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Sous vide machines aren't haute cuisine, they're Millennial crockpots — and that's why they're perfect

Not sold? Neither was I.

Photo by Avery Ellis / Engadget

A poker face is among the many qualities I was born without, so when I unwrapped the Anova Precision Cooker Nano about 14 months ago, I'm sure my visibly confused mug completely undermined my attempt at an enthusiastic "wow, uh… thanks!" What on earth was I supposed to do with this goofy thing? For the better part of a year, it sat in a kitchen drawer.

Don't misunderstand me here: I love to cook. And my dear friends who bought me what most closely resembles some sort of food lightsaber are almost pathologically good gift-givers. But there were two complete misconceptions fighting for space in my head.

On one hand, I grew up watching Good Eats, and Alton Brown's axiom of "no unitaskers!" still reverberates skullwise. My limited understanding of sous vide indicated its primary use case was satisfying those in search of the perfect reverse sear. Frankly, steak doesn't do much for me, and unless I'm making it for a partner it's rarely something that graces my kitchen. This was a totem of carnivorous vanity, and I wanted no part in its rituals.

I also associated sous vide methods with the sort of intimidating, molecular gastronomy-style cuisine that is typically a fool's errand for home cooks. Dry ice smoke infused with rosemary. Alginate spheres of sauce. That sort of thing. Would looking up the cook temperature and time laid out in reference tables on Serious Eats feel more like calculating lathe operations than making dinner? Did I really need my proteins cooked within a degree of medium rare just to fulfill my basic goals of "eat things that taste okay" and "don't starve"? Oh my god, I was going to have to buy one of those vacuum sealers and a cambro to cook things in! This had quickly become a culinary albatross around my neck.

Dear reader, by now you've guessed the twist of this story: I'm an idiot. Not only is a sous vide machine neither of those things, it's actually the perfect tool for someone like me who cooks herself a huge batch of something on Sunday and grazes on it through the workweek. Sous vide is just a crockpot for Millennials.

"I can get an actual crockpot for 40 bucks," you might be saying. Oh, you sweet, misinformed angel, we have no use for such trifles any longer. Yes, both of them free up a burner on the stove for fussier cooking activities. But having granular control over temperature means not worrying that what's cooking on the countertop all day is actually safe to eat. It's also next to impossible to burn down your apartment with a sous vide, so I feel significantly more comfortable letting it run for a few hours while I'm at the gym.

Let's say, hypothetically, you're someone whose executive functions aren't always operating at peak performance (couldn't be me!). Mazel tov, you get to experience a sous vide perk so good it feels like cheating: just put the marinade in the bag. Instead of dirtying a bowl and waiting six to 12 hours to even start cooking, I've been shocked at how well flavors infuse from inside a Ziploc. A few sliced chicken breasts with soy sauce, sake, mirin, oil, the usual mix of ginger and alliums and a little juice from a pomelo I had sitting around? Mwah. Delish.

Better still, it adds no extra time or effort to cook in volume with sous vide, so I made two bags of the aforementioned chicken and froze one. When I was having a Depression Week and didn't much feel like cooking, I defrosted it and cut it into chunks for salad.

To get the obvious out of the way, no, I didn't need to buy a bunch of cambros — a standard stockpot does just fine for me. A Ziploc bag and some understanding of displacement also obviated the vacuum sealer. Using one of these is very much in reach for just about any home cook.

That's not to say it can't have lofty applications. I'll most likely use that temperature accuracy to reliably cook some soft boiled eggs whenever I get up the courage to attempt tonkotsu ramen. Some people have even put them to the task of cheesemaking, which, sure, I'll probably do homemade saag paneer at some point. Why not. But for the most part, my Anova gets used every three to four weeks for relatively unfussy stuff that just keeps me alive and reasonably healthy. Thanks again, Marc and Meg, I owe you a dinner soon.