Yeah, I know – I’m suggesting a kitchen appliance for Mother’s Day, something that is most often met with withering glares at best or calls for beheadings at worst.
But there’s a method to my madness. Most moms that I know want “time” more than anything else. Between making sure the household is on schedule, the kids haven’t killed each other, and decent food is being prepared (even if they’re not the chef, because if they see you make tacos one more time…), time to relax is a fleeting unicorn of a thing. While you can’t cheat the clock, if they’re the chef in the family, I have a device that can at least let them steal back an hour or so.
But first a quick cooking lesson: “sous vide” cooking is an immersion method of slowly cooking proteins (usually, but it can be applied to almost anything) in a hot water bath until the internal temperature reaches the temperature of the water. It results in juicier, more evenly cooked food and is practically fuss-free. You put your ingredients in a zip-top bag along with some seasonings and olive oil, drop that in your preheated water, and set the timer. Come back in an hour or so (sous vide items can be maintained at temperature for hours at a time without losing any flavor or texture quality), finish off your proteins with a quick sear or grill, and serve.
The caveat is that you need a device to maintain temperature and circulate the water. For home chefs, it’s ideally connected to your phone so that you can monitor temperatures (and maybe get some prep and cooking advice). Anova is the big player in the industry so far – if you’ve heard of or seen a home sous vide device, that’s likely to have been it. And while it’s nice, it’s a pretty bulky tool. It also relies on an onboard screen as well as an app. I’m not a fan of split-input, especially when it comes to cooking, so when I was looking around at sous vide devices, the Joule caught my attention.
Joule is a slim white and chrome device with a handy magnetic foot that attaches to most pans. It has 1100 Watts of power (300-400 more than the Anova), which translates to less pre-heating time. And it’s WiFi enabled – requiring the Joule app for operation. Side by side, the Joule with its glossy white and chrome finish, clean lines, and slim profile make the Anova look decidedly first gen.
Operation of the Joule is simple. After you’ve gone through the pairing process the first time, all you have to do is plug it in, immerse the Joule in a large pot of water, launch the app, and select your recipe. When choosing a temperature, Joule app provides short video clips of what the finished product will look like, which I found more useful than any written description. After picking a doneness, you choose the thickness of your food (if applicable) and Joule gets working. While Joule preheats your water, you prep whatever you’re cooking in heavy-duty zip-top bags, no vacuum sealer needed. Being a first timer, I went with simple proteins – rosemary, garlic, and olive oil with filet mignon one night, lemon chicken the next. The guides in the app break it all down and walk you through everything you need to know.
You’ll get a notification once the Joule has heated the water to the target temperature, it takes about 10 minutes in a standard stock pot. You drop in your prepared bags of food (slowly immersing them to squeeze the air out of the top before you seal it), set the timer, and that’s it. You can walk away, knowing that you’ve got 30 minutes to an hour (or more depending on what you’re cooking) to go do, well, anything else. When the Joule app notifies you again that your food is ready, you amble back (you can let your food hang out in there for another hour at least), pull your bags, and give your proteins a good 30-second sear in a hot pan.
I will admit, it takes a couple of tries to figure out what the sweet spot is. You need to use quality proteins: my first steaks were too fatty and really needed a stovetop or grill. And you need to work out any temperature phobias you might have – my fear of underdone chicken made me go way over Joule’s suggested temp and resulted in chewy chicken. But once I had a few cooks under my belt with Joule, it produced consistently cooked, perfectly juicy proteins. They were full of flavor too without having to spend hours marinating. The sous vide method helps infuse whatever flavors you throw in the bag into your food. But the best part for me was the fact that I could go do anything else while Joule was doing its thing: go workout, read comics, maybe prep something green to be ignored on the side of the plate. There was no constant checking in to see if something was burning, no turning or flipping, no minding of the cook at all. It was effortless and, honestly, a little bit magical.
If you’re foody-inclined at all, then the Joule website is a fantastic place to hang out. It’s overflowing with menu ideas, recipes, and techniques to try. Their Premium membership gives you access to even more. What’s cool is that the recipes aren’t limited to only sous vide, there are purees and cookies and roasts and just about anything you could think of, all in the same ultra-descriptive style. It’s a bit like having a constantly-updated gourmet food magazine at your fingertips whenever you want.
If you’re a human that cooks, or have a human that cooks for you, the Joule is a fantastic gift. It opens up a whole new method of food prep that’s easy, consistent, and relaxing (plus, when you’re watching cooking shows and they start talking about sous vide, you can nod sagely along and look like that much more like a pro). You can pick yours up for $199 on Amazon or directly from the ChefSteps site.
Thanks to Joule for providing a unit for this review. Opinions and undercooked chicken-phobias are my own.