I’m not really monogamous when it comes to following recipes. I could be inspired to roast a chicken by reading Edna Lewis or Julia Child, then borrow a technique from Cook’s illustrated and Judy Rogers, then search for a Lior Lev Sercarz spice blend, it’s all part of my tough little quest to get a bird as good as possible.
If this kind of DIY sounds like fun, let me introduce you to your new favorite device, the Anova precision furnace.
A countertop wonder, the Anova acts like a normal oven, but also uses steam, a remarkably efficient method of heat transfer that is preferred by restaurant chefs around the world. Loyal readers might wonder at this point, Isn’t Anova the vacuum company? Yes! And that’s where the magic of steam comes in: a steam oven lets you get sous-vide style results without the bag.
“With steam, you can vacuum in the oven,” says Montgomery Lau, executive chef of Bacchus Restaurant in Vancouver, “It replaces sous vide in the professional kitchen.”
Steak is a classic example where low temperature vacuum processing excels. Easy to overcook on the stovetop or grill, a thick steak is difficult to vacuum sous vide. Put it in a Ziploc, put the bag in a pot of water heated to the temperature you want the steak to cook – 129 degrees Fahrenheit for a nice medium rare – come back in about an hour, pat dry and quickly sear up and down in a hot pan. Since it’s already baked, all you’re looking for in this last step is a good browning. In the Anova oven, I set the temperature, turned up the steam, put the steak on a baking sheet, slipped it in the oven, and went for a run. When I got home I patted the sirloin steak, grabbed it quickly, and sat down for a perfect steak. It’s about as easy as a good steak.
The pork tenderloin, beautifully pink from top to bottom, took the same amount of non-effort. The next day, I made a quiche with a pleasant, almost creamy texture.
Here is the power of steam, a restaurant cooking superpower (you’ll hear chefs call it a “combo” oven) that is now spreading to us home cooking mortals. While you can certainly do regular oven things like baking, convection baking, roasting, or broiling, in the Anova the big change is the steam. For this there is a large water reservoir which sits on the right side of the oven and lets out the occasional gurgling noise.
It should be noted that this is a countertop monster, almost 2 feet wide and 1.5 feet deep.
(I must also disclose that I was paid to moderate panels at a 2019 smart home technology conference hosted by Anova owner Electrolux.)
What Makes Steam Special? Its ability to transfer heat. Open a hot, empty oven and put your hand inside. Bad idea, but you can probably keep it in there for a few seconds with no ill effects. Now imagine doing the same on a tray of steaming cauliflower in the same oven. Very bad idea, which could lead you to go to the emergency room quickly.