Liftoff this weekend: I built my own sous vide machine following a material list and nearly step by step directions from a fellow foodie and rocket scientist DIY'er, SeattleFoodGeek.
What is a sous vide machine?
Sous vide in French means a vacuum. It's a method of vacuum-packing food, then slow-cooking it at low temperatures for intensely flavorful, colorful results. First used mainly by the French in the 1970s, it was made world famous when experimental chefs Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal picked it up in the ‘90s, and then it spread to white-tablecloth restaurants across the United States.
The key benefit of cooking sous vide is constant temperature control for extended periods of time. This means cycling heat on and off automatically to keep a constant temperature (can't do this with throwing a vacuum sealed protein in a pot of boiling water or crock pot).
To ensure I would not give up at my first or second obstacle in frustration, I made it a group effort by enlisting the participation of several other local foodies. This proved crucial to completing the project as my motivation was severely tested. The SV Team: (@EatItAtlanta - a huge help, @BlackTieBBQ, @RandomOenophile, and my dad without whom I could not have crossed the finish line and who certainly saved me from assured electrocution). Everyone involved brought their specialized tools, various handiwork experience, and infectious enthusiasm. Together we uncovered new and creative ways to electrocute ourselves. Don't know if the subsequent brain damage and twitching symptoms are now covered in my healthcare plan.
Here's the original article on building the sous vide machine from SeattleFoodGeek.
The original article claimed a budget of $75. My budget came in at $143. The $68 difference was the addition of my Plan B that was implemented during my darkest hour and motivational low point. Plan B was the purchase & shipping costs of a "water bath" device from Ebay.
[Quick aside] It's all in a name. Look up sous vide on Ebay and people will sell you something for ~$300 ++. Water bath usually finds someone selling an old piece of lab equipment perfectly suited for cooking sous vide.
The other cost was the replacement water pump that melted from extreme and ultimately out of control high water temperatures. From this plastic hot mess, I programmed a high setting limit on the temperature control device.
Below are my notes from this experience. These notes won't make complete sense until you read all of SFG's instructions and the directions that accompany the components you order.
- Challenge 1: Prep the box. You don't need a laser; a drill to make the initial hole and a combination of a dremel and a sodering iron can expand, melt, and polish your way to making the required spaces in the plastic box.
- Challenge 2: Hook up connections. Unfortunately my PID (temp control device) was different than SFG's. Can't explain why so our wiring diagrams were different. This requires the use of a multimeter to understand where power is available on the various stations of the PID. Ultimately this also affected the order of the yellow and blue connections between the thermometer device and PID. There's additional help from SGF that I was going to follow if my breakthrough had not occurred. Happy to share it - leave a comment.
- Challenge 3: Program the PID. We're all in trouble if our future Chinese overlords write in English as poorly as the instructions that explained the menus for setting the PID. You must accomplish these goals programming the PID:
1. "unlock" the PID
2. match the PID to the thermocouple - identifying in the PID the model number
3. set a high temp limit
4. auto tune the thermocouple
- Challenge 4: Any small water pump will do. I found my replacement at a PetsMart in the reptilian/turtle section - avoiding the larger, more expensive ones with the fish.
I'm busy now mastering chicken in the sous vide and helping the others in the group finish their appliance. More insights to come!