Simple Sous-vide

I’m a convert to cooking meat sous-vide. I enjoy a perfectly-cooked, medium rare steak on occasion. I don’t eat red meat often, so when I do I really want it to be great. I don’t enjoy overcooked meat. I’ve also never liked the fact that there’s usually a certain gray, overcooked portion on the outside of a steak, while the inside is at perfect temperature.

Cooking sous-vide is fairly straightfoward. You seal the meat in a plastic baggie with the air evacuated. You cook it at its perfect temperature for long enough to kill bacteria. You sear it at the end for exterior texture (and for show).

Vacuum Seal

Archimedes taught the world how to displace volume by submerging objects in water, and the same principle applies in your kitchen:

  • Fill a deep pan with water
  • Place the meat in a sealable plastic baggie
  • Submerge the baggie nearly to the seal
  • Close the seal, submerging the sealed portion as you go

There are some debates on the Intertubes about whether or not this technique is inferior to mechanical vacuum sealers. My experience says this technique works perfectly well, and it helps avoid an additional kitchen gadget.

Water Bath at Temperature

There are a lot more Sous-vide gadgets on the market now than there were three years ago, and the immersion circulators look like a pretty cool option. For my setup, I use a simple, dumb slow cooker which just has Off / High / Low for settings in concert with a temperature controller. My Dorkfood Sous-Vide Temperature Controller (DSV) includes a temperature probe, which goes into the water bath, and a pass-through into which I plug the slow cooker. When the temperature is too low, the controller turns the slow cooker on, and when it’s too high, it turns the slow cooker off.

I cook my steaks at 137 degrees for one hour per inch of thickness. Note that you don’t start the clock on your cooking time until the water bath has achieved temperature with the steaks in. Keep in mind that it takes some time for the water bath to re-heat after you’ve dumped cold, vacuum-sealed steaks into it. When there’s about 20 minutes left, I’ll put the outdoor grill on high heat to prepare for the finishing touch.

Brown the Exterior

Cooking Sous-vide does not brown the exterior of the meat. It’s nice to have that texture and color for presentation, and you can do it by searing the steaks on a very hot grill or cast iron pan. You only need less than a minute on each side, and you’ll find that’s enough time to brown the exterior but not enough time to start overcooking the exterior of your steak.

I’ve also used this technique to cook beautiful hamburgers and incredibly moist chicken breast. For chicken, you’ll use a different temperature and time. Enjoy!