Kitchen Hacks

How to Hack a Sous Vide Machine

by:
June 27, 2013

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Yes, you can sous vide at home -- and you don't need anything fancy.

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Like liquid nitrogen and pork belly, something cooked sous vide seems relegated to the world of restaurants, a world of industrial Cryovacs and immersion circulators and vacuum-sealers.

Yes, restaurants cook sous vide for many reasons -- precision, reproducibility, hands-off cooking. The technique, which simply means cooking sealed food in a low-temperature water bath, has its benefits -- but it can cost you around $800.

Good thing you can make one, with just a rice cooker and a temperature controller, in your own kitchen. For less than $35.

Here's how it works.

Water bubbling

The rice cooker is filled with water and plugged into the controller, which reads the ambient temperature of the water bath. If the temperature of the water bath goes above the desired temperature, it shuts off the rice cooker. Vice versa if the temperature goes below the programmed temperature.

You can choose to buy a temperature controller or build one yourself with some know-how. My food-geek buddy built mine using this DIY post and wrote about it in his book.

So what’s the first thing you should cook sous vide? Eggs. Perfect soft-boiled eggs with soft yolks and opaque just-set whites. Oh, and a bowl of ramen to go with it.  

To get perfect sous vide soft boiled eggs, simply leave them alone in a 65° C water bath for 50 minutes. That's it. 

When adding the sous vide egg, gently crack it into the bowl as you would a raw egg. Grab a spoon and some chopsticks.

 

Disclaimer: Low-temperature cooking can lead to unsafe food conditions, especially when left in the danger zone (41-135F). Please read up on acceptable times and temperatures on Dave Arnold’s primer on Low Temperature and Sous Vide Cooking.

 

11 Comments

Darian P. November 9, 2014
I have an induction burner that I can set at temps as low as110 degrees, as long as I check on it( it turns off after 3 hours) I can sous vide with that. It keeps a water bath at whatever temp you set. I have done an herb pork chop and some fish dishes that have came out excellent
 
Karl R. June 27, 2013
l33t hax0r!!
 
sygyzy June 27, 2013
What device is pictured in the header image? I know what it is but I am curious if it was purchased commercially or built from a kit?
 
Author Comment
Amanda L. June 27, 2013
The black device is the Temperature Controller: there's a link in the article that points to a build-it-yourself Temperature Controller page, and another link where you can purchase one already made off amazon. The blue device on the left is the aquarium bubbler.
 
HalfPint June 27, 2013
Very Cool. Seeing that temp controller makes me nostalgic for my days in the lab.
 
JoyJoy June 27, 2013
Would a crock pot/slow cooker work similarly as a rice cooker in this application? And by the way, this is awesome. Thanks!
 
Author Comment
Amanda L. June 27, 2013
Absolutely! If your vessel is particularly large, I'd recommend buying an aquarium bubbler and some tubing to circulate the water (it's the blue tubing in the pictures). This one works particularly well and is nice and quiet: http://www.amazon.com/Tetra-77851-Whisper-Pump-10-Gallon/dp/B0009YJ4N6/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1372350634&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=aquarium+bubbler
 
savorthis June 27, 2013
I have a friend who has a Thomas Keller-inspired New Year's Eve party ever year which means not only days and days of cooking but all sorts of equipment most of us don't have. Last year I was assigned the Torchon of Monkfish Liver which has an apple sauce that requires sous vide cooking of the apples. I set up my rice cooker with a digital thermometer and just sort of monitored it myself since it only has to cook 20 minutes or so. But I had not thought of the temperature controller! We happen to have one plugged into our freezer which acts as a beer cooler....so I will try this version next time! I wish this would work with my slow cooker which is bigger but I don't think that is possible.
 
Author Comment
Amanda L. June 27, 2013
That sounds like an awesome (and challenging) party! Using the temp controller with the slow cooker ought to work just as well. Might even be able to cook more at a time since they're wider :)
 
savorthis June 27, 2013
I think my slow cooker makes you choose between four settings so if it shuts off I am not sure it would start up again without a press of a button. I will have to look into that. It is definitely a better size.
 
Kristen M. June 27, 2013
I'm in awe.