Thursday, January 07, 2010
How to Cook the Perfect Steak: Sous Vide Cooking
As I read and learned more about the technique, and the very few affordable choices of home cooks, I set out to get the equipment I needed to add to my existing kitchen gadgets to take the plunge and see for myself. I chose the least expensive one: a PID thermostat coupled with my 6-qt slow cooker.
I was determined to learn this method because my husband is a steak eater (as much as I am a fried fish eater).
I have often wondered how restaurants always would come up with tender and juicy steaks even when very well done (as how my hubby always likes his steaks). At home we have our homegrown, grass-fed beef. While it sounds ideal and romantic, grass-fed beef are not exactly as great as those in the restaurants. Flavor is superb and the meat is really lean, and whatever bit of fat left is the good stuff, having had grass instead of grain providing the building material for the fatty acids. But consistency sucks -- tough and stringy -- what with all the freedom our beef had in their life span, and the lack of hormones. Not wanting to waste a lot of steaks this year as I did last year (I gave away a lot of unused steaks because I was getting discouraged), my readings on sous vide cooking gave me hope. Now I can see this household running out of steaks before the next year's supply comes. It seems like this was the way to cook steaks "very well done" without drying it up.
For this post, I used T-bone steaks, which already partly has tenderloin. Although I used 140 deg F (which gave the appearance of medium rare), I was explaining to hubby and kids about the technique (hubby was particularly intrigued with my PID temp controller and the seemingly elaborate and unusual setup), discussing about killing of pathogens at such temp for several hours of cooking, so that psychologically he was primed to see reddish middle of this fully cooked steak. I did brown the steaks in butter for a period long enough to make it as brown as possible without drying. However, I noticed that the longer the cut meat was exposed to air (and oxygen), the redder it got at the middle (a result of oxidation). Good thing I assured everyone already that that was fully cooked. With their concerns answered, they were reassured and pacified, and we all ate the steaks and savored the goodness...they were indeed excellent!
The next batch of steaks I cooked at 170 deg F. This time they were really brown...and tender and juicy.
So if you are interested, there is a sous vide cooker meant for home cooks at a whopping price of $449. Or, if you already have a good sized slow cooker, and are willing to invest on a PID temperature controller available in ebay for $156, here's how I prepared my first sous vide cooked steaks.
1. Thaw the steaks.
2. Season with salt and pepper (or spices...avoid fresh garlic as this can be over powering. If you want garlic flavor, use powder.)
3. Vacuum pack the steaks (I used food saver. Their plastic bags are food grade and are ok for low temp simmering.)
4. Place a spacer on each steaks (I used the lids for canning).
5. Stack the steaks inside the slow cooker and fill with water (spacer ensures the warm water bathes each steak all around).
6. Submerge the temperature sensor.
7. Cover the slow cooker, plug it to the PID temp controller, turn it on low setting, plug the PID into power supply, and set the PID thermostat to desired temp (see Table 2.3).
7. Allow at least two hours for the water in the slow cooker to reach the desired temperature according to Table 2.2 here. Then add the cooking time per recommendation in Table 2.3 if cooking thawed meat, or Table 2.4 if cooking frozen. Take note that this is the minimum time to ensure safety.I cooked mine for a total of 6 hours from turning on the unit.
8. Remove from pouches and wipe with paper towels.
9. Briefly pan-fry in butter (longer if you want it more brown).
10. Serve immediately.
More readings avaialable here in a downloadable pdf format.
HOW TO USE THE PID THERMOSTAT:
Make sure you are using a slow cooker or rice cooker that has manual controls instead of electronic.
Plug the cooker into the PID unit. Plug the PID into the power supply.
Turn on the slow cooker on low setting, place the sensor in the water in the slow cooker. Plug the PID into power supply.
Set the temperature and time (including the two hours to get the water up to the desired temp).
PID thermostat will beep when time is up.
So if you are interested in sous vide cooking, the equipment you need (if you are not getting the above mentioned sous vide cooker) are:
- a large capacity rice cooker or slow cooker with manual controls
- PID temperature controller
- vacuum sealer (I have Food Saver) and bags