Sous Vide is a widely misunderstood method of cooking and often a topic of conversation among chefs and foodies alike. French for “Under Vacuum”, its simply sealing meats in a bag, submerging it in water, and cooking at a precise temperature. Why is this a good thing you ask? Well it’s a set it and forget it method of cooking perfect, juicy meat every time. With Sous Vide, not only do you seal in any flavour that you put in the bag, you’re also letting it cook gently so your not stressing out the meat. Let’s have a look at each part of the process.
The water temperature. There is a direct correlation between how done meat is to what temperature it is. For example, the internal temperature of medium rare beef is 55°c to 59°c. Once it gets over 60°c you’re into the medium range. As the inside gets hotter, the meat becomes more well done. Makes sense? When you cook a steak on a grill or in a frying pan you generally do it at high heat to get the nice brown crust on the outside and limit the time it takes to cook so you don’t over cook it. With sous vide, you’re cooking at the exact temperature you want the meat to be so it will never, ever over cook. If you set the water for 55°c, you can leave the bag of steaks in the water for 4 hours and it will still be medium rare. It will tenderize if you cook it longer than that and change the texture of the meat but it won’t over cook. When its done, take it out and give it a really fast sear in a frying pan at high temperature to get the crust and you are done!
Have you ever noticed that when you cook steak in a frying pan, you get a bit of a ring through the meat where the outside is closer to well while the inside is closer to medium rare? That’s because of the high heat used to cook it. If you Sous Vide, it will be evenly cooked throughout because the entire piece was brought up to medium rare slowly instead of over high heat. High temperatures, like pan frying, subject the meat to stress. When its hot on the outside and cold on the inside it wants to clench and tighten and that pushes juices out. Sous vide is like a hot tub for your steak, gently cooking the steak without stressing out the muscle. Lucky steaks! What about the vacuum?
Vacuum sealing. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean using a big, fancy industrial packaging machine, or even a cheap vacuum sealer for that matter. You can sous vide by using freezer bags, and taking the air out. One of my favorite tricks is to put your product into a freezer bag and submerge it up to the seal (without letting any water in). The water pressure against the bag will push out almost all of the air, making it ready for sous vide. Using a vacuum bag has its advantages but its not necessary for sous vide cooking. If you use flavors like garlic and thyme to flavor your steak, or butter to poach potatoes in a sous vide, a vacuum will help pull those flavors into the food but the difference, we have found, is negligible. If you’re cooking for the queen, absolutely use a vacuum sealer. If you’re cooking for your partner at home like I do, I doubt anyone will notice.
Alternatively, you can simply use the bag that your meat comes in from North Range Craft Butchers and add spiced at the sear stage.
So, what about that brown crust that we love so much?
The sear. This is an important step that can’t be neglected. So much of the flavor on a steak is on the outside where you sear the meat that beautiful golden brown colour and you can’t just eliminate that step if you want a really good steak.
Take your meat out of the sous vide bag and pat it with a little paper towel to get rid of any exterior moisture that will prevent the sear. In a frying pan get it nice and hot, add some oil and butter and add your steak. Butter will help it brown and oil will allow a higher temperature without burning the butter. You’re looking for 30 seconds on each side and that’s all. That’s it. No more. More than that and you are going to start cooking the meat again and that would defeat the entire point so make sure your pan is good and hot.
That’s Sous Vide in a nutshell. Put it in a bag, add flavour, seal it with no air, cook it low and slow and give it a sexy sear when its done. You can make the perfect steak with very little effort, or even skill, so it’s a great trick when you want to show off to your friends. Haters gonna hate and tell you that it’s cheating or it’s not real cooking. So? Keep talking while I eat my amazing, perfectly cooked steak.