Before a hot new kitchen gadget called the Nomiku hit the market, a buddy of mine and I had a running joke about how much it looked like a sex toy. When the box arrived, we realized how right we were.
No, it doesn’t vibrate. The Nomiku is an immersion circulator, a wand which, when placed in a pot of water, can hold a constant pre-set temperature for a long time, allowing the low-and-slow heating of food inside a vacuum-sealed plastic bag, a technique known as sous vide cooking. With it, tricky cuts of meat become fork-tender, steak can be medium rare from top to bottom and fish can be cooked to the perfect temperature without going over the edge.
Long beloved by high-end chefs and food geeks, home sous vide cooking got a huge boost in the past year with the arrival of a pair of $200 models, the Anova and the Sansaire, which brought the price into the realm of affordability. Scott Heimendinger, whose day job is at Modernist Cuisine, used his spare time to co-found the startup that introduced the Sansaire while lab equipment manufacturer Anova brought out a near-bulletproof model. For a while, it seemed like the Nomiku, which kept running into production delays that pushed its release date back, was going to be vaporware.
Now that it’s out, a head-to-head comparison with Sansaire and Anova is inevitable, but what sticks out the most is the price. At $299, it’s $100 more than the competition, begging the shopper to wonder if there was a c-note’s worth of difference.
Nomiku’s user interface is a slick hybrid of the best parts of the competition, with a Sansaire-style spinning ring to set the target water temperature and a postage stamp-sized version of Anova’s touch screen to tell you the water temperature in the pot. It also quotes famed French gastronome Brillat-Savarin when you shut it off. (“Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you what you are,” which, come to think of it, is an odd thing to ponder while pulling a plastic bag of pork butt out of hot water.)
A sturdy, hair curler-esque clamp works worlds better than the impossible to tighten PolyScience Sous Vide Professional Creative Series (the circulator ousted by Anova and Sansaire), but doesn’t hang on as tight as Anova’s, which, once attached, feels bolted to the pot.
The Nomiku does offer some interesting safety features. “Low and slow” cooking can only go so low without risking a proliferation of unfriendly bacteria, and as you dial toward your target temperature, the readout turns yellow to let you know that you’re in the FDA danger zone between 4 and 52.2 degrees Celsius / 39.9 – 125.9 degrees Fahrenheit. Similarly, a lightning bolt icon with a line through it pops up on the screen to let you know that the power to the machine has been interrupted, potentially allowing the water temperature to dip into those botulism-friendly levels while you were away. In fact, there are so many mentions of “hot surfaces” and the power cord in the user manual, you have to wonder if someone on the Nomiku team got zapped during the development process.
There’s also a bit of weirdness with what Nomiku calls the ‘power box’ in the middle of the power cord, much like the cord on most laptops. Ostensibly, the idea is to keep high voltage away from the machine, but none of the competition does this, perhaps because a little box humming away on the counter just behind the machine seems like it’s going to get spilled on over the course of years of use.
One final beef isn’t just with Nomiku, but with all of the immersion circulators on the market right now. It would be fantastic for these machines to be a bit more communicative and forward thinking. One useful feature would be for the immersion circulators to beep or flash when the target temperature is reached, so you wouldn’t have to keep peeking over your shoulder every thirty seconds while the water heats. Plus, it’s 2014, why not allow their firmware to be updated to accommodate that sort of development?
UPDATE, March 21: The review has been updated to clarify the timeline of when the Nomiku was made available to the general public. This change doesn’t alter the rating.