In 2009, self-proclaimed food geek Scott Heimendinger was reviewing a restaurant in Seattle for his food blog when he encountered the perfect egg. “It was on top of a salad, and the texture was so incredible that I stood up and asked a server how it was made,” recalls Heimendinger. The server told him the egg was made using sous vide, which involves sealing food in airtight plastic baths and slow cooking them in a temperature-controlled water bath.
“I went home, Googled ‘sous vide,’ and found a bunch of forum postings,” Heimendinger says. “I figured out chefs were doing sous vide using repurposed lab equipment that was super expensive, and decided there’s no reason it should cost $1,200 to heat water. So I reverse-engineered the sous vide machine and published instructions for how to make a DIY machine.”
In 2013, Heimendinger co-founded a sous vide machine company called Sansaire and launched a Kickstarter campaign for a home sous vide machine. Popular Science spoke with him about his Thanksgiving plans for this year.
What are you eating and/or cooking for Thanksgiving?
It probably comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I’ll be doing a lot of sous vide cooking this year. I got a bunch of vegetables, including tricolor carrots, cauliflower, and onions, that I’m planning to sous vide at 85 degrees Celsius until they’re tender on the inside. Then I’ll put them on a baking steel griddle and pop them in the oven on broil to get them really hot. Finally I’ll sear or caramelize their outsides straight on the griddle.
After the veggies, I’ll drop the temperature of the water bath to 60 degrees Celsius to make dark meat turkey in a umami liquid brine with some fish sauce, molasses, MSG, and sugar. I’ll let the meat cook for about 24 hours until it’s about ready to shred, then deep fry it to crisp up the skin.
With the white meat, I’ll be making a roulade. I’ll season it simply with standard poultry herbs like thyme, rosemary, and sage, add a little bit of melted butter or olive oil, and cook it in the sous vide to core temperature at 57 degrees Celsius. Then I’ll roll the meat into a beautiful tube with the skin on the outside and sear it, either by dropping it the deep fryer or rolling it across a screaming hot griddle.
For dessert, I’ll be making a sous-vide pumpkin crème brûlée. Any time you’re making a custard, your biggest fear is that the eggs will curdle. But since we have total temperature control with the sous vide, we don’t have to worry. I blend together the custard ingredients, pour them in in 4-ounce mason jars, which are about the right size for a single serving, and drop them in a bath at 82 degrees Celsius for about 45 minutes. Then I let them cool down and finish the top with a crème brûlée torch. It’s bullet proof.
Sous vide can also be great for making infusions for cocktails. You could make a signature drink for your Thanksgiving — one example might be a concoction of cranberries, sugar, rosemary, and vanilla bean. You toss your ingredients in a sous vide bag, heat it up, and end up with a nice, strong infusion that you can add to champagne or vodka. If you’re really fancy you could even put the infusions in little bottles and give them out as holiday gifts.
Lastly, when you’re done cooking, you can put your food back in sous vide bags and immerse them in a holding bath to keep everything warm. That way when you decide that you’re switching from hors d’oeuvres to the main course, you can just pull stuff out of the bag. You’re not eating when dinner is ready — rather, dinner is ready, and you eat it when you want.
What’s the benefit of sous vide cooking?
With sous vide, you have precise control over doneness temperature, so don’t have to worry about accidentally overcooking or undercooking. There’s no possibility of the meat drying out. Every time I’ve done a sous vide turkey, people take their first bite and look up disbelief over how juicy it is.
Instead of being frantic on Thanksgiving day, you can be relaxed. You don’t have to keep an eye on the clock, and you know how everything’s going to turn out. It frees you up to other things, like making a playlist, planning seating charts, or, in my case, making even more courses!