SmartKettle vs. Sous Vide Supreme: Soft Cooked Eggs

November 20 2009 - 6:38 PM

Eggs_pair It's not a fair fight. Let's start by saying that. As I watch the two water heaters battle it out, the SmartKettle, lights blinking, clicking on and off as it regulates the temp to 147… (I look over and it says 149) the Sous Vide Supreme showing me 147.3… lights blinking. The Sous Vide Supreme (SVS) now at 146.8… 147.3… SmartKettle 148. It's like punches are being thrown but is it really? The amount of temp control is the name of the game when you cook sous vide but how relevant is that temp gauge to the body of water, and food, within? 147.3 Smartkettle is back at 147.

The SVS still at 147.3. In my mind it's neck and neck. But as I wait my 45 minutes for a verdict I can make other comparisons. They both heat up rather quickly. The SVS easily holds many times the water of the kettle… 147.3/147 still.  I would expect the kettle to boil much faster than the SVS… if the SVS boils at all? (I guess not if I'm using it!). I went shopping and rustled up short ribs, lamb shoulder, chicken thigh, duck leg, salmon, trout, pork chop and I realize that I need more bags. No big deal. The problem of note is that while the tank of the SVS (147.3/149) is much larger the downside, the only real downside (there are small issues but I'll get there) is that the water is at one temp only. If you're cooking fish and poultry you need to choose and sous vide only one item. If you're making a roast and poultry you need to choose… granted it's not that big a deal but when you have your assortment of protein on the table, you missed lunch, and you're a glass of wine into your sous vide challenge you wish you could do more! (147.3/147)  oops! (as I type 146.8/146).

There are many downsides to using a kettle for sous vide. The biggest one is the small opening is not going to fit a large item. Eggs are great and I chose them because they seem to be a fairly sensitive ingredient to test. (I also had four – two in each). The other thing is potential temp fluctuation. There's still a chance that there's a kill switch on the kettle and after a couple hours it snaps into safety mode but I'm not sure. Within the kettle it stands to reason that its base, where the element sits, is hotter than the top… as the egg rests on the bottom that makes me think I'll have hardboiled eggs shortly. As I'm not sure what the arrangement is in the SVS I would hope it would work better. There are specific instructions for the proper way for the SVS to handle eggs. A fair push back would be that the Kettle would work fine if you adjust the temp to maybe 144 to compensate for the element on the bottom… or fluctuation… or ???

Which brings up why this isn't a fair fight. While the SVS tells you how to ballpark pork, beef, chicken, lamb, fish, veggies, etc. all in detail: legs vs. boneless skinless vs. roasts vs. chops… the Kettle specifies something entirely different: tea. White Tea vs. Green Tea vs. Black Tea. If you know your tea you certainly understand scalded green teas. The bottom line is if you can sous vide an egg in this thing you're fine for tea.

I twittered about my scallops from last night. Simply a clove of smashed garlic, a pat of butter and 4 different sized scallops. Finished in the new Calphalon Sear pan (review to come) and a sprinkling of truffle salt. They were perfect. I have ruined many scallops and enjoyed many scallops at restaurants and homes around the country and have to honestly say – I was really impressed with these scallops. I wonder what kind of shock and awe went through the minds of the people who played with the first microwaves. It was all about convenience and as I wait 45 minutes for 4 eggs to slow poach I can mention how remarkable it is that the true point of difference in this new type of oven is not really convenience. The cooking process is made easier but why would you want to wait 24 hours for dinner… ever? The bottom line is that the food is BETTER. It's why restaurants around the world have been paying thousands for scientific equipment to cook chicken! Thomas Keller wrote a book on it (still waiting for it to show!). Every piece of protein Heston Blumenthal cooks is with sous vide. But I'm gushing and I haven't even seen the results from this egg thing.

What I found interesting with the Blumenthal demo was less the perfect protein than the revolutionary technique. Without sous vide you could not do this to eggs. (While we mention Blumenthal and Keller, credit Wylie Dufresne for his egg trick). The poached pear where the wine's alcohol doesn't boil off is another one of those dishes where I'd have no idea how I could do it otherwise. I suspect that medium to medium rare short ribs where all the fat and collagen have rendered is another example… fish that's cooked but the texture seems raw or duck that same way is another. I have a bag of protein and this weekend I'm going to use it (147.2/149). 11 minutes left.

The kicker 9:13 left the SmartKettle beeps and clicked off… I simply hit the red button and it is back in holding mode. This is a DQ as nearly every sous vide use is in excess of 2 hours. 3 minutes.

Not custardSo the bottom line? I ate my eggs… the SmartKettle eggs were cooked more which  I prefer.  But they were clumpier 
and, especially the whites, had a bit of inconsistency to them while the SVS eggs were custard-like and uniform.

Custard I suppose the next time I'd cook them at 149ΒΊ for 45 minutes and they should be perfect. The kill switch as mentioned pretty much disqualifies the kettle for most uses but if I have smaller items to sous alongside a main protein I would be more than comfortable to break out the kettle and keep an eye on it… 

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