Sansaire Sous Vide Immersion Circulator – Approx. $260 through Amazon (at time of writing)
It was whilst reviewing Chef Chris McDonald‘s excellent Complete Sous Vide Cookbook that I was given the opportunity to try our the Sansaire Sous Vide Immersion Circulator, with MacDonald having told me that it was one of his favourite units throughout his extensive recipe testing.
Having never cooked anything sous vide previously, it was with some trepidation I launched myself into an exploration of the method, and I can think of no better unit for the novice than the Sansaire.
Looking not unlike a 48cm high pen cap, the Sansaire clips onto the side of your water-filled pot (as pictured above), switches on simply, and your target temperature (Centigrade or Fahrenheit are chosen by a button to the right of the power button) is set through the turning of a grey-coloured collar at the top of the unit. A blue LED display let’s you know where the temperature is currently at, and your target temperature can be viewed for a few seconds by pressing the target button to the left of the power switch. And that’s pretty much it.
I decided to forgo the additional expense of a vacuum sealing unit (approximately another $200), instead opting for the water displacement method using freezer bags as outlined in MacDonald’s book. While this workaround does the job adequately enough, I cannot stress enough the need to use decent brand name freezer bags, as the cheaper ones just don’t cut it. Even using the hardiest of Ziploc bags, displacing the water from them can be a little tricky, and you always run the risk of having water get into the bag as you are sealing it, or the seal to break during the cooking process. Still, in a pinch, this method does a decent job.
Another thing I learned pretty rapidly is to ensure that your sealed bag or bags all fit into the pot alongside the immersion circulator BEFORE the water gets hot. I tell you, the air was absolutely blue as I made this amateur’s mistake with my second adventure with the unit, attempting to submerge three bags of two lamb shanks each into some pretty damn hot water. I won’t be doing that again any time soon.
I played about with pre-browning and after-browning and seemed to achieve the best results with the latter. As you can see in the picture above, meat coming from the sous vide pre-browning does not look the most appetising. But slap them into a really hot grill pan (preheated) for a few seconds each side and BANG!
They looked perfect, tasted delicious, and the texture and the juiciness was simply extraordinary. My first jaunt with the Sansaire had been a real success, with my wife telling me she thought them the best steaks I had ever cooked.
If anything, I had left them just a little too long in the grill pan ; witness the touch of grey around the outsides of the slices. I’m guessing that using a blow-torch one would be able to achieve even better results… maybe I should add that to my Xmas list for 2017?
Next up were some (pre-browned) lamb shanks. They were in with the circulator for 24 hours at 158 degrees Fahrenheit. This was an interesting one, as with the sous vide method the fat that is usually rendered out of the meat during braising remains within, meaning that the resultant shanks have a particular succulence that is almost otherworldly, and a little disarming at first.
The lamb shanks were undoubtedly a success with our dinner guests, as they finished off each and every morsel from the bones. Another terrific performance from the Sansaire unit.
These were served with sauce that also involved a little sous vide preparation : Coq au Vin with balsamic pearl onions, that left as a byproduct some amazingly powerfully-flavoured vinegar that worked a real treat with some bitter salad leaves and pressure-cooked chicken gizzards a few days later.
Another observation (for the longer cooking times) is that the user should be especially mindful of the water level in the vessel. You’ll lose some water through evaporation unless you cover the pot with plastic wrap, and even then it pays to keep a close eye on it, topping up with hot water when necessary. The Sansaire unit does have low water level protection built-in, but I was pretty vigilant in keeping the level up high enough to cover all of the shanks.
My next experiment with the Sansaire unit was for the traditional family get-together upon Xmas day. I was cooking for five of us (plus two tots) and so I decided to attempt a three bird “roast” consisting of a capon, a heritage chicken, and a guinea hen, all done sous vide individually and then finished off on the day, at the location, in a really hot oven together.
This allowed me to take my time with the preparation in the days leading up to the 25th, then transport them to the family member’s home still under vacuum, and finish them all off at the same time. And boy, it worked out well!
In the case of these three birds I had the butchers kindly stuff them with a single lemon and then vacuum seal them for me on-site. If you had a vacuum sealer at home it would be possible to fill the cavity with something more complex, but the aim of this butcher-assisted stuffing was simply to make the birds less buoyant in the pot so they would cook more evenly.
Sous vide makes you reassess how you gauge a meats doneness, as often we do all of this by colour. Because of the nature of the method you have to rethink all of this, as can be witnessed with the “raw blood” in the picture below. Remember, these three birds are already fully cooked when they emerge from the sous vide.
For the record, all three were cooked (read : pasteurised) with the Sansaire at 156 degrees Fahrenheit for six hours each, and then finished off in a 450 degree oven for 25 minutes after being brought to room temperature and then smothered in a liberal application butter, salt, pepper, garlic salt, and paprika, then laid on a bed of peeled garlic, rosemary, and thyme.
All in all, I don’t think I could recommend the Sansaire immersion circulator enough. I’ve had tremendous fun messing around with it, and if you have the time and the patience (and a copy of MacDonald’s cookbook) you’ll be able to produce some simply stunning dishes at home without learning any tricky techniques. The Sansaire is easy to use, easy to clean, and feels pretty sturdy compared to other models I have seen recently.
While it’s not the cheapest immersion circulator out there, I take Chef Chris McDonald at his word when he tells me of his preference for this unit, seeing as the man spent two years immersing himself (bad pun intended) in the exploration of sous vide.
I’ve only had mine for a few weeks, and yet I’m wondering how I ever did without it.
(Five apples out of a possible five)
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he’s grown to love his Sansaire Sous Vide.