Sous-Vide, literally, "under vacuum." But that doesn't really describe what is going on with this method of cooking. You'd need words like "water, long time, airless, exact temperature, plastic bag, and convenient." So I'm sure you are just as puzzled as I was was when my friend Ken tried to describe the process to me. All I could think of was, That Steak is Ruined!
But it wasn't.
It was juicy. It was tender. It was perfectly medium rare. All four of them were exactly perfectly tender and medium rare. With pretty little grill marks across the tops and bottoms.
Here's the process. You take your pieces of meat and season them. You can either vacuum seal them up or arrange them in a freezer ziplock bag (or other high quality leakproof bag). Submerge them in a pot of water that is the temperature you want the interior of your finished product to be, and then leave them alone for an hour or more, up to, say, four hours. If you are using a ziplock, leave the top open and let the water squish the bag around the meat pieces until the air is out and then seal the bag. Oh, and the water needs to pretty much stay at that temp the whole time, however you want to manage that.
Here's how that worked with my dinner tonight.
Around 4pm I took out the two thick-cut New York strip steaks I had bought earlier today. They looked well-enough marbled, though I really didn't know how tender they were. Supposedly, this method lends more tenderness as the long slow heat softens the tougher fibers. Each steak was about .82 pounds, and I cut each in half.
I seasoned them with black pepper, garlic powder, and kosher salt.
I had enough left on my roll of sealing bags to use for this batch of steaks, so I used it. Each steak was arranged to have as much contact with the hot water as possible.
I vacuumed out the air and then sealed it shut.
Next was to submerge it in the pot of water. What was a little humerous to me is how much it reminded me of the mashing process of making beer. In fact, when I went online to study it some more, one of the comments was from someone else who recognized that, and he just tossed his bag 'o meat into the mash, then finished it off on the grill to enjoy while he continued brewing. From my experiences, I pretty well knew how long a big pot of water would keep temperatures if I insulated it.
I wanted a finished interior temperature of around 140 degrees F, around medium rare. My starting temp was 147, which dropped a bit when I put the meat in.
While I waited, I had a glass of wine, worked on laundry, chopped vegetables, looked at Facebook, etc.
Two hours later, when I pulled the bag out, the water bath had dropped to 137 degrees, perfectly acceptable to me. The exterior was a light gray, but with hints of bright pink showing through.
I made sure the rest of my meal (sauteed vegetables, garlic bread, and corn on the cob) was ready to go before I took the two or three minutes to finish up the steaks and and put them on the table.
I heated up my little Weber gas grill as hot as I had the patience to take it and then threw them on the racks to get those pretty grill marks and a bit of Maillard reaction for flavor. One minute for each side. The couple tablespoons of juices left in the bag went into the skillet that I had cooked the veggies in. A quick reduction, and then drizzled over the finished, plated steaks.
These chunky little steaks were tender, succulent, moist, perfectly done, flavorful and very evenly cooked.
I admit that I have a lot to think about now. All that I thought I had learned about cooking steaks and meat is requiring a re-thought.
You can see the pros here. Now let's look at the cons.
I think a big bone-in steak would be more problemaic. You do NOT want the bag to leak in the water bath, and a sharp bone tip might puncture a ziplock. Ziplocks are not necessarily food-safe with heat. Heat-sealed bags are not cheap, and you need a vacuum machine. Roasting bags, which are polyester, and more food-safe, are another option. It may require a bit of thought and experimentation to maintain a pot of water at the correct temperature.
The biggest one for me is the lack of sizzle and crisped fat at the edges. But some of that could possibly be handled with a hotter fire at the grill before finishing them up. Especially knowing that I have at LEAST a minute on each side, without changing the interior temperature.
If you want to look it up yourself, here is a place to start.
We shall see how the boneless pork chops in the fridge shall deal with Sous-vide in a couple days. Stay tuned!