If you think about common cooking appliances -- microwaves, ovens, stovetops -- even the most experienced chef is limited by each machine's ability to maintain a constant temperature. This has been a kitchen sticking point as steadiness is key when you want to make certain delicate dishes, or reduce the margin of error on any frequently-cooked foods. Convection tech can mitigate the sometimes-extreme fluctuations in microwaves and ovens, but it doesn't completely solve the problem.
Sous vide, a cooking style that relies on making your favorite meals in a vacuum-sealed plastic bag immersed in water, presents an interesting alternative to more traditional residential appliances. The $500 Caso SousVide Center SV1000 is one such device (about £466 on Amazon's UK site). Unfortunately, its high price, inaccurate temperature gauge and unwieldy water-bath style makes it tough to recommend. Consider the immersion model for something that's easier to use, less expensive and more accurate.
Although $500 is a lot to spend on a sous vide machine, the SV1000 does seem to have a lot going for it -- at least at first glance.
It has a capacity of roughly 2.25 gallons (9 liters) and a stainless steel finish; it weighs 12.8 pounds. The display panel is straightforward, with a Fahrenheit/Celsius button for selecting your preferred option (the temperature settings range from 86 to 194 degrees Fahrenheit, or 30-90 degrees Celsius), a clock button for setting the timer by the minute to anything from 0 to 99 hours (it defaults to 2 hours and 25 minutes), plus and minus buttons for adjusting the temperature and the time settings, a "play" button for starting and stopping a cooking cycle and a "stop" button, which, counterintuitively, acts as the delayed timer setting (you can set it to start cooking up to 12 hours in the future).
Aside from the power on/off button, the only remaining display button operates the built-in vacuum sealer. This is a fantastic feature that works even when the machine is in use. The vacuum sealer is tucked away in a front compartment and each component can be removed, cleaned and easily stored back in the hidden enclosure. Caso also provides 20 zip-sealable vacuum bags for use with the included sealer. That's handy.
I also like that it has handles on the bottom, because this thing is fairly cumbersome, especially when it's full of water. There's also a bit of a surprise feature in the back of the device -- a hose to drain the water. That way, you only have to carry it to the sink, make sure the hose is attached and then flip the valve open to release the water inside. It's slow, but it definitely beats struggling to pour the water out yourself.
The SV1000 also circulates the water around as it's cooking. This is a preferred feature, as it helps ensure even more temperature uniformity. We used professional-grade thermometer probes to test the water and found that the temperatures on either side of the device were extremely close.
We did notice something unexpected during this testing, though. While the water temperature was consistent throughout, it was a few degrees lower than the target temperature. So, say you want to cook something at 135 degrees Fahrenheit (about 57 degrees Celsius) -- the water, while uniform, is likely closer to 132 degrees. That's a fairly easy tweak if you know about the issue (just add a few degrees every time you cook), but it definitely isn't what you want to see from such a pricy, precision-based device.
That resulted in some undercooked food -- I made salmon, poached eggs, steak and pork ribs and the salmon and ribs were noticeably under-done, even though I used standard sous vide settings. Interestingly, I didn't experience such an extreme temperature disparity with the SousVide Supreme, a model that doesn't have built-in water-circulation capabilities.