My mouth was pleased – a sous vide story.
I bet right now you’re wondering what Wayne is up to. You’re probably sitting on the porcelain throne and taking your time in there because it’s your only escape from the kids or a much needed break from work. Odds are you finished your business about ten minutes ago, but this is YOUR time. A time to relax and crush some candy, or maybe browse Instagram/Facebook and wonder if you should like that picture of someone who you don’t particularly care for. I mean it’s really nice photo and all, but this person never hits the like button on your photo so you decide to take some passive aggressive revenge and not like their’s. You notice not many other people have liked the photo either and you smile to yourself because you feel some imaginary sense of camaraderie with other people who also haven’t like the photo…
Wait what were we talking about? Oh yeah – what your good buddy Wayne is up to. Well I’ll tell ya!
I am cooking a steak using the a cooking technique known as sous vide (say “sue veed”). What the hell is that you ask? Well technically I think it literally translates to “under vacuum” (but don’t quote me on that, I’m not a Frenchologist or anything. I also just made up the word “Frenchologist” so you really shouldn’t take my word for anything.)
Essentially what you need to know is you place your meat in a bag and put it in hot water for a while until it reaches the desired or safe cooking temperature. Now you’re thinking “ewww boiled meat? What are we, British?” No no no, it’s not boiled! The temperature of the water doesn’t exceed boiling level. (100 degrees Celsius/212 degrees Fahrenheit) In fact I cooked my steak at around 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Now you’re thinking “Is that even safe??!!” Well yes but you should still be a bit careful. I’m not qualified to give health or food safety advice, so do your own research. Essentially you can cook food at a lower temperature that’s considered “safe” as long as you do it for a long time which allows to food to pasteurize. Or just stop being
a little bitch so paranoid and just eat it – what’s the worst that can happen? (Well maybe you can die or something, but still…)
Here’s an excerpt from wikipedia:
Food safety is a function of both time and temperature; a temperature usually considered insufficient to render food safe may be perfectly safe if maintained for long enough. Some sous-vide fish recipes, for example, are cooked below 55 °C (131 °F). However, people with compromised immunity should never eat food that has not been properly pasteurized. Women eating food cooked sous-vide while pregnant expose themselves and/or their unborn children to risk and thus may choose to avoid unpasteurized recipes…
Just look at the picture above. Now imagine that in your mouth. Just close your eyes and think about it. Pretend you’re chewing it. First your teeth pass through the seared crust. You get hints of salt and butter then a little heat from a light dusting of cayenne pepper. Your tongue continues its magical journey to the succulent interior where the warm juices embrace you like a hug from an old friend. You smile with your eyes because your mouth is too busy enjoying this ride. Your heart rate increases ever so slightly. Dopamine pours from your cerebral cortex coating your brain in pleasure*. The environmental noises fade into the background as your other senses turn down to allow your sense of taste to go into overload. This is the moment that you’ve dreamed of all your life. Every. Single. Decision. Has. Lead. To. This moment. Now open your eyes people are starting to think you’re crazy. I will tell you how I arrived at food nirvana.
Things you will need:
- Steaks. I used a New York strip loin about 1.5 inches thick. Purchased from Costco. (They have really good meat!)
- Salt/pepper. Use liberally. I know some people don’t like salt, but
shut uptrust me – it helps to make a perfect crust.
- Cayenne pepper. Just a light sprinkle.
- Paprika. Just a light sprinkle.
- A Ziploc bag. (Some people use a vacuum sealer, but you don’t really need to spend money on that.)
- An old school crock pot like this:
- A temperature controller. I used this one from Amazon for $50. (https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B011296704/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1)
- A cast iron pan. I got mine from Amazon for $62. (https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B00006JSUB/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1)
- Vegetable oil. About a teaspoon.
- A thermometer. I have the Thermapen (http://www.thermoworks.com/Thermapen-Mk4)
- Beer. This has nothing to do with cooking. I just like beer. I highly recommend Innis&Gunn, but whatever you have is sure to work.
Now you have everything you need. My sous vide setup is pretty cheap and ghetto, but you could always buy something fancy like this: https://www.amazon.ca/Anova-Precision-Cooker-WIFI-Watts/dp/B01HHWSV1S/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1501251251&sr=8-2&keywords=anova or even this https://www.amazon.ca/Sous-Vide-Supreme-SVK-00001-Water/dp/B003AYZIB4/ref=sr_1_1?s=kitchen&ie=UTF8&qid=1501251347&sr=1-1&keywords=sous+vide+supreme. Those are both pretty fancy and pricey, but if you just want to see if this sous vide thing is for you, then it might be a big investment that will go to waste. My setup was to see if I want to go all in on this method, so I may upgrade to those in the future.
Here’s how I cooked it:
First I seasoned my steaks with the salt, pepper, paprika and cayenne. Then I put it in a Ziploc bag and used a straw to suck out most of the air. (It’s ghetto, but it works!) You can also immerse the bag in water and let that squeeze all the air out just before you seal it. Be careful to not let water in the opening though! Let this sit for a while and come to room temperature.
Plug in your temperature controller and set the desired temperature to 130 degrees Fahrenheit. I like my steaks between rare and medium rare. If you want to cook your steaks more than that then you need a higher temperature, but I’m not going to tell you how to do that because – COOKING A STEAK BEYOND MEDIUM RARE IS MADNESS!!! If you want that level of done-ness then just throw you steaks
right in the garbage on the grill and burn the stupid thing cook it how you used to.
Fill your crockpot with water enough that it will fully cover the steaks. Just to below the brim is fine, just remember that when you put your steaks in the displacement will cause the water to rise and may spill. (It’s simple physics and you should already know this!) I plugged my crockpot into the heat outlet of my temperature controller and set it to high. Now this is where the old school crockpots are better than the new digital one. Essentially the temperature controller will turn your crockpot on and off to maintain the temperature. The new digital ones may not turn back on when it loses power, but the old ones with the mechanical switch have no problems. They don’t make them like they used to!
Put your steaks in and they should sink when all the air has been removed. You don’t want them floating on top!! The steaks should be fully immersed in the water to cook properly.
I let my steaks sit in the water for minimum 2 hours. Now you could probably do it for less if you had thinner steaks, but really who the hell buys thin steaks?! Shame! For lower quality cuts you can let it sit for 6 hours or so in the water bath. You’ll find lots of debate about cooking times, but trust your buddy Wayne! 2.5 hours in the water while you get everything else ready is perfect. I used this time to cook some french fries to go with it. My oven seems to take a long time to pre-heat because it’s
a piece of shit apparently how it works. In the past it was easy to get the timing wrong when grilling steaks on the BBQ because sometimes the corn was ready too early or your side dishes didn’t work out as you intended. This just creates panic and confusion and you’re left eating a plate of disappointment. With sous vide you can hold the steaks at the desired temperature for long time without ever overcooking them or drying them out!! When the side dishes were close to getting ready I put some vegetable oil in a cast iron pan and turned on to MAXIMUM!! Using extra virgin olive oil is an awful idea because it has a low smoke point and will burn too easily! Now this was my first time using a cast iron pan so I learned a few things – it smokes A LOT! Like there was billowing smoke that made it hard to see and I thought the smoke detector would go off and wake the kids which would definitely ruin my nice dinner!!
Side note: I usually put my kids to bed at 7:30pm and have dinner with them around 6:00pm. But tonight was an experiment and I didn’t want to waste a perfectly cooked steak on them because they would just whine and complain anyway. Judge me all you want, but
I really don’t care what you think you’re entitled to your opinion.
Here’s a picture of the smoke:
One thing I forgot to mention: For safety reasons check the internal temperature of the steaks when you take them out of the water bath:
Above is the steak as it just came out of the water bath. The internal temperature was PERFECT! Now pat the steak dry and carefully put it into the cast iron pan using tongs. Sear it, add a little butter and flip it over to sear the other side! Get that nice dark brown colour you’re going for! Then hold it with the tongs and sear the sides. This step took about 30-40 seconds per side.
Here is the end result again:
It’s cooked perfectly from edge to edge! Older methods on the grill would create a gradient from the edge to the middle. (I mean grilled steaks are still amazing, but this was a whole new level!) The sous vide process also breaks down the fat content in a way that it’s not tough and all gristle like. This had a buttery smooth consistency and the meat it self was so tender!! All in all a great job done Wayne. Why thank you!
*I have no idea about how dopamine is released or if it even comes from the cerebral cortex. I’m not a doctor. Well not a medical one – I’m a love doctor! **
** Love doctor is not a real thing. Well it might be. I dunno, I just say a lot of words and hope some of it sticks.
Sous vide sounds fancy, but it really isn’t that hard to do. The cheapest way to try it is simply using a regular cooler like the classic Coleman:
Just add some hot water from perhaps heating a pot on the stove and close the lid. The more you pour in the cooler, the longer it will be able to hold that temperature. Over the course of cooking for 2.5 hours it may drop by about 5 degrees Fahrenheit; just don’t open the lid to check on the steaks unless you have a thermometer in there and your temperature drops too low. If that happens then add some more warm water slowly to bring it back up to temp. So perhaps fill it with water that’s 135 degrees F and by the end it will be around 130 degrees F. This really won’t affect the steak that much and may be more on the medium rare side. (I aim for between rare and medium rare).
After the steaks have been in for 2.5 hours or so, get your cast iron pan ripping hot! Sear and serve. Usually you hear cooks saying let your meat rest before carving and eating. But that’s with other cooking methods to let the juices re-absorb and distribute evenly. Letting rest also allows it to cook a little more, that’s why you typically stop actively cooking it close to the end. However with sous vide this step is not necessary as there is minimal fluid loss and the steaks don’t need to re-absorb any juices.
As for searing, I learned that it can create a lot of smoke because of the high temperatures we’re dealing with. I use vegetable oil because of its higher smoke point, but avocado oil has an even higher smoke point and in theory shouldn’t create as much smoke. Also the Maillard reaction occurs at around 280 degrees Fahrenheit so perhaps you don’t need to get your pan so hot that it smokes that much. Vegetable oil (canola oil?)has a smoke point of around 400 degrees F. So in theory you can heat your pan to around 350 degrees F for the delicious results of the Maillard reaction but not as hot to let it smoke too much. What’s this Maillard reaction I talk about? Well it’s just when the yummy brown seared crust begins to appear.
For the actual sous vide process I used a crock pot to provide the heat. The crock pot has 3 settings: off/low/high. If I didn’t have a temperature controller and just put the Ziploc bags in the crock pot on low, the temperature would continue to rise to whatever a maximum temperature of low is. And on the high setting it may well be far beyond the desired temperature. So in essence I need a way to keep the temperature at exactly 130 degrees F. With the temperature controller and the crock pot together we have just created a very simple control system. (Yay engineering!!! Yay science!! STEM!!!) The controller is very basic and is referred to as a “bang-bang” controller or more technically a hysteresis controller. This is essentially a controller that switches from on to off based on a setting or parameter. It’s like your thermostat that will kick on the heat when the temperature drops below your desired 18 degrees Celsius and turn it off when it goes above.
In my case the crock pot is my furnace and the temperature controller is my thermostat. Simple right? My temperature controller claims it’s accurate to within +/- 1 degree F. So I set my desired temperature to 130 degrees F and there’s a little probe thermometer that you stick inside the crock pot water. This is the feedback part of our control system. When you first start, your water is probably around room temperature of around 70 degrees F. (Unless you added hot water from the tap, which is completely fine.) I added hot water from the tap it was around 110 degrees F to start. Yours may be higher or lower depending on your water heater settings. This is clearly below my desired temperature of 130F so the temperature controller will turn on the outlet to power the crock pot. The crock pot which is now being supplied with power just as if its been plugged directly to the wall will begin heating the water. Since mine was set to high, it should heat the water faster. When the temperature of the water reaches 130F, the controller will turn off power to the crock pot. Obviously with the crock pot being off, the water will begin to gradually cool. I set my controller to kick back on when the temperature drops by 1 degree. So when the water cools to 129F the power to the crock pot will turned back on. Still with me? Of course you’re not, this is so boring I’m beginning to fall asleep writing it! Have a sip of beer/liquor/wine/mdma whatever suits your fancy. I’ll wait…
Ready? Now the last thing you want to happen is your water to get too cold or too hot. Too cold and you risk your meat not cooking properly and too hot and you will overcook it! I have an alarm set on the controller to start beeping if the temperature falls below 125F or rises above 135F. Why can this happen? Well if the crock pot malfunctions and doesn’t turn back on, then the temperature will fall too low. If the thermometer you had in the water (remember the little probe thing we talked about earlier?) slips out of the water then it will think the water is too cold and never turn off the crock pot! NEVER!!!! In that case you’ll end up with over done steaks – but still moist because sous vide doesn’t dry out meat!!! Another issue is if your crock pot is large and I’m really not sure how big they make them! Then some parts of the water may be a different temperature than where the thermometer actually is! Why? Well the water spreads the heat out by means of convection. Science again people, you need to learn this! Oversimplification: the water forms gentle currents and spreads the heat around and eventually most of the water should be the same temperature. In a vessel large enough, this can take a long time! So long that the thermometer will never give you an accurate temperature of all the water. In a small enough crock pot, this isn’t a big deal as it will be close enough. But if you want to have a dinner party and cook 8 or more steaks (let’s be honest, you don’t have more than 7 friends. No one loves you.) you need to get a larger cooking vessel! If you try to cram 8 decent size steaks into a crock pot there will be no room for the water and you will run a real chance of serving unsafe meat. (This may or may not be desired based on how much you like the dinner company.)
Cooking for large groups: My plan is to eventually have a large BBQ and prepare 20+ steaks. (You better hope you’re in the top 20 list of my friends when I do this. I accept multiple forms of payment to bump you up the list.) To do this I will need a large cooking vessel. With a large vessel comes the need for more thermal energy thus MORE POWER!!! I will need a water heater and something to circulate the water. So perhaps an immersion heater and an aquarium pump to circulate the water. I will have to hunt around some hobbyist shops and see what I find. Or I can just cave and buy an Anova precision cooker. This will render my temperature controller obsolete and does everything! All I need is a large water vessel like a cooler or Rubbermaid container and insert this thing and BAM! we’re ready to eat. I’ll keep you posted on this.