It doesn’t get much better than this people.
If you’ve spent much time reading this blog, you know that I’m all about temperature, because temperature is the only reliable way to gauge how your food is going to turn out.
Of course temperature and heat are different things. Heat is about how much energy you’re putting into your food whereas temperature is a way to read how much heat is in food already.
Think about it like this: If you decide to slow-roast a piece of meat on your smoker or in your oven at a low temperature over a period of hours, you’re putting a little bit of heat into it over a long period of time. Conversely, if you sear a steak over a hot grill or in a hot cast iron pan, you’re putting a lot of heat into it very rapidly.
The reason it’s hard to cook that perfect steak, which is medium rare bumper to bumper with a crusty, golden edge is because there’s almost no way to cook it on low enough heat for it to turn out truly perfect. Even slowly bringing your steak up to temperature in a 200°F oven before searing it (the method I generally recommend) is going to leave striations of doneness to a small degree. Put too much heat in and it’ll be a bullseye of doneness with only the very center cooked correctly.
Enter the Sous Vide cooker – the solution to all of your protein problems. No more striations of doneness, no more raw centers, no more accidentally-well-done food. Just perfect, all the time.
How does this work? Basically, when you cook something sous vide you hold the entire piece of protein at exactly the temperature you want for an extended period of time so no matter how much time it takes, you never overcook it.
So, what exactly is sous vide? Sous vide is the process of cooking something in a water bath which is set to an exact temperature. Essentially, what you do is you vacuum seal you protein in a plastic bag, either using a vacuum sealer or the water displacement method (I use the latter method; it’s cheaper and has never caused me any problems) to get all the air out of the bag and drop it in a pot of water that’s being held at a constant temperature until it’s cooked through; then you simply finish it off over high heat to sear the outside and there you have it – perfectly cooked food.
This is, in fact, the way high end steakhouses typically cook their steak. Ever wonder how a table of five can order three different cuts of steak, one rare, two medium-rare, one medium, and one medium-well and they all arrive at the table at the same time, perfectly cooked, exactly as ordered, edge to edge? The answer is sous vide. They’ve had those steaks sitting in different water baths at different temperatures for hours, waiting to be finished off on a hot grill and brought to your table.
That’s the secret.
You can achieve these results at home too. There are three ways to do this:
- Stove top method. Heat water in a large pot to exactly the temperature you want, verify using a thermometer, and constantly fiddle with the temperature for hours until you’ve got whatever it is you’re making cooked through. Forget it. Too much time, too hard.
- Beer Cooler method. This works astonishingly well. Essentially, you get your water bath to a few degrees higher than your cooking temperature and the insulated walls of the cooler should hold your water at a relatively constant temperature for a few hours; long enough to cook a steak. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt describes the process here.
- Purchase a sous vide immersion circulator. It used to be that these things were too pricey for the average home cook, but due to the popularity of the sous vide method of cooking they are becoming increasingly affordable. Generally, they’ll run you anywhere from $75-$150. I got mine at Aldi for $49.99. So far so good.
No matter what method you use, you really owe it to yourself to try cooking something sous vide the next time you have a couple hours. Here’s a short recipe for the steak featured above.
For the Garlic-Herb Butter:
- 1 stick salted (yeah, i know) butter, room temperature
- 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed into a paste (or squished in a garlic press)
For the Steak:
- 2 steaks (filet, strip, or ribeye), 1.5 – 2 inches thick (the thicker the better, ask your butcher to cut you a few steaks if the ones in the case are less than 1.5 inches thick – remember, you’re searing these off at the end and it is possible to overcook your steak during that process).
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- Fresh herbs (such as rosemary, thyme, etc), optional
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Garlic-Herb Butter:
- Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl until very well combined.
- Using plastic wrap, roll the butter into a log shape and twist the ends off (like a tootsie roll)
- Refrigerate until needed.
For the Steak:
- Heat a water bath to 130°F for medium rare (135° for medium, anything past that forget the whole sous vide thing and just incinerate it on your stovetop; it’s easier that way).
- Season steaks generously with salt and pepper. Toss each steak individually in a food-grade gallon size freezer bag along with the smashed garlic clove and herbs, if using.
- Using the water displacement method, seal the steaks in their bags.
- Introduce steaks to water bath and make sure they’re fully submerged, weighing them down if necessary.
- Hold steaks in the water bath at a constant temperature for at least 2 hours and not more than 4 hours.
- Remove steaks from bags and pat very dry with paper towels (Note: they will look really weird – grayish brown and mushy – after coming out of the water bath; don’t worry, all is well).
- Sear the steaks over high heat, either in a cast-iron pan or ripping hot grill (surface temperature of heating surface should be 400°F – 500°F), 15-30 seconds per side.
- Remove steaks from heating surface and allow to rest; while resting, top steaks with sliced rounds of garlic herb butter and tent lightly with foil until butter is melted, 3-5 minutes
- Slice and serve