I have always been a bit of a gadget nerd. Well, you could probably argue that I have been an all-over nerd this whole time and that an appreciation of cool gadgetry is just part of the package. Either way, my love of new nerd-toys has definitely extended into my kitchen.
As soon as I learned about Sous Vide cooking, I knew that I would eventually succumb and try to do this on my own. For those that are not familiar, Sous Vide (literally translated from French it means “under vacuum”) is the practice of submerging vacuum sealed food in a hot water bath at below-boiling temperatures for extended periods of time. This allows you to completely cook the food while retaining moisture and flavors lost in traditional cooking methods. The results are shockingly tender and perfectly cooked food.
The real magic in sous vide is the evenness of the cooking. For a medium rare steak (130-135°F internal temp) on a 450°F grill, you have to overcook the top and bottom edges to get the center of the meat to the right temp. But, when you cook a steak sous vide at 135°F for 4 hours, you get a beautifully even medium rare steak. Not pink in the middle with overcooked greyish edges, but a top-to-bottom sexy pink steak that melts in your mouth.
In professional kitchens and laboratories this is accomplished with expensive immersion circulators that can accurately maintain the temperature of a large volume of water to within +/- 0.1 °F. While prices on this kind of set up can go as high as $5,000 for a professional unit, many are available in the $1,000-$1,500 range. That is still a little steep.
I almost caved and bought a Sous Vide Supreme, the first complete sous vide home cooker that offers professional level accuracy (+/- 1.0 °F) for a more reasonable price range, around $450. That was still a lot for me to fork over for a machine that only performs one, albeit awesome, task.
I chose option C, which is to combine a temperature regulator with a slow-cooker. I have to give credit to The Alcoholian for my inspiration and direction here. I mimicked his set-up pretty closely, though I went with a different slow cooker. This whole rig ran me around $300, but I also got a pretty versatile slow cooker out of the deal, so I think it is a better value.
My rig consists of an Auber Temperature Controller and a 7qt. Beville Slow Cooker. I’m still working on the consistency, but stayed within 1-3 degrees of where I set it for this first run. The Auber is supposed to stay within +/- 1.0 °F, and I think some re-calibration may get me there.
My temperature regulator from Auber arrived on Friday afternoon, and I immediately started making plans for Saturday. In addition to the slow cooker, I also needed to pick up a vacuum sealer. While you can make do with ziplock bags and a straw, you really need a decent vacuum sealer to keep out as much air as possible. Excess air leads to floating food bags and uneven cooking.
First order of business? Steaks. Ever since reading Suburban Wino’s post about steak this week, I have been craving red meat and this was the perfect way to break in my new rig.
I picked up some boneless ribeye steaks at the NYBS in Sandy Springs. I don’t usually pass up on their cowboy cut ribeye, but I had to sacrifice the bone due to space constraints. Plus, I won’t really be needing the extra moisture that leaving in the bone usually provides. The sous vide will take care of that.
Oh, and I sprung for a Wagyu ribeye for yours truly, ‘cause the extensive marbling should break down in the low and slow water bath wonderfully, and that’s just how I get down.
I went simple with the seasonings for the steaks. Partly because I usually do that with good steaks so that the flavor of the beef isn’t overshadowed, but also because you don’t need to go overboard with the seasoning when cooking sous vide. There is more natural flavor extracted from the meat and the seasonings you do use have much longer to penetrate. A light touch can go a long way. Don’t avoid seasoning the food, but be wary of some fresh seasonings (garlic, some fresh herbs, etc.) because the change in flavor can be too intense. At least, that is what I have heard. I intend to test that and I’ll let you know how it goes.
I seasoned three of the steaks, including the wagyu, with just salt and pepper before sealing them in the foodsaver bags. The fourth got some salt/pepper and a splash of Dale’s steak seasoning. Some air was left in that one after the sealing process, so I had to weigh it down once it was in the bath.
I put all of the steaks into the sous vide for 4 hours or so. They came out looking a little pale, but that is to be expected.
You definitely want to get some sear onto your meat before serving. This can be done on the grill, broiler, stove-top, or even with a blow torch. These got 2 min per side in a hot pan of rosemary olive oil to give them some texture.
As you can see, the steaks are medium rare, all the way through. The end result was a steak that dripping with beefy flavor and was possibly the most tender ribeye I have ever cooked.
I won’t even bother going into how much of a difference the wagyu made, because that would take too long and would probably just sound like bragging. But it was totally worth the extra $10.
I also had some leftover foie gras from a while back, and it was high time to use it or lose it, so I made it into a sauce. I pretty much followed Brian Turner’s recipe to the letter, except that I added some truffle salt, and it went wonderfully with the steaks.
I’m way too excited about my new kitchen toy, so you can expect to see a lot of sous vide posts in the near future. I wonder if my friends will stage an intervention when they find me trying to sous vide blueberry pancakes at 4 AM?
Next up? Pork Tenderloin.
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