How did a delicious pork chop kick-start one couple’s quest to bring the sous vide techniques used in commercial kitchens into the home? Join us as we talk to Drs Michael and Mary Dan Eades, the husband and wife pioneers behind the development of sous vide equipment for the amateur cook.
The perfect pork chop
As natives of the barbeque-mad southern United States, nutritional experts Michael and Mary Dan Eades have tasted many pork chops in their time but few have been as good as the one that they ate in a hotel restaurant in 2008. They simply had to know the chef’s secret. When they asked, they were told that the pork chop had been cooked sous vide. This information changed the way that they thought about food forever.
From that moment on, they were, in their own words, ‘on a quest to recreate that perfect pork chop’. They became determined to learn more about sous vide =, which involves gently cooking vacuum-sealed pouches of food at very precisely controlled temperatures, preserving the flavour and nutritional quality of the foods being cooked. ‘How hard can that be?’ they thought to themselves.
To their surprise, the Eades discovered that there was no sous vide equipment on the market for amateur cooks, all the available models being too expensive or impractical for use in a domestic kitchen. The cheapest set-up they could find cost more than $1,500 and would have looked more at home in a state-of-the-art science lab than on a kitchen worktop.
Thrown onto their own devices, the Eades managed to create a makeshift water bath using stock pot, the simmering ring from an old wok and a gas burner. Placing a sugar thermometer in the water, they made continual adjustments by adding either ice cubes or hot water to keep the temperature as consistent as possible. Although it just about worked, this laborious method was never going to suitable for regular use and it could not be replicated by other home cooks. Clearly, another solution was needed.
Although Michael and Mary Dan had written many books on nutrition, promoting a low carb/high protein diet, they had no experience of dealing with culinary technology and turned to expert designers, manufacturers and chefs for help. Working together, their team created the world’s first self-contained machine for sous vide cooking in late 2009: the SousVide Supreme™ water oven.
The SousVide Supreme brand quickly took off, expanding to offer a wide range of affordably priced water ovens, vacuum sealers and other sous vide accessories and cookbooks. The products were a hit with amateurs and professionals alike.
A particularly important fan was Heston Blumenthal. Giving high-quality results every time, sous vide had transformed his work as a restauranteur and he was thrilled to hear about the Eades’ efforts to bring the revolutionary technique into people’s homes. Experimenting with the couple’s equipment in his kitchen at the Fat Duck, he discovered that it worked just as well as his commercial gear. Impressed, he volunteered to join Michael and Mary Dan on a tour of the US. Visiting cookery schools, restaurants and colleges, he demonstrated how the machines worked, serving up delights such as perfect salmon, compressed aubergine and poached pears. The tour was a great success and the prospect of meeting Heston and tasting his food ensured that every event was attended by a large crowd.
Sales started coming in a steady stream and, in 2011, the brand received another massive boost when the water oven won ‘Best in Category for Cooking Electrics’ at the Housewares Design Awards. Since then, the business has gone from strength to strength. .
Thanks to SousVide Supreme equipment, more and more people are discovering how the technique lends a new dimension to even the most familiar ingredients. Mary Dan thinks beetroot is a great example. ‘You’ve never had a beetroot until you’ve had a sous vide cooked beetroot’, she says. ‘It intensifies the flavour so much it’s like eating candy. No taste or nutrients are lost.’
Growing the business has not been without its challenges. The Eades have found that more men buy their products than women. They believe this gender gap is due to the technological nature of sous vide, Mary Dan suggesting that women might more be inclined to think ‘I already know how to cook, why do I need another gadget?’ Whatever the reason, the couple discovered that women lose their reluctance to use the technique when they actually try it. This was even the case with their own daughter-in-law, who did not use a sous vide machine until Mary Dan ‘showed her how it only took 5 minutes to prepare a pork tenderloin and then she could leave it in the water bath and get on with her day. Now she cooks four nights a week with it.’
Sous vide cooking has proved particularly popular with those on a Paleo diet, which cuts out processed foods, and with fans of grass-fed meat, which tends to be flavoursome but tough. For these individuals, the technique is great because it heats food to the optimum temperature – 56⁰C/134⁰F for meat – and keeps it at that temperature for a long time. This enables tough cuts of meat to be slow-cooked for maximum tenderness without any danger of them becoming too hot and overcooking.
You can also prepare meals in advance using the sous vide technique, which can be very handy if you are entertaining. Simply cook the food sous vide, then store the sealed vacuum bags in the fridge until needed. Before serving, open the bags and reheat the contents in a pan or under a grill. Frying or grilling will also give the food some colour and a tasty crust.
We are grateful to Michael and Mary Dan Eades for talking to us while they were visiting London.
Courtesy of www.greatbritishchefs.com