, and Joule began to heat the water. A few minutes later, my phone notified me the Joule pot was up to temp, and I could put the food in to cook. Since this was an experiment, I took one rock hard frozen breast, dropped it into a 1 gal Ziploc freezer bag, and dumped in some Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and olive oil. I then slid it into the pot, evacuating the air from the bag by submersion, and zipped it shut. I took the other breast, and left it to thaw, so I could try other things like pounding it to equal thickness, and trimming to shape before cooking. I then left the kitchen and Joule to hopefully do something impressive.
My phone alerted me that Joule was done, and also that I could leave it for up to 2 more hours without over cooking. I got back to the kitchen and set my trusty cast iron skillet on to preheat for searing. I waited for my smoking hot pan, threw some olive oil in there, and opened the Ziploc, fresh out of the Joule. I patted the breast dry, seasoned, dusted with flour, and pressed it into the hot pan. I gave it about 2 minutes, and I had a great crisp brown crust. I transferred it to the cutting board and made a half-dozen bias slices. I noted almost no juice loss from cutting, but when I picked up a slice in my fingers, it was soft and a slight squeeze produced glistening juice. I popped it in my mouth and was treated to an exceptional mouthfeel of soft juicy chicken and crisp skin. Literally amazing…I enlisted 3 more family members to taste and they were all completely impressed at how perfectly this was prepared. My son put it best, he said, “I would be impressed if I tasted this at a fine dining restaurant, to taste it in our kitchen with you experimenting with a new toy you have no experience with…just crazy good.”
Since then I have cooked probably 20 sous vide meals, my favorite was a dinner party for 4 using Chefsteps Filet Mignon guide with broccoli puree and radicchio salad stack. Plated with puree, then salad, and topped with the meat, cutting down through it all for one great bite is astounding! Puree is silky smooth, flavored with English cheddar, the shredded salad is balsamic, oil and dijon with fresh chives and blue cheese microplaned frozen into perfect flakes of flavor. The sous vide method IMO is the optimum method to do justice to a fine filet, finished with a roaring hot cast iron pan sear in butter and fresh herbs. My guests raved and I just can’t see the point of going to a spendy steakhouse when I can guarantee these repeatable results with sous vide.
Probably the most impressive thing I have done so far is cook a 3lb, 2in. thick chuck steak for 48 hours sous vide. I finished it with a sear like the filet, and this cheap chunk of $5@lb meat had a mouthfeel like $45@lb tenderloin, plus a superior beefy taste tenderloin would never have. Understand, the chuck looked red and juicy, not grey like pot roast or beef stew. I may buy a second Joule just for long cooks like this…
In conclusion, after 40 years of gourmet cooking, and an extensive knowledge of food chemistry and techniques, literally thousands spent on training, all manner of gadgets to major high-end appliances, I have found something that I am really excited about. I can legitimately say that cooking a protein by any other method will probably not be as good, and absolutely not as reliably consistent. I love the fact that instead of fretting over expensive meats using high heat methods, then having to let them rest, etc.; you can let Joule go past the done time by a couple of hours with no ill effects. It is just holding the meat at a consistent finished temp of say 129°F, waiting for you to finish by a quick sear and serve. Sous vide steak does not need to rest because it is already at temperature equilibrium, and its juices have not migrated…they have remained in place and keeping every morsel equally and perfectly juicy. You have to try this, the results speak for themselves.
OK, I will go so far as to say if you are not cooking sous vide, you are not getting all the goodness you paid for in your food…and constantly putting your food at risk of cooking errors by traditional high heat methods. Plus, it is difficult if not impossible to duplicate the exquisite mouthfeel of sous vide. Remember this technique was invented in France in the 70s, initially to cook foie gras with less waste. It resulted in a 20% savings and a much higher profit for the restaurant, given the Rolls Royce pricing of foie gras. French cooking has always been about an obsession with perfection…sous vide cooking is exactly that.
One other thing, I have read a number of comments with people concerned about cooking in plastic. My reaction is the sous vide results are so good, I would consider the risk for myself and my family mitigated. There is currently no documented hard corollary between cooking in BPA-free food safe plastic bags and direct health risks…UNLIKE the direct connection that charring food, especially meat, is carcinogenic. Now beyond government regulation, food purity and safety is always a personal choice…For me, I’ll chance my black grill marks and crisp corners…and I demand the thrill of eating sous vide.