If you, like me, are somewhat in the market for a nice sous vide cooking setup but a little short on funds to afford the excellent $800 Polyscience model, this might be for you. Auber Instruments sells a $150 “Sous Vide” controller which is essentially a PID controller stuck between a non-digital rice cooker and a power outlet. A sensor inside the cooker allows the controller to turn on and off power to the vessel thusly regulating temperature to 1/2 of one degree, which is extremely suitable for sous vide cooking.
For my experiment I connected a loaned (a friend had one, at home I am generally using a “borrowed” older Polyscience model, but since people started asking questions I figured it’s a good time not to take the work stuff home every other week) controller to a few vessels I had. I also connected a Grainger thermometer to log temperature in 1-minute intervals and used a short Ruby script to feed the final data into the Google Chart API.
First Experiment: Bain-Marie
This was my biggest hope. The Bain-Marie I am using is a non-digital electrical model which, by itself, doesn’t hold temperatures within 20 degrees Farenheit. I was used to keep sauces together and had been living a sad life in the back of my cupboard ever since I purchased a more modern, digital, version.
I connected the Bain-Marie to the controller, attached the sensor, and started a 1 hour ”63 degree egg” routine. I chose this approach because a) I like egg and it’s less waste than doing veal or venison, and b) 63 degrees are somewhat of my white whale since the older Polyscience model seemed to have issues holding at that level for more than fifty minutes.
The thermometer recorded a variance of +/- 4 degrees C which is within the acceptable range for eggs but not for other foodstuffs. Affixing the sensor closer to the vessel’s center and covering it with the provided lid helped some:
Now we had a variance of +/- 3 degrees. The issue, as it turns out, is simply with the vessel. Such a sturdy and rather unwieldy bowl simply gives off too much heat when warmed and doesn’t “maneuver” as well in the single-degree range.
Second Experiment: Slow Cooker, non-digital
Same setup as before, this time with a slow cooker (an Asian model without any discernible branding, I bought it for $30 at a Chinese restaurant store when I purchased the rice cooker [see below]).
… and an amazing variance of +/- 1.48 degrees was the result. This is close, if not equal, to the $800 Polyscience model.
The Rice Cooker Experiment
I had issues getting the rice cooker to jump back online after having been disconnected from power. A quick solder later it “kind of” worked and stayed, again, within the 1.5 degree variance. Which is, all things considered, perfect. The one issue here is the rice cooker’s size. I could barely sink four eggs and would have a harder time cooking sufficient meat for a party of six than in the much roomier slow-cooker. For smaller dishes I’d certainly recommend it.
Because we love conclusions. At $150 this is a steal, considering how well it worked. Get a foodsaver vacuum for less than $200 and you have a $4k setup at one tenth the price for home. Of course Polyscience will still rule the professional kitchens of this world (and mad foodies’ homes), but for my personal gear this is just what the Dr. ordered.
[notice_box]As always on this blog, I don’t shill for things. None of the above mentioned paid me or otherwise enticed me to write. It’s kind of sad that I have to say this, but considering the shilly nature of food bloggers (all bloggers, actually) who will happily take money, items, or other sweet deals to “like” something, I feel it’s important I do.[/notice_box]