After my introduction to sous vide –  in which I explained what sous vide means, its history, how it works and the advantages and disadvantages of this cooking technique – I was planning to share a clever, inventive recipe with you… something to show off the cheffy possibilities… something unusual and impressive.

I’ve been admiring lots of wonderful sous vide recipes online. Delicious ideas by fellow bloggers include Dom’s fennel risotto, Jan’s pork belly with honey and apple cider glaze, Mardi’s caramelized bananas with coconut gel and snow, Helen’s rhubarb compoteJeanne’s 20 hour oxtail stew, and Luiz’ Tamago Onsen. I’ve also found much to tempt via Google and Pinterest, such as 48 hour Momofuku short ribs, 36 hour chashu pork belly, olive oil poached salmonpeach bread pudding with sweet tea rum sauce, duck fat fried potatoes, white chocolate rum caramel bananas and salmon confit in elderflower oil.

But after all that, I decided to talk to you about sous vide steak!

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supermarket sirloin medallions

I have always loved steak and we often cook it at home, varying the cut depending on our mood and what’s on offer, though most commonly settling on rib eye. We were happy enough with our technique – oil (and season) the steak not the pan, heat the pan until it’s properly hot, add the steaks and don’t move them at all until it’s time to flip them over, cook the second side, remove from the pan and rest for several minutes while making the sauce – but it wasn’t unusual for us to cook the steak a little more or less than we’d intended; the finger test is helpful but still a little tricky to call. And then I read that using a sous vide machine to cook steak should make it impossible to over or undercook, so steak was an obvious candidate for one of our first experiments.

And we discovered that cooking steaks accurately is ridiculously easy this way!

We have now cooked several steaks in our Sous Vide Supreme, including sirloin medallions (on offer at the local supermarket), rump and some fabulous grass fed New Zealand wagyu rib eye steaks from Provenance Butcher. Each time, we’ve been thrilled with the perfect cooking, even texture and excellent flavour – even less expensive steaks (that haven’t been dry-aged for a long period or aren’t from rare breed animals) taste intensely beefy. The wagyu rib eye in particular really benefited from the gradual melting of the marbling into the surrounding meat.

Recipes list cooking times anywhere between 1 and 6 hours for steak; however, we find 1.5 to 2 hours is plenty of time for the meat to cook through, for steaks up to 3 cm thick. We like our steaks medium rare, so we sous vide them at 56.5 °C (133.5 °F); I found this chart very useful in selecting the right temperature.

Be prepared for the steaks to look rather unappealing when you take them out of the sous vide machine – a rather pallid pinky-grey; the caramelised flavours and dark brown colour that most of us appreciate on a steak are created by the Maillard reaction, for which one needs higher temperatures. For this reason, we briefly sear the steaks after they come out of the sous vide machine.

How To Sous Vide Steak (Medium Rare)

Ingredients
Steaks of your choice
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying

Method

  • Pre-heat sous vide machine to 56.5 °C (133.5 °F).
  • Very lightly season the steaks and vacuum seal into bags.
  • Submerge steaks fully and leave to cook for 1.5 to 2 hours.
  • Before finishing the steaks, cook your vegetables and your sauce, so that they’re pretty much ready to serve.
  • Preheat heavy-based pan to scorching hot and very lightly oil.
  • Remove steaks from the bags.
  • When pan is really scorching hot, briefly fry the steaks on both sides to sear – only for about half a minute on each side as you don’t want the heat to penetrate too far into the steak and change its perfect texture
  • Assemble all your elements and serve.

Note: The steaks can remain in the sous vide for quite a lot longer than the required cooking time – the beauty of sous vide is that they will not overcook, since the internal temperature will not rise above the temperature of the water bath. That said, I have read that leaving steak in the sous vide for a very long time can result in the meat becoming mushy, usually in reference to cooking times of 15 hours or more.

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Grass fed New Zealand wagyu rib eye from Provenance Butcher

One of the questions I’ve been asked, by friends who know I’m experimenting with the Sous Vide Supreme, is whether we’ve found it worthwhile using it just to cook steaks, given that we’d previously cooked them happily enough in a frying pan. I asked myself the same question before I started using it, because it’s quite a bulky piece of kit and it really needs to justify itself, given how much storage space it takes up. In fact, we have found it quick and straightforward to fill with water, set the temperature, seal food into bags and submerge to cook, so it’s not felt like a chore to use it at all. When we’re done, it’s easy to empty into the bath, leave aside to dry and put away again. Of the equipment we own, it’s our deep fat fryer that we use more rarely because filling (and emptying) the oil is far more of a faff. That’s been a good benchmark for us to use for assessing how we feel about the Sous Vide Supreme.

What do you think? Do you have a Sous Vide Supreme? Or have you considered buying one? Do you think you’d get enough use from it? Would it be a white elephant or kitchen hero? I’d love to know your thoughts, and for those of you that have one, please let me know your favourite sous vide recipes and techniques. (For fellow Pinterest users, here’s my Pinterest Sous Vide board).

 

Kavey Eats received a SousVide Supreme and vacuum sealer in exchange for sharing my experiences using the equipment.
The sample of Grass fed New Zealand wagyu rib eye was courtesy of Provenance Butcher.

  17 Responses to “The Sous Vide Steak: How, Why and Is It Worth It?”

  1. I’ve also been debating the value per use of a sous vide machine, I don’t think I’ve made my mind up yet. Those steaks do look divine but if I decided to get the pan out to colour them, I could have just fried them from the beginning.

    • Definitely agree, there’s no question you could save faff by doing whole thing in the pan, which is what we always did. You’re always going to need to sear the steak in order to achieve the lovely crust colour and flavour.

      Main reason for us is that although we usually get steaks about right, because we buy such different sizes of steak each time, we do sometimes overcook or undercook. So the sous vide has been great for us, as it means consistently hitting MR.

  2. I tried out a sous-vide a couple of years ago but ultimately, found it wasn’t suited to me. For steaks, we like ours cooked differently so that won’t work in a sous-vide. Also, everything just took so much longer – why would you soft boil an egg for ages when it takes 6 minutes on the stovetop? Also, unless you are just cooking for one person, it’s fairly limiting in terms of how much you can cook at once. The dealbreaker for me? I like to see and touch and SMELL my food while it’s cooking. We invited folks over for a sous-vide dinner and their first comment when they came into the house was how they couldn’t smell anything… I’m interested to follow along your experiments though. I do realise it’s something that is not for everyone but that a lot of people absolutely swear by it!

    • Ah now that’s a very good point, had never thought of the issue of people wanting their steaks cooked differently – would definitely negate the point of using sous vide machine to cook steak in that case.

      For eggs, I think it’s unlikely I’ll use the machine to cook eggs for just two of us, though I’ll try it once just to play. But I imagine I might be more interested if trying to cook a higher number, say 2 perfect eggs for 6 people at the same time. That’s an unlikely situation in our house, though!

      I don’t mind the issue of smelling and touching food, as the sous vide is just one stage in a process and there are likely to be other elements of the meal that will be cooked regularly. But I do understand what you mean about not having the smells of cooking evident until the very last stages. That’s an interesting point. I think Dom (Belleau’s Kitchen) has felt similarly to you about his SVS, reading his posts about it…

      I’ve been investigating some recipes where being able to cook meat all the way through but without losing any moisture, before then doing the next stage of the recipe would be a real boon, so that’s where I’m going to go next.

  3. Cooking steaks at different temps isn’t that hard. Say you want to cook 4 steaks at rare (130), medium rare (134), medium (138) and well (140) (all temps are just to illustrate). Have them all in separate vac packs, and start all at the lowest temp. Cook at 130 for 90 min, then remove the rare steak (I like to cool all of my steaks before searing so that the sear doesn’t raise the internal temp), and raise the temp to 134, and cook for 30 min. Then remove the med rare steak, and raise the temp to 138, and cook for another 30 min, remove the medium steak, and raise the temp to 140 for a final 30 min.

    Then sear them all at the same time. Cooling before you sear allows you to spend as much time as you like on the sear without worrying about making your steak too well done for your taste. After you have achieved 134 degrees, your steak is medium rare in taste and texture, and will be medium rare even if served at a lower temp (say, 100–you just need it warm enough for the mouth feel).

    • That makes complete sense but is a lot more faff (for me) than it’s worth – I like the ability to leave them in the waterbath until I’m ready to sear and I’m not sure I could be bothered to go back every half hour and retrieve one, change the temperature etc.

      But I see how it could be useful, for sure!

  4. I’d love to try out a sous vide machine at home and as my husband and I both love steak (but I often overcook it a little) it would be a great way of getting it just right. I just can’t see that I have the extra space for that sort of appliance though.

    • Corina,
      I’ll be talking about other sous vide equipment options in coming months, including one that takes up far less space, so watch this space!

  5. I really enjoyed cooking sous vide, everything has it’s positives and negatives. Anyway, I want that steak for diner please!

  6. We are loving the machine, but also realise that we have a huge amount to learn still.

    Our local butcher helpfully vacuum packs them for us.

  7. If I had the room for a sous vide machine I’d certainly gve it a go but unfortunately for me room is tight. What I am going to try is the “equipment free” version as per the link below from a most prominent Australian food site and hope that with a digital termometer I can keep the temp stable.

    http://www.goodfood.com.au/good-food/cook/simple-sous-vide-for-the-home-minus-the-fancy-equipment-20140318-34zlf.html?rand=1395272549640

  8. As you know, I’ve been experimenting with Sous vide (a misnomer, because it’s not the fact that it’s under vacuum that matters, but that it’s at low temperature) for some time now. I’ve some disasters (can’t get pork belly to behave, nor were were that impressed with brisket) and some triumphs. We do duck magrets that are superlative, and have modified a lot of chicken dishes to cook at low temperature. So far I’ve got nowhere with vegetables, the only vegetables we’ve tried were a flop, however the St Jacques does leeks like that (a case where the vacuum pacing might indeed matter) and I really ought to ask Patrick what he does to get them so good.

    I have two different low temperature set ups. The first one I got, which I cobbled together for myself, consisted of a so called jam maker/steriliser, which is hopeless for jam and seteriolsiing but has an 1800 w heater heating 30 litres of water, so it is wonderful for making stock and – via a SousVideMagic 1500D Controller 0.1 Resolution PID thermostat from Fresh Meal Solutions in Canada – for low temperature work. I use a fish tank air bubbler to stir the water and can hold all 30 litres to a temperatue that is ± 0.2℃ of my target. That allows me to cook 12 magrets, or packets of foie gras in one batch. At £135 all told it was a damn good way into low temp cooking.

    Then my extravagant brother decided to celebrate a major birthday of mine with a proper SV cooker,the “Expert” SVE12 made by Grant. It’s quite a bit smaller, only holding 12 litres of water, so I couldn’t do a serious batch in it, but for 4 or 6 it’s fine and wonderfully trouble free. So I now do a lot of low temperature stuff and have even been known to use it as a normal bain marie! Brilliant.

    • Yes it’s weird that the name that has stuck is sous vide when it’s the accuracy and low temperature that’s so critical, and the way that water allows the temperature to transfer so easily. There’s a link at the top to my intro piece, which gives a full explanation of the history and the technique.

      We’ve had some luck with chicken and the next recipe I share will be a chicken one.

      I’ve not yet tried vegetables but have been told by so many that carrots sous vide are the best carrots ever, so I’ll have to try them soon.

      For other solutions, I saw a great kickstarter recently for a new brand called Codlo, developing a controller device that will allow rice cookers, slow cookers etc to be used as a sous vide machine, making sous vide more affordable without having to jerry rig a controller oneself. There are also devices like sansaire and Anova now, which are immersion sous vide devices, with both controller and immersion heaters. Very clever and space saving. I hope to try one or more of these in coming months.

  9. We tried doing carrots, following the recipe “Always Perfect Glazed Carrots” in the (normally excellent) “Beginning Sous Vide” by Jason Logsdon. We found the carrots tough, although the flavour wasn’t bad. So we adapted the method to the microwave which is quicker, just as good in flavour and a darn sight easier to do. Put us right off it did.

    Fresh meals also sell a circulator/heater/controller to be immersed in a any container. Judging by the thermostat we’ve got from them, it should be even better. However, as is so often the case for things sold in the Americas, there is the problem of sockets/plugs and the freight.

    No matter how you look at it, if you want to control the temperature of a “cooker” with built in heater, you HAVE to insert the controller in between the mains and the cooker, or it can’t cut the heater, and you also HAVE to put some kind of probe into the container. It’s also fairly important to have some way of ensuring that the water temperature is constant throughout the container and all that’s always going to be more or less “Heath Robinsonian”.

    But when any “Ready to use” “Sous-vide” machine, even the Sous Vide Supreme Demi costs at least £300 and my lash-up costing me under £150 for one that holds 10 times the amount of water, I can still feel a glow of self satisfaction.

    • Yes, I think there’s certainly much to be said for making your own, though if I were looking to buy right now, and on a budget, I’d look at something like the Codlo, which is just launching now after a great crowd funding campaign, and which I’m hoping to be able to review and share on the blog soon.

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