Sous vide, the next crockpot.
Did you know that water is the best way to conduct heat? Well, that's exactly what you're doing with sous vide: cooking sealed bags of food slowly in hot water, almost as if you're poaching the item. Sous vide which means "under vacuum" in French was invented by French and Americans who were working for Cryovac in the sixties. Usually kept in the kitchens of four-star restaurants, you can occasionally find a science-minded chef who likes to stretch himself. My friend Matthew was just that man.
Being a houseguest usually leaves me at the mercy of other peoples refrigerators. Thankfully I spent a few nights in Williamsburg with two people who love to cook. On Wednesday night we pit two ways of cooking against each other: regular conventional stove and fancy sous vide machine. The chicken, brussel sprouts and fennel went in the oven and the daikon, beets and carrots went into the hot water.
The roasting was done, you know, the usual way. For the sous vide method, the veggies were cut up in similar sizes and then placed in thick plastic bags, along with herbs, seasoning and butter. The bags were then sealed, the air removed and placed in the water bath. And then Matthew went back to his video game and ignored them for an hour and a half. Give or take.
Even, consistent cooking at the same temperature. That's what you're gaining when you cook in carefully regulated water. Granted, vegetables aren't usually the ingredient you're concerned about over-cooking, but after our experiment I can tell you, they tasted wonderful. Each vegetable had a firm mouthfeel, the carrots had a nice hint of bite, and the daikon were just shy of a crunch. The beets were too rich, but the mix up there was we added too much butter. Lesson learned. The one downside, other than the bulky appearance on your countertop, is that you can only cook at one temperature at a time. Which means you can't mix and match your items. Next invention for the home chef? A sous vide with quadrants.