An immersion circulator is the one item I believe every cook (modernist or not) must have in their kitchen. It makes cooking virtually foolproof, is easy to master, and is the quickest cleanup you’ll ever have. For inspiration on what you can make here are some recipes I’ve done: Sous Vide Halibut, Sous Vide Salmon, Variations on Apple, Deep Fried Egg Yolk, Butter Poached Lobster, Sous Vide Beef Stew, Chestnut Stuffed Chicken
A variety of different options and price ranges exist, but I feel this is one area you’d rather spend a bit more to have the quality, durability and precision of some of the more expensive options on the market. Here’s an overview of some of the most common models available today. And don’t forget to check out these corresponding tubs and vacuum bags if you purchase a stand alone version like Polyscience.
Polyscience Sous Vide Professional Thermal Cooker
This is the immersion circulator I ended up purchasing after comparing the different types and models. What I like most about this free standing unit is the ability to latch it onto any container deep enough to cover its 8 inch long bottom half. The model I purchased came with a large acrylic tub, but I find myself more often attaching it to smaller tubs that can fit in my sink thus taking up less space and being more convenient to fill and empty.
When I first bought the machine I was assuming I’d only use it for fancy modernist dinners, but its simplicity and ease of use allow me to prepare quick weeknight dinners as well. For meats and fish which are cooked between 125 and 140 hot tap water is at or above these temperatures meaning all you have to do is vacuum seal your protein with flavorings (oil, butter, spices) and drop it in for the required amount of time. I know use this machine at least once a week if not more often.
The temperature gauge gives you the freedom to set it at any temperature up to 212°F with 0.1° intervals. The claimed accuracy is +/- 0.1° and home tests have confirmed this. It is programmable in either Fahrenheit or Celsius.
The display is fool proof and requires the mastering of three buttons: on / off, temp up, and temp down. Clean-up is a breeze with a quick rinse of the bottom and a wipe down of the top being all that’s required.
If you are going to splurge on what item for your modernist kitchen, make it this one. I’ve checked many different sites and this one tends to have the best prices.
Polyscience Sous Vide Professional CREATIVE Series Thermal Immersion Circulator
This circulator is the younger sibling of the one featured above. It has the same basic functionality and specifications (at half the price!).
The three biggest differences are the maximum temperature range which is slightly lower with this model (210°F vs 212°F), the Pump Speed and the maximum volume it can heat. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
The 2°F max temperature difference may not seem like a lot, but it is the difference between boiling and not. I have only come across a couple recipes that call for such high temperatures, so this shouldn’t affect the everyday cook, but could be a significant drawback for those who don’t want any limitations.
The pump speed in this version is about 50% of the Polyscience Professional reviewed above, meaning the force with which your water circulates will be much slower. A slower pump will have a more difficult time keeping all the water in the tub at the same constant temperature. This is especially important when cooking larger cuts of meat that need to reach higher temperatures quickly in order to be safe for consumption. If you are only planning on using this for smaller, single serve type items this won’t be an issue. If, however, you plan to cook larger cuts of meat (roasts, leg of lamb, etc), you might want to go with the more powerful option.
The pump speed also plays into the final difference, which is the capacity of the two models. The CREATIVE series can only heat volumes up to 5.3 gallons while the original version can handle 7.4 gallons. This is important if you are planning on using your sous vide machine for larger groups of people. If you plan to use the souls vide method for dinner parties with large quantities of food you’ll want the version that can handle a larger volume. Otherwise, this version is suitable.
Sous Vide Supreme Water Ovens
These immersion circulators differ from the above in that they are part of a fully contained unit rather than a standalone that can be transferred to different vessels. The key benefit is that they are roughly half the price of the original Polyscience Immersion Circulator and so have made home sous vide cooking much more affordable.
What you gain in affordability, however, you lose in design. This machine has some notable differences that are worth mentioning. I have very good friends who have purchased this machine and claim they would have rather shelled out the extra money for a top of the line model.
These models tend to have a temperature range of up to 210°F with controls at the 0.1°F. Their accuracy is lower than the Polyscience versions being 1°F rather than 0.1°F. The stainless steel design which is not insulated contributes to the instability and makes for a rather inefficient household supply. This may not matter for things like meat, but could be an issue for more delicate items like seafood, custards, and eggs. The internal space is limited to a volume of 3 gallons making it more difficult to do larger cuts of meat.
The all included nature of the machine means that when you empty it, you are lifting the 3 gallons of water as well as the 13 pounds of the machine itself, which can be a bit challenging, particularly if the water is hot.
Before springing for this model, I’d recommend reading the reviews here. Quite a few people complain of the model being extremely cheap for what you get.