In the course of an online conversation, the topic of sous-vide cooking came up... sous-vide is a technique in which foodstuffs are placed in vacuum-sealed bags and immersed in hot water, as hot as the desired internal temperature of the finished dish, for hours. The technique prevents the food from drying out and ensures an evenly -cooked product.
Wanting to try the technique, but not having the funds for an expensive sous-vide immersion heater and a vacuum-sealer, and uncomfortable with the amount of plastic needed to seal every meal, I decided to try a workaround. Kitchen wizard J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats came up with a method to use a beer cooler to mimic a sous-vide machine. I had found leg-o-lamb on sale at a supermarket near my workplace before starting my shift, and I knew that there was a cooler as well as an electric kettle in the woefully underused kitchen of my workplace:
The deboned leg-o-lamb went into the cooler, followed by a couple of gallons of hot water:
After a few hours, it was time to go home, so I took the pseudo sous-vide lamb home. The technique doesn't brown the meat, the temperature never gets hot enough for the Maillard reaction to occur. To get a proper finished product, I had to pop the lamb into a 350F degree oven for about forty-five minutes, after rubbing it with a blend of salt, coriander, cumin, savory, and fenugreek. The final product was juicy and tender, but no better than a traditional roast. I think I started with the wrong cut of meat- I prefer my lamb medium-well, rather than the medium rare best achieved with sous-vide cooking. Next time, I will try something smaller and less forgiving of overcooking than a leg of lamb- the technique seems tailor made for cooking boneless chicken breasts.
With the cost of equipment being high (though not as expensive as before), I don't foresee sous-vide cooking being widely adopted in home kitchens anytime soon, but I can see how it is an indispensable cooking technique for commercial kitchens- it cooks food to a consistent standard and food can be precooked and kept warm for hours without overcooking, to be quickly finished with a sear in a pan or on a grill. The beer cooler workaround was fun to try, but I can't see myself doing it very often... though it would be fun to arrive at a cookout with a cooler and start pulling cooked chicken breasts out of it, it would be even more fun to pull cold beers out of said cooler.