Everyone knows the anxious feeling and ensuing disappointment of cutting into a steak to check if it’s cooked properly, only to find an overcooked, grey center. With a little help from something known as “sous-vide”, you’ll never have to experience that feeling again. All you have to do is set the time and temperature that corresponds to the doneness that you like, and you’ll get perfectly cooked steaks, every single time. Cooking is meant to be enjoyable, so why put yourself through unnecessary stress?
Sous-vide (French for under vacuum) is a method of cooking that gently cooks sealed parcels of food in a bath of heated water. Because the cooking temperatures are much lower and the cooking times much longer, sous-vide offers immense control over even-cooking and levels of doneness. The beauty of it is that sous-vide waits for you, not the other way around. Preparing a steak dinner for your family and friends? Let sous-vide do all of the work while you spend some time with them. When you’re ready, sear off those steaks and you’re done.
The basic process is simple. This can apply to virtually every protein and can even extend to preparing sides. In this case, we’ll continue with the example of cooking steak. Prepare a pot of water that is large enough to contain your steak. Secure your sous-vide machine to the pot and set your desired temperature: 130 ℉ for rare, 135 ℉ for medium, and 155 ℉ for well done. You can always fine tune the temperatures, these are just general guidelines. Season the steak generously with salt and pepper. Package the steak in a sous-vide bag (a Ziploc freezer bag also works great) and add your choice of herbs, aromatics, and a glug of olive oil to get things going. Once the water is done preheating, place the package in the water. Make sure that the entire steak is submerged. I like using alligator paper clips to secure the bag to the pot. But whatever method you choose for securing the bag, the goal is to prevent any of the cooking water from entering the bag. For a 1-inch thick steak, an hour of cooking time is all you need. For every additional ½ inch, add another 30 minutes of cooking time. You can even leave the steak in for an additional hour without any risk of overcooking. That’s it! Go talk with your friends, watch an episode of your favorite Netflix show, play a game! You have the next hour to yourself.
To finish the steak, preheat a thick-bottomed pan to a ripping hot temperature. At this point, the steak is perfectly cooked but won’t look very appetizing. A rule of thumb is that color translates to flavor. To get color on the steak, we want a fast, deep sear, but residual moisture inhibits this. Take the steak out of the bag and pat it dry. Pour about a tablespoon of oil (high-smoke point oil such as canola, peanut, or vegetable) into the preheated pan. You’ll know it’s hot enough when the oil starts glistening. When the first wisps of smoke start rising, sear the steak for 30-60 seconds. Flip the steak over, add butter and sear for another minute, making sure to baste along the way. Those aromatics you still have in the sous-vide bag? Don’t let them go to waste. Throw them in the pan for added flavor. Remember that the steak is already cooked. So, once a nice sear has developed, pull the steak off the heat and let it rest for a few minutes. Slice and serve, dinner’s ready. No more anxiety, much more fun. But, I guess the only downside is that you’ll forever feel that your steaks are better than anything a steakhouse can put out.
Image: Sous-vide ribeye I cooked this weekend (128 ℉ for 1 hour)