In the first half of the 20th century, as the story goes, guys would invite women they were interested in to “come over to see their etchings.” The story may be apocryphal, but the point is valid: many male-female hookups of that era didn’t exactly rely on subtlety.
Over time, the more acceptable way for a man to make a lasting impression at his apartment or house became “let me cook you dinner!” That approach combined the less-intimidating feel of a “real” date with the clear message that a guy who knew his way around the kitchen had to be sensitive, accomplished and refined (and perhaps even honorable).
Preparing a fancy dinner at home is still a thoughtful (and effective) way to spend time with your date. But it won’t set you apart from the pack. After all, men who are able to cook aren’t rare anymore. More importantly, the chances are good that the number of guys who’ve cooked for her is pretty close to the number of women you’ve entertained with your signature dish. A nice gesture and an enjoyable evening? Quite possibly. Impressive? Not so much.
In today’s world you need to find a more distinctive hook when inviting a woman to your place for dinner. And the best way to impress your date is by cooking sous vide.
Sounds Great – But What Is Sous Vide?
You’ve probably come across the term “sous vide,” since it’s become the hot new cooking technique of the decade. Unless you’re into gourmet cooking or spend way too much time watching the Food Network, though, you probably aren’t quite sure what it means – or more importantly, what it involves.
The concept of sous vide (French for “under vacuum”) was first used at the turn of the 19th century, but has only become popular in the culinary world over the last few decades. And the development of affordable sous vide equipment has made it a viable and valuable method of home cooking over the last ten years.
The process is simple: food (usually meat or seafood) is vacuum sealed in bags and placed into a water bath to cook slowly. The seal ensures that flavor, natural juices and spices don’t “bake out” and that the food doesn’t shrink up the way it would in a regular oven or cookpot. And the slow cooking method (continually monitored by an accurate digital thermometer) assures careful and uniform temperature control throughout. After cooking, you can give the food a quick sear or add sauce for a more attractive finish, if desired. In a nutshell, you’re able to cook food perfectly while keeping all of the “good stuff” in.
OK, so you’re convinced that preparing a romantic dinner sous vide will impress your date a lot more than just throwing a steak onto the grill or a chicken into the oven. But how much expertise – and how much expense – will it require?
Sous Vide Cooking: Easier Than You Might Think
Professional chefs (or home cooks who love experimenting) can spend months perfecting their sous vide techniques. It doesn’t require months of experience to get great results, though; one of the great things about slow cooking is that it’s hard to make mistakes. Some say it’s idiot-proof, but that might be an insult to idiots. Do a dry run or two, and you’ll be ready to show off.
If you want to look like a superstar, you can get all the equipment you’ll need for less than the price of a dinner for two at an expensive restaurant. If you prefer to live dangerously, most of the stuff you’ll need to give sous vide a shot on the cheap is probably already sitting in your kitchen. Just remember – an epic fail isn’t going fall into the “impressive” category, so you might want to forego the redneck engineering for your hot date.
There are only two pieces of equipment you’ll need to show off your sous vide skills, and one of them is optional. The required one is an immersion circulator. When you put it into a pot of water it will heat the water to the exact temperature required to cook your food and then continuously recirculate it, somewhat like the way a swimming pool heater and pump works (but at much more precise temperatures). For perfect results, you’ll want a vacuum sealer for the bag which will hold your food. An ordinary sealer like a FoodSaver can work fine, but you’ll need to use a new bag for each cook; there are also high-end sealers that let you reuse their bags. You can use a simple Zip-Loc bag, but that’s risky if you’re cooking at high temperatures or for long periods of time.
Tempted to give the cheap method a try? All it takes is a high-quality digital thermometer, a pot of water, the patience to play with the heat and pot placement until the water’s at the right temperature – and the willingness to focus on the LED readout instead of your date, while babysitting your food until it’s done. Some people even cook sous vide by holding the bag under a hot water faucet, but the impression that will leave isn’t likely to be a positive one.
Using the right equipment will allow you to let the food cook while you attend to other activities, like showing off your etchings.
What To Cook For Your Date
There’s no sense in making things more difficult than they have to be. Eggs are the simplest food to cook sous vide because they’re impossible to mess up. That might not make for an impressive meal, however, so your best bet is steak. Nearly any cut will come out perfect every time, only requiring a final pan sear before it’s ready for the plate. Cooking time will range from 1-2 hours depending on the cut, but the forgiving nature of sous vide means that if you get tied up a bit longer with the “appetizers,” there’s no harm done. Shellfish is another good choice. Some foods don’t lend themselves to this cooking method, so you’ll want to avoid planning to serve chicken breasts or halibut for your special date.
If you’re the type who doesn’t settle for simple, spend a few minutes browsing one of the online sites that focus on sous vide cooking and you’ll find fantastic recipes for sous vide venison, tuna, turkey breast – even octopus. And if serving sous vide octopus straight from your very own immersion cooker doesn’t impress your date, you’re probably meeting up with the wrong type of people.
This article was written and provided by Joe Hughes of Sous Vide Wizard, a leading resource in sous vide cooking tips and recipes. You can reach him at Joe@SousVideWizard.com