Nomiku Sous Vide Cooker review: Don't dive in with Nomiku's sous vide cooker just yet
The secret is out on sous vide, a precision cooking technique that suspends vacuum-sealed ingredients in an evenly heated water bath for consistently well-cooked results. High-end restaurants have been using it for decades, but a recent generation of consumer-oriented devices wants to bring the technique to your kitchen, too -- and at a fraction of the cost.
Nomiku was one of the first, making a splash on Kickstarter back in 2012 and helping to spawn a small bumper crop of competitors eager to claim territory in an exciting new cooking category. An immersion device, Nomiku clamps onto the side of your stock pot and extends into the water within, heating and circulating it to maintain a precise temperature of your choosing.
After testing it out alongside a few of those competitors, it's clear to me that sous vide can help even casual cooks achieve truly excellent mealtime results, which helps to justify Nomiku's $300 price tag. (A 240V version ships internationally from Nomiku's website at the same price, which is roughly £186 in the UK, or about AU$340 in Australia.) What doesn't help, however, is the fact that much of the competition cooks just as well and costs less . Also costing less: the new version of Nomiku due out in March , which will boast an improved design and built-in Wi-Fi. As much as Nomiku impressed me (and my taste testers), I think it'd be wise to shop around a bit -- or to hold off for the next generation.
Nomiku sports a fun, white and green design with a small OLED touchscreen front and center. To turn the thing on, you'll just plug it in and then tap on its face to wake it up. Using it is as easy as clamping it to the side of your stock pot, then turning the ring around its neck to set the desired temperature.
That ring is one of Nomiku's best features. Like an old-school iPod click wheel, it features dynamic sensitivity. Spin quickly, and you'll jump 10 or 15 degrees at a time. Spin slowly, and you can easily dial in to a tenth of a degree -- an advantage over Anova and Dorkfood, which operate in whole degrees.
Like Anova, Nomiku takes about 15 to 30 minutes to get up to temperature, depending on how high you set it. Once the water is heated, you'll drop in your food. Ideally, it'll be vacuum sealed (sous vide translates to "under vacuum"), but you can also use food-safe Ziplock freezer bags. To get the majority of the air out, just dip the open bag into the water with just the seal exposed. The water pressure will force most of the air out -- seal it up, and you'll be good to go.
That level of precision translated into cooking performance. For my tests, I started with an obvious sous vide staple: eggs. In an evenly heated water bath held to a precise temperature, cooking eggs to your preferred level of doneness shouldn't be a problem.
There are a lot of recipes for sous vide-cooked eggs on the Web, and most of them call for cook times of 45 minutes or even an hour. That felt like a long time to wait for breakfast, so I found a recipe that cooks the eggs at a hotter temperature for just 15 minutes. If I wanted a runnier egg, 13 minutes would do it. For something firmer, I'd need to wait 18 minutes.
Nomiku nailed all three cook times. The 15-minute egg was my favorite, with a soft, buttery yolk that still ran when I cut into it. Other taste testers preferred something a little firmer on their toast. Whatever egg you desire, Nomiku can get you there.
Next up was salmon, which I don't cook very often because I always seem to screw it up. I was especially eager to see if these sous vide cookers would be able to come to my rescue.
As it turns out, that's exactly what happened. After a fifteen-minute cook time, all three salmon filets came out tender, flaky and delicious. One taste tester who doesn't enjoy salmon all that much liked my Nomiku salmon enough to eat the whole filet for lunch. As much as I want to take that as a compliment, the credit goes to the cooker, not the cook.
Next up was London broil, cooked to medium rare over 4 hours. With the consistency of sous vide, we expected each steak to come out evenly cooked, with perfect, edge-to-edge doneness. With the vacuum sealer locking in the moisture, we expected each one to be juicy, tender, and flavorful. Basically, we expected exceptional steak -- anything less would fall short of sous vide's promise.
Fortunately, Nomiku delivered again, as did the other cookers I tested. All three steaks came out looking and tasting more like fine prime rib than middle-of-the-road London broil. I didn't even get around to polling my taste testers -- we were all too busy eating.
Clearly, there's quite a bit to like about Nomiku, but it isn't perfect. The rubbery clamp isn't quite as tight as I'd like, for instance. With the stock pot I used, Nomiku would always slip down to the lowest position possible.
Typically, this isn't a problem unless you need to fill the pot with a lot of water to accommodate what you're cooking. Nomiku has its minimum and maximum water level marked right on the device, and it's a fairly tight window between the two. As the clamp slips down, so do those levels. If you need the water level up fairly high in the pot, Nomiku might not be able to handle it without a bit of MacGyvering.
The real point of concern is that Nomiku will automatically shut off if the water level falls below that minimum level. You can't put a lid on the pot with Nomiku clamped on the side, so if you live in a particularly dry home and you're slow cooking a recipe over a few days, the water level is going to fall. With such a tight window between the Nomiku's minimum and maximum water levels, you'll need to keep a close eye on it and add additional water as needed, which sacrifices a fair deal of the set-and-forget simplicity.
This gets tricky if you're slow cooking through the night, like I was during my final test: three-day pork spare ribs. Before leaving the office around 6:00 the first night, I made sure to fill the Nomiku's pot back up to the maximum level. The next morning, I arrived to a sad sight. Sometime during the night, the Nomiku's water level had dropped below minimum, and the thing had shut off. My meat had been sitting at an unsafe temperature for who knows how long, and I was forced to throw it out and start over.
If I were cooking at home, I'd obviously be able to fill that water back up a lot later in the evening. Still, Anova has a much bigger range between maximum and minimum water levels, and you're able to keep the lid on your cooker with Dorkfood. Neither of those gave me any comparable difficulties during the same series of tests.
At any rate, I started the Nomiku's test over. This time, I stayed a few hours extra at the end of day one before filling the water up to the top, then I made sure to get in a few hours early the next morning. To my relief, the Nomiku was still going strong. The water level, however, was dangerously close to that minimum level -- too close for me to risk it again on night two. After all, good pork ain't cheap.
I decided to take a different approach this time and cover the pot with a makeshift lid made out of aluminum foil. On morning number three, this proved successful -- the water level had barely dropped overnight. It wasn't a perfect solution, though. Throughout the test, we recorded the minute-by-minute temperature in each pot using carefully calibrated thermocouples, and upon examining the graph of the data, it was clear that Nomiku's consistency got noticeably worse with the pot covered.
Specifically, the Nomiku ran about a full degree hot (it claims it can stay within 0.2 degrees Farenheit of the target temperature), and saw slightly more dramatic temperature swings throughout the night. This might not sound like much of a difference, but for long cooks like this one, consistency is especially important. In this case, the ribs came out fine, but if I'd covered the pot with foil each night, I'm not so sure they wouldn't have been a little overdone.
The bottom line
In spite of its attractive-yet-imperfect design, Nomiku does a very good job of bringing a high-end cooking technique into mainstream kitchens. Even at a fairly steep price of $300, it might make for an especially good secret weapon in the toolkit of an enthusiastic home chef. I know as I used it, I felt like a better cook than I actually am, and had fun, too.
Still, the sous vide category is young, and it's evolving quickly. If you shop around right now, you'll find legitimate competitors like Dorkfood and Anova that cost less and probably make more sense as immediate purchases. If you're willing to wait, FNV Labs has an impressive looking all-in-one smart sous vide cooker due out in 2015, along with a less expensive, app-enabled upgrade from Anova and Nomiku's own smartened up second generation . Despite how much I enjoyed that London broil, I want to see what these new cookers bring to the table before spending too much.