Heston Blumenthal heralds it as the greatest kitchen revolution of our time, Raymond Blanc can’t get enough of his and thousands of amateur cooks have rushed out to get one too.
I’m talking about the sous vide – the culinary accessory du jour, which promises to be bigger than the microwave and turn absolutely anyone, including clueless beginners, into MasterChef contenders.
For the uninitiated, a sous vide is a posh boil-in-the-bag gadget that Heston has described as: ‘The biggest single change in the professional kitchen in the past 50 years – probably the last century.’
It’s French for ‘under vacuum’ and is pronounced ‘soo veed.’
John Lewis became the first UK stockist last September, and since Heston sung its praises, sales have shot up by 60 per cent.
But what exactly is this kitchen marvel – and how easy is it to use?
Having been a student in the Eighties, I’m no stranger to boil-in-the-bag cuisine, I spent years living off rubbery cod in watery parsley sauce and congealed spaghetti bolognese.
So it’s with a mixture of fascination and horror that I agree to put the sous vide to the test although, to be fair, the technique it employs is rather more sophisticated than just boiling up a bag full of questionable ingredients.
First, you ‘vacuum pack’ the food, sealing it in special bags to keep in flavour, nutrients, sugar and colour.
Then, the sealed package is cooked slowly in water at a set temperature: no boiling allowed.
It is claimed that this constant, low temperature breaks down fibres, tendons and tissue – resulting in food that is incredibly tender and bursting with flavour.
The downside, as will become clear, is that this deliciously flavoursome food is a long time in the making.
Sous-vide cooking is already huge in America, where a new sport has emerged, a kind of extreme sous viding – the challenge being to invent your own machine in which to slow-cook your food.
There are pictures on foodie websites of proud cooks standing beside contraptions that look worryingly like a car battery attached to a Babyliss Foot Spa.
I momentarily consider re-wiring the fish tank and plugging it into the PlayStation, but visions of electrocuting my children quickly deter me. Instead, I opt for one of the best sous vides on the market – a gleaming £349 machine from John Lewis.
It’s surprisingly light and compact and looks similar to a breadmaker but instead of placing dough inside, you fill the inner bowl with water which gently heats.
In addition, I’ve paid £99 for a sous-vide vacuum sealer and £7.95 for a pack of 12 heat-proof bags. Let’s hope the results are worth my investment.
While the sous vide can cook anything from chicken and fish to an array of vegetables, it is best known for producing moist, tender, melt-in-the-mouth steaks.
For best results, my online recipe tells me, steaks should be cooked for 24 hours – in other word 23 hours and 54 minutes longer than I’d usually take to fry one. It had better be worth it.
I decide to prepare a Tesco Finest rib-eye steak and a smaller rump steak.
Following the printed instructions, I place each in a vacuum bag, then push it into the sealing device, press it down and, with the flick of a switch, the machine thunders into action and the bag is vacuumed and ready to gently cook.