A medium-rare steak is 135 degrees in the center. For thousands of years, the best way to accomplish this was to put the steak on a really hot grill and attempt to pull it off at just the right time. This is silly. Fortunately, technology has found a better way.
Take your steak, vacuum seal it in a plastic bag, and then lower it into a water bath whose temperature is carefully maintained at exactly 135 degrees. Let the steak come up to the temperature of the surrounding water, then pull it out, sear it with a blowtorch or a hot pan, and you’re ready to serve!
This method of cooking (known as “sous-vide“, French for “under-vacuum”) has several advantages.
1) No clean-up. Just open the bag, torch the steak, and you’re ready to serve!
2) No overcooking. Overcooking means accidentally bringing food above your target temperature. With sous-vide, the water bath maintains your food at the exact desire temperature, so overcooking is impossible.
3) No food safety concerns. Want a super-rare hamburger, but worried about e. coli? Pasteurization is a function of both temperature and time, so you can pasteurize your meat at a relatively low temperature by just holding it there for a couple hours.
Fish takes about 20 minutes and is perfectly cooked every single time. Chicken is moist and tender in a way I’ve never had it before. Sous-vide duck is amazing. After 2 hours, it’s deep red and juicy, unlike the dry grey stuff I had at Chinese restaurants growing up. Flank steak is one of the most flavorful cuts, but is usually one of the toughest. After 2 days in the sous vide, it’s as tender as filet mignon.
I have no desire to eat out anymore, because the food I make at home is faster and tastier. “Making dinner” now consists of taking a piece of meat (still in its original vacuum-sealed packaging from the supermarket) and dropping it into my sous-vide. For vegetables, I blend a spinach smoothie, or if I’m feeling fancy, I’ll put a tray of broccoli in the oven to roast. I can prepare an entire dinner in less than 60 seconds.
I’m writing this blog post because I’ve had a number of friends ask me how I put together my sous-vide setup. This is the email I’ve been forwarding them:
I did neither, and bought a temperature controller that I can plug a rice cooker into. It’s cheaper and more flexible than a dedicated sous-vide machine. It has lower risk of electrocuting me than a DIY solution. And finally, if I ever want to sous vide something larger (say, an entire animal), I can just swap out my rice cooker for a larger heating element and I am good to go.
So without further ado, here’s my sous vide set-up (booze is optional, but recommended):
Perforated plate, $15
(You need something to keep the temperature probe away from the food. I use a small metal cheese grater, which works fine.)
Non-digital rice cooker, $30:
(This is big enough to do 2 flank steaks, a small roast, or a rack of ribs)
(optional, but fun) Cooking torch, $35:
(Get a butane refill from your local smoke shop, or just sear your meat in a pan after cooking it. Caveat – some people believe that butane can flavor the meat, and recommend just getting a blowtorch.)
I get my meat from Trader Joes already vacuum sealed. You might eventually want a vacuum sealer or a water bath that can handle larger items, but the above setup has been working great for me.
The definitive guide to sous-vide cooking times and temperatures can be found on Douglas Baldwin’s website. If I can’t find the info I need there, a quick google search usually turns up good suggestions. But to get you started, here are some times and temperatures that have been working well for me:
|Duck breast||135||2 hours||Crisp skin-side down in a pan before serving|
|Flank steak||131||2 days|
|Pork loin||137||2 hours|
|Soy ginger cod||132||20 mins||Find it in Trader Joe’s frozen foods aisle. Thaw first.|
|Salmon||126||30 mins||Add some slices of lemon if you vacuum seal it yourself|
|Pork shoulder||140||2 days|
|Pork chops||138||4 hours|
|Pork belly||155||2 days||Leave it under the broiler afterwards to get super-crispy, and don’t forget plenty of salt!|