I recently received a Nomiku Sous Vide cooker from a Kickstarter project I backed a while ago. If you haven't played around with sous vide cooking, it's a method whereby food in vacuum bags immersed in warm/hot water slowly cooks food from all sides...often over a longer period of time. It's very different from other cooking methods.
It does some things VERY well. It's low and slow heat will turn a piece of meat that might make good soles for shoes into filet mignon-like steak. There are lots of places to read about sous vide (here at Instructables for instance!), so I won't bore you with the what and how.
Most people seem to work with the sous vide cooker by immersing it in a big metal pot or similar vessel. When I was doing this, it worked fine but I noticed two things.
1) Lots of heat escaped through the sides of my metal pot, using more energy.
2) Here in dry Denver, the hot water evaporated quickly. Not good when you're cooking for 12 hours and are lazy.
I thought that a nice insulated vessel would help the Nomiku not have to work as hard and use less energy, and a top would help longer cooks by not losing water.
So, I kept an eye out for a medium sized cooler and finally scored at my local Goodwill. This Rubbermaid cooler I found is a nice size for an average meal for two people. Not too big that I'm heating a ton of water, and not too small that I can't get the vacuum bags in there. Here's how it went...
Step 1: Find Yourself an Appropriate Cooler.
This is a Rubbermaid brand cooler I found at my local Goodwill for next to nothing. (We also got cheap books!)
It was in decent shape, and a little scrubbing got rid of any stuff that was on there. Since it'll never touch the food, only water, I didn't get weirded out by 'someone else's cooler'. Obviously, if this is an issue for you...go new!
It says that it's 24 quarts. With the Nomiku inside, I think that's a nice amount of room for a couple vacuum bags with food. If you've got a bigger family, maybe you need more volume. YMMV. The concept is the same...an insulated vessel.
Another idea I had for the cooler was to either order some Omaha Steaks, or go to the store and see if they'd give me an extra styrofoam cooler. These guys ship everything in a rather thick styrofoam cooler that could potentially be REALLY nice for this. I found my Rubbermaid before I needed to try this.
Step 2: Measure (twice) and Cut
I measured the Nomiku while it was clinging to the side of the cooler to get the rough dimensions. I came up with a hole about 4 inches wide, and 3.5 inches from the lip of the cooler.
These don't have to be exact. We're not trying to make an actual seal here, just trying to keep in some of the moisture and heat that normally escapes.
I cut mine with an oscillating tool. These are the ones that take different blades and vibrate back and forth. These are actually quite handy if you don't have one. Maybe you need one.
It cut through it like butter.
Step 3: Cut Off Lid Hinge Nubbies
Since the lid of the cooler was going to be more like a top when I was done, I cut off the little nubbies that allow it to hinge. It doesn't want to work like a hinge with the Nomiku on there, so it's best without them and just put the lid on from the top.
Step 4: Fill Interior of Lid With Expanding Foam (or Maybe Don't)
I assumed the body of the cooler is filled with something...styrofoam or another insulator, but when I cut the top, I noticed it's hollow and maybe could be more insulated.
Since it was open after cutting, I injected some 'Great Stuff' brand expanding foam in there. This stuff is MESSY. Be careful, or possibly skip this step. The foam isn't touching food, but I doubt it's super food safe. So this is possibly not the greatest suggestion and is possibly overkill really.
The comments may point this out. I'm all ears.
Step 5: Enjoy!
All done! Clip the Nomiku to the side, add some hot water, put the top on and get it up to temp. Cook.
When I tested it, the Nomiku was definitely not working as hard to keep the water hot and the outside of the cooler was not even warm to the touch. Success!
I called it a 'Water Oven' cause it's a snappy name is all enclosed now, and 'Science Oven' was taken by 'American Hustle'. Copyright Tanguay Industries 2017!
Obviously, you could do this with other brands of sous vide cooker, you'd just have to adjust your cut. But the concept would be the same...insulated cooking container.
Another cool thing about this is that the Nomiku fits in there nicely for easy storage. Just take the whole thing and put it away when not needed. There's even a carry handle!
Happy sous viding!