I have a confession: I am a full-time writer about food technology and the smart kitchen, and I’ve never tried my hand at sous vide. Maybe it’s because I don’t eat much meat, or because I have a pint-sized kitchen, or because — gasp! — I actually gravitate towards old-fashioned cooking techniques. Half the time I don’t even use a recipe.

But a few weeks ago Mike and I went by ChefSteps HQ to learn about their new Joule Ready sauces, a line of sous-vide-ready bags filled with sauce, which CEO Chris Young told us they’d developed in part to “help first time sous vide users.” So I decided to shed my Luddite culinary ways and give the Joule a spin. Here’s how it stacked up:

ChefSteps launched the initial 12 flavors of Joule Ready with 8,000 of their community members this month, ranging from Sauce au Poivre to Roasted Red Pepper Walnut Muhammara. I decided to try Thai Green Curry, which I thought would go best with the salmon in my fridge.

For those who haven’t used the Joule app before, it’s a piece of cake. The app has tips and tricks for sous vide newbies, and also offers a myriad of recipes organized by protein type. My only qualm is that their “beginner guide” only has four options, all of which are meat. I’m a pescetarian, and I know that most people get sous vide to perfect their carnivorous cooking — but I’d appreciate at least one fish, egg, or vegetable dish on there.

When it comes to the Joule Ready, however, it’s even easier. You just scan the QR code on the bag and the app prompts you to select your protein, pick how done you like it, and note its thickness. You can also choose to follow the Featured Recipe for that particular sauce, which will show you how to make a full meal out of your protein. For the Thai Green Curry the featured recipe is chicken over rice with grilled eggplant and a sweet pepper and herb salad, but I went with salmon instead.

Once you’ve entered in your protein info the app then tells you to put the sous vide in your water vessel, plug it in (not the other way around!), and connect it via bluetooth so it can start heating the water to the exact specifications for perfect cooking. Once it reaches the right temperature, the Joule app alerts you that it’s time to put your protein into its saucy bath, pop it in your water, and start the timer. I didn’t even use a clip to affix the bag, and yet the salmon stayed perfectly submerged.

My sous vide setup.

After 40 minutes my app alerted me that my protein was ready, though I kept it in the water for a few minutes more while I finished my brown rice (doesn’t it always take longer than you think?) and sweet potatoes. One of the benefits of sous vide: your food will never dry out!

After I messily extracted my (perfectly cooked, perfectly tender) salmon from its saucy bath, I was left with the sticky problem of how to get the tasty green curry sauce out of the bag and onto my plate. ChefSteps is clear that the sauces are meant not only as a marinade/cooking accompaniment to your protein, but also as a finishing sauce.

Spooning it out worked, but not without plenty of it getting all over my hands. I realized after the fact that I could have snipped one of the corners of the bag and squeezed the sauce out like I was piping icing — I’ll try that next time.

My completed Joule Ready meal of Thai Green Curry salmon with rice and kale.

A few thoughts:

  • Yes, yes, I’m a sous vide n00b — but I didn’t realize that you were supposed to sear your protein before putting it into the bag, lest it the sugars in the sauce burn. My Joule app didn’t instruct me to pre-sear after I scanned my Joule Ready. Luckily the salmon worked well tender and didn’t need a caramelized exterior, but for some proteins I imagine you’d really need that sear.
  • Eventually, it would be nice to have multiple recipes for each Joule Ready sauce. The more customizable the recipe, the more people would use it; after all, people want the sauce so that they have to think less about what to make for dinner, not brainstorm a whole extra side dish or starch just because they don’t eat/want the particular meat recommended by the recipe.

In the end, Joule Ready delivered on its promise: it made sous vide cooking simple, even for someone who’d never tried it before. Forty minutes isn’t a quick meal by any account — and it would take even longer with, say, steak — but with a little planning ahead it was simple to pop in some protein, put on a pot of rice, and have a way above-average meal for a Tuesday. Bonus: if you get distracted doing laundry or watching TV while you wait for your food to cook, you don’t have to worry about returning to a smoky kitchen and charred dinner.

I haven’t (yet) tried out other devices from Anova or Nomiku, but with Joule Ready, ChefSteps did the hard work of getting me — a sous vide skeptic — to actually give this kitchen technology a whirl. Plus, I love how the sauces are shelf-stable, so I can make a fancy-pants sous vide entrée anytime the mood strikes, without having to order pre-made meals ahead of time or plan out a recipe.

Good thing I have six more sauces in my cabinet to try out.

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