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Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
What did you dream? It's alright we told you what to dream.
You dreamed of a big star, he played a mean guitar,
He always ate in the Steak Bar. He loved to drive in his Jaguar.
So welcome to the machine sous vide.

- Pink Floyd

That's right. Nowadays when you eat at that steak bar, you might very well be eating a sous vide prepared steak.

The term sous vide is french for "under vacuum." The cooking technique is to vacuum pack the food and then to set it in a water bath at the exact temperature you are trying to cook it. If you like your steak medium, drop your vacuum packed steak into a 138 F water bath for an hour or so and viola! PERFECT STEAK.

Now before any of you think this is a spam diary, rest assured it is not. I want to talk about my recent foray into this cooking method which has been done while not buying a single piece of new equipment. Follow me sous fleur for the story of my adventure.

I became interested in sous vide when I saw it on one of those cooking shows recently. It looked complicated. I did a little research online and it looked like I would need to spend $500 to $1000 dollars to get the equipment. I would pass on that for the time being I thought.

Shortly thereafter, a friend of mine mentioned sous vide. It sparked a conversation. He said he had been doing sous vide at home without a machine. I would go back to teh Google search on sous vide techniques that did not rely on specialized equipment. A good search term is stove top sous vide. Here is what it looks like.

stove top sous vide
Stove top sous vide
That is a nice thick steak. You don't need a vacuum sealer. Instead, you can use everyday ziplock bags. Place the meat inside the bag, leave open, and start dunking it in a large bowl of water making sure none of the water gets into the bag. The pressure of the water will squeeze the air out. It's not going to be perfect. But it will work.

For cooking, you don't need a machine. That is an 8 quart pot with a meat thermometer resting on a binder clip. It's not ideal for reading 1 degree gradients. But it works great for the 130 F, 140 F and 150 F temps. Or just below or above those. That's all I've needed so far. I could always get a digital thermometer if I wanted more exact readings.

I crumple some aluminum foil and place it underneath the meat so that it does not rest directly on the bottom of the pot. This ensures that the cooking heat comes only from the water which is temperature controlled.

Controlling the temperature is more of an effort on the stovetop than using a machine. The main advantage of using a machine seems to be to "set it and forget it" to borrow another cooking infomercial phrase. With the stovetop method you have to regularly monitor the temperature and make adjustments.

Even without the advantages of specialized equipment, you can still achieve what seems impossible following other cooking techniques. This is how the steak came out.

Steak cooked at ~138-140 F with a sear on both sides
What is so great is how the steak is cooked uniformly from top to bottom and end to end. Traditional grilling, broiling, frying or baking, if done perfectly, would leave some portion of the center perfectly cooked while leaving the surrounding portions to cook closer to the higher temperature of the cooking environment.

With sous vide cooking, no part of whatever you are cooking can reach a temperature above the water temperature. Besides cooking perfectly, this also means you can leave it in the water bath for much longer than the minimum time without harm. There are maximum times for every meat but these are usually many hours long. Much longer than I would ever need.

Add a quick sear and and you get an an exterior that looks and tastes like it was grilled. I only needed 45 seconds a side on high heat to achieve the Maillard reaction. And it results in only losing the first millimeter to well done.

Even without the equipment I've been able to cook the best steak, burgers and pork chops of my life. At first, it didn't feel like cooking at all. It felt more like a lab experiment. But now that I've done it a bunch of times, I do feel like a chef. I still have chicken, salmon, lamb and vegetables to conquer. I can't wait!

Originally posted to Buffalo Road on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 12:52 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  My wife is determined... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shaggies2009, Mr Robert, greengemini

    ...to get a sous vide rig put together.  As you point out, getting a steady temp on a stovetop is a challenge.  A proper sous vide also circulates the water to avoid hot and cool areas, sort of like an underwater convection oven.  There's a gizmo out there that claims to turn your slow cooker into a sous vide, but I don't know how well it works.   And there's a self-contained unit that you just drop into a large pot of water, but it's not in production yet (my wife found it on kickstarter).  

    Having said that, I doubt I'd use it for steak.  I can get a pretty near-perfect doneness by a quick sear in a fry pan, a brief rest, and then into a 275 degree convection oven until it's about five degrees below target temp. The low temperature seems to get it evenly done all the way through. I started doing that after making prime rib that way, and wondering if the same method would work on other cuts.  

    •  I've been using an old crock pot (4+ / 0-)

      and a $20 temperature controller.

      Crock pots don't have much for hot/cold spots so long as water is free to circulate around the bag; you can always add a $5 aquarium air pump and air stone to increase circulation if necessary. Temperatures wander up and down +/- 1 degree F, but since I'm usually cooking chuck roasts or ribs that's plenty accurate for me.

      One thing to think about if you start doing 48 hr + roasts or short ribs: those spiffy heater/circulators sitting in a bare steel pot without a lid will use a LOT more electricity than an insulated crock pot or beer cooler.

  •  Beer cooler (11+ / 0-)

    Thought that this was going to be a spam diary.

    I've tried a method from Serious Eats using a beer cooler.

    Worked really well the three times I've tried it.

    http://www.seriouseats.com/...

    The plural of anecdote is not data.

    by Skipbidder on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 01:33:10 PM PST

  •  I've always been fascinated by sous vide (5+ / 0-)

    ever since reading an article where some small-town (small-minded) health officials banned the practice in local restaurants.  Their claim (true) was that botulism bacteria can grow in the anaerobic environment and produce deadly botulism toxin after a number of hours.  Of course, cooking and eating dinner is not a danger.  Refrigeration eliminates this problem also (duh!).

    Also some have cautioned on the use of plastic that contains "plasticizers," chemicals that make plastic pliant enough to make into a bag.  These chemicals can leach "estrogenic compounds" into food which can play havoc with the reproductive system.  This is solved by using bags meant for long-term storage (such as those that come with food-saver systems).  This is an issue bigger than sous vide, of course, and manufacturers are aware of the problem.  I think a little Googling could produce cheaper options.

    That steak is gorgeous!  (Sorry about all the double spaces...)

    Guns don't kill people but there's always one there at the time of death.

    by john07801 on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 01:39:03 PM PST

  •  Oh wonderful! I've been reading the sous-vide (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shaggies2009, Mr Robert, Rogneid

    articles and wondering, how ...? Because I was NOT going to buy another gadget. But this I can do. Now ... to adapt this for eggs ... must go look up the perfect temps for an over-easy egg done sous-vide ... can do mayonnaise perfectly, no worries about "is it sterilized ..."  Thank you!

  •  I just read the Anova review (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shaggies2009, Bill W, Rogneid, greengemini

    at the linked website and added it to my Amazon wish list.

    I've been wanting to try out Sou Vide but I really don't have the storage space for an all-in-one unit. Besides the best all-in-one unit is a lot more money than I can to spend.

    Here's a link directly to the Anova review. The Anova unit is apparently produced by a company that manufacturers lab quality water baths and the reviews on Amazon are all 5/5.

    Thanks for the diary.

    The only trouble with retirement is...I never get a day off!

    by Mr Robert on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 02:15:18 PM PST

    •  I've seen that unit (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mr Robert

      I think we'll see a lot of stuff hit the market in the next few years. There's KickStarter projects for sous vide equipment!

      "In text, use only a single word space after all sentence punctuation." - Oxford Style Manual, Oxford University Press, 2003.

      by shaggies2009 on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 02:28:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Worth it to move to a better rig (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shaggies2009, Mr Robert, Rogneid

    I hacked together a sous vide rig using one of the guides online a couple years ago. Basically an aquarium pump plus a cheap PID from ebay and use the foodsaver I already had for the sealing.

    Where it really excels in my opinion is not in something like a steak (which really doesn't need a long cook time to break down the collagen etc) but in things like shortribs, brisket, pork shoulders, and other braise-type meats where you need a long cook time to break down the tough components. I cook short ribs for 48 hours that still come out medium-rare but are more tender and succulent than any other cooking method I have ever tried.

    Cooking it on the stovetop just won't get you the precise temperature control you need to avoid getting too hot (and overcooking/drying out) or too cold (and risking bacterial growth).

    There are instructions and parts list out there on the webs (sorry don't have them at my fingertips) that aren't too difficult to assemble yourself if you are the DIY type, otherwise I strongly recommend finding a kickstarter or other source for a pre-made rig.

    •  I see myself investing in equipment (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mr Robert, greengemini

      eventually. I'm still in the exploratory phase which is making sure I like the food and making sure it fits my lifestyle. It seems like it does.

      For instance, I can come home from work and do a sous vide burger or steak and it doesn't get too late before I'm eating. I'm getting better at the routine and timing.

      I concede equipment would be optimal. But it's still pretty cool that you can get by without it.

      "In text, use only a single word space after all sentence punctuation." - Oxford Style Manual, Oxford University Press, 2003.

      by shaggies2009 on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 03:40:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's what I did. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        shaggies2009

        First I did some experiments with a crock pot to see if I liked the meat cooked by this method, and then after I decided I did, I bought a Sous Vide Supreme (it was on sale). Tonight we hade French dip sandwiches made from tender, perfectly-cooked bottom round.

        Even on sale the unit was a bit pricey, and I think that most people will want to think twice before spending the money. However, it was worth it for me because I can do more than just cook meat or some vegetables with it. The fine temperature control lets me pasteurize eggs without cooking them by accident* (I live in a country where I can't buy them already pasteurized, and my husband has an immune disorder). It's very good for egg custard-type things, although the only one of that sort I've made so far is lemon curd. I can also incubate large batches of yogurt, and I hope to make cottage cheese once I get the other supplies I need for it.

        *135°F for 75 minutes, following Douglas Baldwin's recommendations

  •  If you don't want to run your stove for an hour... (5+ / 0-)

    ...there's a more energy efficient way by using any igloo cooler you might have laying around.  It'll hold the water at 138° for the time required.

    Instructions here

    •  I've thought about that (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mr Robert, Rogneid

      I was wondering if running the stove top at low temperature even for an hour or two is less energy than running the oven at 450 for half hour or forty-five minutes. I have to believe it is though I should try to do the math and make sure.

      I should try the cooler approach soon. One thing about the stove top is that since you have the burner on, the temp can suddenly increase even if it's been very stable for a while. I basically check it every five or six minutes. Lot's of setting the timer and getting up off the couch ten times an hour!

      "In text, use only a single word space after all sentence punctuation." - Oxford Style Manual, Oxford University Press, 2003.

      by shaggies2009 on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 03:48:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Every time some chef on Master Chef does (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rogneid, Bill W

    sous vide . .  they get sent home.   I'd just as soon use a pressure cooker.

    Fiat justitia ruat caelum "Let justice be done though the heavens fall."

    by bobdevo on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 03:33:34 PM PST

    •  I hadn't noticed that. (5+ / 0-)

      Is it sort of like the truffle oil curse?  Because that stuff always gets them sent home.  I saw someone suggest that they plant that stuff in the pantry just to tempt them.

      Coincidentally, I did use the pressure cooker tonight.  Had some really nice kale, threw it in there with a slice of fancy bacon, and it came out great. Is there nothing that pork fat can't make better?

  •  Coat the steaks in a bit of melted butter (6+ / 0-)

    Right before you sear them.  This gets browning in under 30 seconds when the pan is hot, adds a lot more flavor, and the butter provides a bit of a buffer so there's even more flavor.

    "Wisdom says I am nothing. Love says I am everything. Between the two, my life flows." - Nisargadatta Maharaj

    by TransAmerican on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 04:13:42 PM PST

  •  Think of the possibilities (5+ / 0-)

    After doing steaks a couple times using the ice chest method, it hit me that you could figure out commerical scale solar sous-vide. Solar thermal can hit pretty good temps, so  scale up a well insulated 1000 gallon tank and go to town.

    Disclaimer: If the above comment can possibly be construed as snark, it probably is.

    by grubber on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 04:37:39 PM PST

    •  hell here in Az I've measured car int temps at 165 (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shaggies2009

      before noon in the fall and the pavement  whooo boy that shit gets hot, here you really can fry on any black surface in the sun.

      A black pail full of water would do just fine here.......

      Vaya con Dios Don Alejo
      I want to die a slave to principles. Not to men.
      Emiliano Zapata

      by buddabelly on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 10:00:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I have got to try that - just because! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shaggies2009, Mr Robert, greengemini

    I love to cook. I've read about sous vide, but wasn't about to go buy a unit - but now...I think I'll give a try.

    Thanks!

  •  I assume the sear is done after the steak comes (0+ / 0-)

    out of the sous vide. Is that correct? The idea of an unseared steak is a little off-putting to me. And if I'm going to sous vide and then sear, I might as well skip the sous vide and proceed directly to the sear. Sous vide is okay for salmon, or sea bass, and other types of fish, but for red meat, it's not appetizing.

    There is no existence without doubt.

    by Mark Lippman on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 04:53:04 PM PST

    •  Most sear after sous vide (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mr Robert, northsylvania

      but I've seen some do the sear before. I do it after.

      If you don't sous vide and only sear, that's going to give you beef tartare. The quick sear (45 seconds a side) only cooks the outside millimeter of the steak. I like my beef medium thus the sous vide at 138-140F for over an hour. I think it turns out great. But to each their own.

      "In text, use only a single word space after all sentence punctuation." - Oxford Style Manual, Oxford University Press, 2003.

      by shaggies2009 on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 05:08:09 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Question (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shaggies2009, Mr Robert

    IANACE (I am not a chemical engineer:) ) but am I right to assume that 135° for 1 hr ≠ 2 hrs ≠ 3 hrs ≠ 4 hrs. Does the cooking time vary depending on what is being cooked? And the weight/volume of what is being cooked?

    •  Yes (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Kane in CA, Mr Robert, greengemini

      First, I've gotten cooking times by searching for sous vide recipes on the internet. Recommended times are all over the place. But people seem to agree on the minimums and maximums.

      There is always at least several hours between minimum and maximum. The issue with cooking toward the maximum is that while you are not over cooking by temperature, the proteins etc. start to breakdown after a certain point. This can be desired for certain cuts like short ribs but not so much on a steak.

      Mass definitely adds cooking time since it will take longer to get the center to the desired temperature.

      There is another interesting aspect. For example, chicken is usually cooked to 160 F in the oven. But with sous vide, you can cook it at 140 F but also for a longer period of time. The lower temperature combined with the longer cooking time is said to achieve the same bacteria killing effect as the 160 F. And it gives you much more tender chicken.

      "In text, use only a single word space after all sentence punctuation." - Oxford Style Manual, Oxford University Press, 2003.

      by shaggies2009 on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 06:25:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  If you have a bit of time on your hands, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shaggies2009

    one of my undergrad classmates put this on his blog:
    DIY sous-vide immersion circulator

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