Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sous-Vide: To Create the Perfect Protein

In a previous post, I talked up the merits of new cooking techniques to save time and solve problems. This week, I put a technique to the test: stove-top sous-vide. Sous-vide is a method by which food is cooked in vacuum sealed bags in circulated water baths.

Why is sous-vide used and, more importantly, why would a college chef be interested in it? Sous-vide provides for even cooking, as the dish is heated at low temperatures for long periods of time. As a result, it is a fool-proof way to achieve meat that is moist and tender. As a cook who seldom shells out for pricey proteins, I want to insure that my duck breast or steak is perfectly prepared when I do choose to indulge.

Sous-vide cooking may seem price prohibitive, since much of the equipment used by professional chefs to create sous-vide dishes is out of reach for college chefs: $800 immersion circulator, anyone? Fortunately, it is easy to jury rig a set up for sous-vide cooking with materials we already have.

I followed the recipe on Foodwishes for Sous-vide NY Strip Steaks. The instructions below include my adaptations.
You will need:
Large pot
Thermometer with clip
Ziploc bag
Steak (or protein of your choice)

To begin, fill the pot of water almost to the brim (allowing enough space for the steak). Attach the thermometer to the edge of the pot, insuring that it is not touching the side or bottom of the pot. Set the burner on the lowest setting and allow it to come to temperature while you prepare the steak.
Season the steak on both side and slide into Ziploc bag. (Unlike the video, I elected not to sear my steaks before placing them in the water bath). Press out as much air as you can with your hands. At this point, the recipe recommends using a straw to suck out the remaining air. Instead, I gently held the bag by the top corner and placed it in the water. I waited for the remaining air to rise to the top of the bag, then very carefully opened the bag to allow the remaining air to be pushed out by the water pressure.

The ideal water temperature for a medium steak is 130F and the steak should remain the water for an hour or so (there really isn’t an upward limit, as the low temperature insures that the steak will not overcook). I checked the water temperature every couple of minutes and I found that moderating the temperature was easily achieved by adding cool water if the temperature started to rise.

After an hour, remove the steak from the bag and sear it for one minute on each side in a mixture of butter and canola oil. DO NOT discard the wonderful meat juice that is left in the bag. Use it to deglaze the pan after cooking the steaks (if necessary, you may add water or wine to help the process). Serve the steaks with the sauce you created.

This method works. It’s shockingly easy and requires very little active cooking.

I have a couple suggestions if you choose to try sous-vide cooking. The video recommends large steaks (>12 oz) and I agree. I used smaller steaks (about 8 oz), and as a result, some of the benefit of the sous-vide was lost because searing the meat cooked a greater portion of the flesh than it would have for a larger steak. The video also includes a recipe for mushroom sauce to accompany the steaks. Why stop at mushrooms? Any kind of vegetable could be used to make a sauce/ragout/sauté to go with the steaks. Next time, I’m trying onions.

Happy Cooking!

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