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Pros - Ease of Use, Results
Cons - Very Few
Let me start this review by saying, I love this piece of equipment. After watching the movie “Burnt” I jumped online and made an impulse buy, the Anova Bluetooth Precision Sous Vide Cooker. For those unfamiliar with “sous vide”, which translates to “under vacuum”, it is a water bath way of cooking. It uses the low temperature, constantly circulating water to cook evenly and retain the moisture typically lost in of other styles of cooking. Sous Vide cooking wasn’t completely new to me, I have a friend that has been doing it for years, however there were two things keeping me from diving in (water pun).
The first obstacle was the actual equipment. The first sous vide equipment I was introduced to involved a thermometer probe that was connected to an automatic on/off switch that was plugged in between a crockpot and the power source. You fill your crockpot with water, set your temp and the equipment would turn the crockpot on and off to adjust the temp and keep it steady. Without getting really creative, you are limited to the size of the crockpot, and the water is not circulating around the food. The crockpot had to be the model that only had a setting of “on” and “off” in order for the sous vide equipment to automatically cut and restart power to keep the temperature constant. Because I had a newer crockpot with multiple settings, this meant I would have to invest (and store) another piece of cooking equipment. Along with the crockpot, another ideal piece of equipment is a food vacuum sealer. Fortunately I already had one of those. You can use zip type bags but they can leak if you don’t clip them to the side of the crockpot to keep the seal above the water level. I did have a few leaks and although the food is not ruined, it’s not ideal.
The second obstacle was the cost of the equipment. The early equipment previously mentioned was in the neighborhood of $100, plus the cost of a new crock pot. The last time I checked, newer sous vide equipment like the Anova I purchased, run anywhere from $130 and up. The Anova I purchased was $192 after tax. Even though I had heard nothing but good things about sous vide cooking I was still hesitant to spend $192 on something that moves around warm water. That’s when the perfect storm of a modest work bonus, “Burnt” and possibly a Sierra Nevada Bigfoot led me to jump online and make the purchase.
Now, some previous Bigfoot-influenced online impulse buys have not turned out so positively (Time-Life 80’s music CD subscription). However, if I can refer you back to my opening sentence, I love this equipment. I made a point to cook fish, steak and chicken (two ways) within the first few weeks to get a nice range of its capabilities. There are a few good sous vide recipe sites with temperature guides, I trusted them as my guidelines the first time around. My first attempt was salmon. I brined the salmon for a short time, vacuum sealed it with olive oil, herbs, pepper and lemon. I set the Anova to 125F and dropped the bags in for 20 minutes. The great thing about water bath cooking is you can leave the protein in the water for longer periods of time without over cooking it. The protein will only get to a certain temp depending on the water temp. There are sites you can reference to read more about how this works. After 20 minutes I removed the fish and discarded the lemon and herbs. I dried it off and gave it a very quick sear over high heat for texture and appearance. The first thing my wife said was she could taste the lemon and herbs. Sealing in the lemon and herbs resulted in an intense infusion of the flavors and aromas. The fish was perfectly cooked, moist and flaky. The first test was a success.
Next was the boring chicken breast. I have two young kids, who are starting to develop palates, but they are still little kids. If I could sous vide pizza I would be a 3-star Michelin chef in their eyes. Because the chicken breast is so lean, sous vide is the ideal way to prepare them. I sealed them up with salt only and dropped them into 150F water for an hour. When the time was up I removed the breasts from the bag and seared over high heat. Again, I considered this a success. Chicken was fully cooked, moist, perfectly cooked to the kids liking.
For my second chicken attempt I went the way of fried chicken. After breaking down the chicken I seasoned the pieces and vacuum sealed the white meat and dark meat separately. Dropped the dark meat into 155F water and started the timer for 3 hours. Because the white meat doesn’t require as long a cook time I dropped the white meat in after an hour. This is where the advantages of sous vide cooking really shine. Not only was the meat extremely juicy upon coming out of the water, it’s fully cooked. Now when you move to the next step of frying the chicken, you are only looking for color. Once your chicken has reached the color you desire, pull it out, no need to check internal temps for doneness. The result was perfect fried chicken. I should also add it made incredible leftover chicken salad.
Lastly, I made filet mignon. I seasoned with salt and pepper, sealed up the steaks and into the 130F water they went. They were in the water for an hour. In retrospect I would have gone a little lower in temp, probably 125F. Once they came out of the bags I dried them off, seared over high heat and dropped a little butter on each. With all proteins, keep a mind there will be a little more cooking with searing so adjust your final temp goal down to make up for searing. The steaks were a perfect medium but the wife prefers medium-rare. However, she did not complain at all. Neither did the kids, which was a pleasant supply.
The Anova’s cooking performance was exactly what I was hoping for but it is not without a few minor glitches. On the face of the unit you have to hold down the “start” icon for 3 seconds in order to change from Celsius to Fahrenheit, and vice versa. However, in order to set the timer you have to hold down the “start” icon for 8 seconds. So every time I want to set the timer I end up changing from Fahrenheit to Celsius. Not a big deal, I just change it back. On the other hand, maybe it’s me not doing something right. I may be old, but I’m slow. After using that process of starting up the equipment a half a dozen times I downloaded the Anova app to determine whether I can use it to get around the temp changing glitch. Using the app was the solution. I was able to set the temp and time through Bluetooth without changing the temp setting. However, when I hit “start” on the app the Anova turned on and the water started heated up, but the timer did not start on my phone. It did start on the actual equipment, which I guess is what I actually want, but it would be nice to be able to look down at my phone and see the time remaining if I was away from the kitchen.
Lastly, a major reason why I love this equipment is because how kid friendly it is. The kids enjoy sealing up the vacuum bags and dropping the food into the water. Once it’s done with the water bath they help open bags and do the quick sear. There will be plenty of opportunities for them to get creative with what goes into the bags.
Not only has the Anova Precision Cooker improved the food I have been cooking for my family, it sparked curiosity and interest again. I had gotten into a rut, chicken nuggets and pizza. With a little inspiration from a movie and an unfamiliar way of cooking I am broadening the food my kids are experiencing If you find yourself searching for something new in the kitchen, and have the ability to spend a little money, I highly recommend the Anova Precision Cooker.
Pros - Well Built, Simple Touch Based Controls, Easy to Clean
Cons - Bit Bulky
Keep an eye out for discounts, I purchased two of these units and one of the two I was able to score a coupon code for a $50.00 discount!
Sous Vide gear has been consistently coming down in price to the point that it is readily available now to the home enthusiast. The Anova Sous Vide immersion circulator is one of the units now in the family of sub $200 products. I researched quite a few of these units and the Anova unit was the only one that offered a simple and easy to use LCD touch screen.
The product came packaged very nicely and is essentially ready to go right out of the box. The only thing you may prefer to do is go into setup and select fahrenheit if you do not wish to use celsius. There is a single, well manufactured power cord that is plugged into the back of the unit. The unit has a very sturdy feel to it. All of the parts appear to be well manufactured and strong.
The weight of the unit allows it to be placed free standing in hotel pan, or it features a screw based clamp that allows you to attach it to the side of most larger pots. The unit is rated to maintain temperature for up to 5 gallons of liquid.
In my initial tests using this unit, it was extremely easy to get things setup and running. The unit brings the water up to temperature relatively quickly. You can shave time off of that if you fill your container using hot water. The circulation seems very adequate and results from my soft boiled egg trials matched those of the charts I had viewed online for much more expensive units.