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I was considering sous vide as a present for someone, but - being wholly unfamiliar with that cooking method myself except it being trendy - don't know how use(ful|less) of a present that is for them.

Is there any point in considering sous vide for unskilled newbie cook who doesn't have too much time to devote to cooking?

Specifically, by that I mean someone who doesn't have the time, drive, or natural inclination to be a more expert cook. They don't even use thermometers. They don't cook fancy (or even simply complicated) dishes and most of the time cook same simple staples (steak, stew, soup, simple pasta, roast fish, stir fry, etc...). As far as I'm aware they never cooked a sauce, or anything requiring two stages of cooking. They don't usually have the time to cook anything that requires constant supervision for more than an hour; they are at home for 2-3 hours after work 6 days a week; during which time they are busy.

Assuming such a cook continues in the same vein of skill and interest of improving that skill and time commitment; what are the tangible benefits; if any (or downsides, if any) of their having and using sous vide?

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    The only advantage to it is that it's nearly fool proof to get something to the done-ness that they like. If they're ruining a lot of food, it might be a good gift ... but it requires a ton of planning ahead. You might be better off giving them an Instant Pot or similar multi-function pressure cookers, as that could handle the stew & soup, and might fit better into their schedule. – Joe Mar 9 '17 at 2:50
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    If they’re not willing to learn (no inclination to learn) the guidelines and the possible problems with sous-vide cooking (read: temperatures to safely cook food to safely eat; cook-chill safety guidelines) I’d say it’s a pretty big issue, and wouldn’t recommend it for a cook like that. Imagine serving improperly prepared sous-vide food to an immuno-compromised person, they could really harm someone. – Ming Mar 9 '17 at 5:46
  • @setek - that depends on how much there is to learn. Is there a clear temperature dial on a cooker and an obvious "this temp for this food" chart that doesn't require chef school degree to follow (like e.g. on most microwave ovens)? There's a difference between not being arsed to do more advanced stuff; vs. being incapable of doing basic stuff :) – DVK Mar 9 '17 at 6:00
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    The problem with sous vide is that while its great for some things (hello, perfect eggs and fish!) it isn't really good for everyday use because its slow, there's often at least a second stage somewhere (browning for better flavor, for example), and you can't usually make more than one piece of the meal at the same time because different things cook at different temperatures. So not only do you have to start hours earlier than usual, but you still have to make the rest of the meal on the stove! I love sous vide for the delicious results, not necessarily for the ease of use or convenience. – senschen Mar 9 '17 at 12:48
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    If somebody does not have the drive for cooking, why would you give them a tool for an activity they don't enjoy? Even if they are forced to do some cooking, it is not going to be a present they enjoy. – rumtscho Mar 9 '17 at 14:01
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I'm a fan of sous vide, and I'm pretty sure it wouldn't make a good present.

Sous vide is mainly a technique for improving quality, not speeding up already fast dishes. It can also help move the busy times around (e.g., so you're not so busy when all your guests arrive, useful at a restaurant or if you host parties).

First, it's slow. A steak on a grill, you start that something like half an hour before you're going to eat, and that includes starting the charcoal. Less time for gas. A quick sous vide steak would probably be around an hour twenty before. Most of that time is just a bag sitting in the water bath, you don't even need to be home watching it. But it'd be a very late dinner after getting home from work.

The basic workflow is first prep and sometimes brown ingredients, second get them in a bag, third they sit in the water bath for a long time (hours, typically), fourth pull from water bath, fifth finish (brown again, garnish with sauces, season, etc.).

And honestly, it's fiddly. At least with reasonably priced equipment. You can (and I often do) use ziploc freezer bags, but getting enough air out so they don't float takes practice (and good clips to attach them to a rack). Non-chamber vacuum sealers are often a pain, as they try to suck any liquids into the seal area (often resulting in a failed aeal).

I think most sous vide cookbooks, etc. are also intended for non-novice cooks.

But if you get it right, it makes an amazing steak!

For soups and stews, I'd suggest a slow cooker (Crock Pot). Prep in the morning, cook all day while at work, ready when you get home. Or, going the opposite direction, a pressure cooker. Personally I've only used stovetop ones, but I hear the electric ones are really easy to use, though slightly less capable than stovetop.

  • This type of analysis is precisely what I was looking for (even if i'm none too happy with the conclusion you arrive at :) – DVK Mar 9 '17 at 14:17
  • The advantage to the electric one is that they'll cook for the desired amount of time, then lower it to warm. And there are ones that you can brown your stuff in first, so you're not dirtying more things like you'd need to with a slow cooker. (although, some of the electronic controlled slow cookers are nice, too ... I have one with a probe that I can shove in a roast, and then have it switch to warm when it hits the desired internal temp). – Joe Mar 9 '17 at 17:22
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I'd say it's not so much about the skill of the presentee, but more about whether they enjoy cooking and expanding their foodie knowledge. As has been said, sous vide as such is not particularly complicated - actually, it's probably simpler in some ways: For example, it's e.g. pretty foolproof for many dishes. Furthermore, it could be especially suitable for people with little time: Many items are sous-vided for some time around 24 hours, and do not need any supervision in between, so they could be started one evening and finshed the next evening. This would be much easier than producing e.g. a roast that has to be braised for three hours. In that sense, sous vide is a very helpful technique for busy people.

However, there is some effort and planning involved, and so sous vide is primarily suitable for people who consider cooking (at least partially) as a hobby. So:

  • If your friend is a newbie who does enjoy cooking, tries new recipes and techniques etc., then sous vide is a very good technique they should learn. They will become better cooks quickly, and tehy can start sou-videing stuff right away.
  • If, on the other hand, they are happy with waht they can do in the kitchen and get reasonable meals out of it, then a sous vide is not the right thing - it would be juts a toy that sits on the shelf.

Judging from your description, your firend is more likely to be in the latter category, but you'll have to decide for yourself.

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I think there is a lot of learning to be done with Sous vide. Preferred temperatures, preferred cooking times, flavourings, etc. I am an avid and experienced cook, and I have done a lot of research and experimenting to find my preferred options for SV-ing different proteins, cuts of meat, and so on. There is a lot of varying information out there, so it is really a matter of finding what suits your palate.

Having said that, I LOVE sous vide, and I get results with it that I have never been able to achieve any other way.

But if someone isn't already interested in trying new ways of cooking and new techniques, I think it would be one of those things that would sit in the back of a cupboard unused.

Maybe a slow cooker might be an option that is easier to use for someone that isn't a keen cook...just chuck some meat and veges in, and leave it!

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Like you, I know only that sous vide is super trendy. But I think you have answered your own question when describing your friend's attitude and relationship to cooking in general.

Unless that person has expressed an interest in beginning to practice the sous vide cooking technique, it sounds to me like some other gift would be more appropriate.

  • This answer makes an assumption that sous vide cooking is more complicated than other type (which I don't know and which what the question was about) – DVK Mar 9 '17 at 3:06
  • @Paparazzi - sorry, that logic is flawed. In software development terms, what is a concern is clock time, not wall time. If the actual effort required is 15 mins but needs to wait 2 days to come to fruition during which two days there's zero attention or effort required; that's literally 2x better than a dish that takes 30 mins of uninterrupted effort. – DVK Mar 9 '17 at 15:45
  • @DVK Did not mean any offense not going to debate with you. It was meant to be helpful and you read it differently. Deleting my comment. – paparazzo Mar 9 '17 at 16:03
  • @Paparazzi - the question wasn't clear enough about utility function, so the fault is at least partly mine. – DVK Mar 9 '17 at 16:09

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