IF YOU’RE A TYPICAL harried professional, your options for making a homemade meal during the week are pretty limited. But nerdy home cooks and pro chefs have long known a secret to preparing perfectly cooked meats and vegetables with minimal effort: sous vide, a technique in which ingredients, sealed in plastic, are cooked unattended in a low-temperature water bath, often for hours. Steak cooked sous vide while you’re at the office will be exactly medium-rare when you get home, ready to sear and serve when it’s convenient. By heating food slow and low, sous vide can also bring out more complex flavors from basic ingredients like carrots and fingerling potatoes.
Cooking sous vide is simple. All you need is a large pot, some Ziploc bags and a gadget called an immersion circulator, which sits inside the pot (off stove) and maintains the water at a steady temperature. The problem is, the technique has traditionally required you to consult daunting tables of ideal temperatures and cooking times—which makes whipping up supper feel like studying for a chemistry exam.
The latest immersion circulators aimed at home cooks, however, are getting a smart upgrade that at last makes sous vide as practical as a slow cooker or microwave: Wi-Fi connectivity, which allows a companion app to walk newbies through the once-esoteric process. Wondering what to do with those beautiful farm-market carrots you bought? Just search the app for “carrots,” and, with a tap, the immersion circulator will start heating up your pot of water to the right temperature. Then just follow the simple recipe on your screen: Peel the carrots and seal them in a Ziploc bag (easier and just as effective as using a vacuum sealer) with butter, salt and brown sugar. Drop the bag in the pot and walk away. When your phone buzzes 45 minutes later, your sweet yet earthy, buttery yet snappy roots are ready to enjoy.
The apps don’t just make sous-vide cooking more accessible; they’re also designed to ensure food safety. Unlike traditional high-temperature techniques such as roasting and boiling, sous-vide cooking happens closer to the temperature “danger zone,” 40 to 140 degrees, which food-safety experts advise you steer clear of if you want to avoid food-borne bacteria. If you were to invent your own recipe—say, cooking cod for six hours at 110 degrees—the apps would warn you of the potential danger so you could adjust the settings. They’ll also alert you when your circulator loses connectivity—which is helpful since you don’t want your food to linger at too low a temperature.