The Perfect Steak: Sous Vide
Gallery: Sous vide steak from start to fininsh. [4 Images] Click any image to expand.
What makes a great steak, or even a good one for that matter? The cut? Yes to an extent. The quality? Certainly, but not entirely. Marbling? Hmm, I’ve had some pretty incredible sirloins in my day. Doneness? Yes! If a steak isn’t cooked to your liking, the rest doesn’t really matter does it?
So how do you make sure that a steak is a dead perfect 130° from top to bottom, and side to side regardless of thickness or even consistency or cut? The answer, my good friends, is a cooking technique called sous vide.
Sous vide her? I hardly knew her.
Ok so what’s sous vide, and what does it mean to you? Simply put it is a technique where the food, steak in this case, is sealed in a plastic bag with the air removed, and then placed in a hot water bath, which is held at a specific temperature, for a certain amount of time.
The term sous vide means under vacuum in English. Traditionally the food is sealed in vacuum bags so that the water can contact every part of the foods surface. But the same effect can be achieved by using a quality zipper type bag. Click the link to see how.
So why does this matter again? Simple. By holding the water at a specific temperature, the food is guaranteed to never get hotter than that temperature. So if I place two 1" thick ribeyes in a 140° water bath for 1 hour, the middle of the steak will be a perfect medium doneness, as will every single square inch of the rest of the steak.
Now if I keep that steak in the water for 12 hours, how hot will it be? That’s right 140°, perfect medium. So all that needs to be done is to season and sear, or grill over a blazing hot fire. Do you see how this is coming together?
Other sous vide goodness
Not only can you pick you perfect temperature for your steak, but cooking this way relaxes muscular tissues for incredible tenderness. So maybe those number 2’s you bought on sale won’t be so bad after all.
Sous vide also works great for vegetables of all sorts, and because no matter what you are cooking sous vide, it is continually being bathed in its own liquid which will intensify the flavor.
Sounds great so far right? There is only one downside, cost. Sous vide machines are quite pricey with $500.00 being some of the cheapest available. Ugh…what to do? What to do?
Seriouseats to the rescue
I remembered seeing something about beer cooler (we call that an ice chest down here) sous vide, so a quick Bing search brought up the seriouseats.com website.
I read the article, and the follow ups, and felt I had a good understanding of the idea. Of course I couldn’t wait to try.
Now there are some limitations to this method for sous vide cooking, see the seriouseats article for more info on that, but for steaks it’s a damn good technique that produces equally damn good results.
Sous vide made easy
All you will need is an ice chest. I used a red, 20 qt. Igloo. Because I like red. A good digital thermometer is also part of the must have list. I like the one with the braided metal lead and rigid metal probe because it’s possible to close the lid tightly, and still get temperature readings. High quality zipper bags or a food vacuuming machine come in at number 3. A large (10qt+) pot of boiling water rounds out the list of materials needed.
- Now place the steaks individually in bags and vacuum seal them, or use the zipper bag technique on seriouseats.com.
Note: Start with boiling water and add cooler water to reach your target temperature. It is much easier to cool off hot water than it is to heat up cold water.
- Add 8-10 qts. boiling water to the cooler, and then add 2 qts. hot tap water at a time until a temperature of 145° is reached on the thermometer. The extra 5° compensates for the cold meat about to be placed in the water.
Note: The steaks in this article where cooked to medium doneness. Adjust the temperature of the water up or down to the degree of doneness you would like. But higher temperatures are harder to maintain. I don’t recommend anything past medium.
- Add the steaks and check the thermometer. If needed, heat another 2 qts. of water in the microwave for 4-5 minutes in order to bring the temperature back up to 140°.
- Let stand for at least one hour. The temperature shouldn’t fall more than 2°.
- Cut the bags open, pat dry with paper towels, season to your liking, and sear in a blazing hot cast iron skillet or over a charcoal fire for no more than 2 minutes per side.
The sous vide take away
What you will find is that the steak is done to your perfect temperature throughout the whole steak, with little or none of that gray, over done strip that is just beyond the crust. You will also find that the steaks are incredibly juicy, and crazy tender.
Finally, I think you will find a new method for cooking steaks, or pork, or chicken, or lamb…