Friday, January 28, 2011

sous-vide steak

It seems that I have been in the mood for steak lately. I satiated that need today with steak cooked the way I like it. I got the steaks from Prime Cuts in Salmiya. 

When I look for steaks, I like them to be marbled with fat to keep them moist while cooking. The fat also adds flavour to the steaks and, yes, sometimes you get a sense that the cows lived happy lives, eating the freshest grass off the field. So how do I get the feeling that I did the cow justice, that its life wasn't in vain? I cook it properly. I want a steak that has the same colour from as close to one edge as the other. It should also have a nicely caramelized, charred surface.

Sous-vide cooking involves cooking an ingredient in a sealed environment in a water bath. The item should be vacuum-packed in preparation for being placed in a body of water that is heated to exactly the temperature that you want the ingredient to be cooked to. Sometimes, additional flavouring can be added prior to vacuum-packing to infuse the ingredient with seasonings and aromas. I saw this technique used on Iron Chef about eight or nine years ago and thought that it was a show-off technique - at the time I was really trying to learn more about flavour combinations - however, a couple of years ago, I tried to do it myself. And I'm more than glad that I did. Honestly, I don't want my steak cooked any other way. While researching this technique for cooking, I found that steak, eggs (for poached eggs) and salmon are typically considered, ingredients that require very delicate cooking to ensure a desired effect.

While I do not own an automatically controlled water thermal bath, and I have been told they are sold in Kuwait in medical / laboratory supply shops, I have figured out how to regulate the temperature myself. It involves a large pot of water, an accurate thermometer and an adjustable stove-top. Luckily, I have both gas and electric hobs to work with, and today I started on the gas then moved to electric, with better and more consistent results (due to lower temperatures).

I like my steak cooked to medium-rare, about 130 degrees F. I have read on other food blogs that others tend to agree with cooking to that temperature. However, I would have to trust the source and handling conditions of the meat to be able to eat it at that level of doneness.

As it goes on, you can see the colour change. The cooking process for steaks as thick as I selected them, or any other steak really, is about an hour. What's good about this technique is that you can be flexible with the cooking time, as you cannot exceed the temperature of the water bath.

There is a limit, however, as excessive heating even at these temperatures will result in a denaturing of the meat and eventually turn it mushy. This limit, though, is several hours, so you place your steaks in the water bath about an hour before you intend to serve... and if dinner is delayed a little bit, you don't have to worry because all you have to do before serving is sear the steak. And it won't go cold while you're waiting. I do this on a very hot griddle pan so that you can achieve the crusting treatment that you want without heating the steak too deeply. I want the meat to maintain the same colour and texture from as close to the surface as possible.

After taking the meat out of the bags, I just cover with freshly crushed salt and pepper and then sear. With this particular cut of steak, I let the trim of fat go first and then sear each side until I see the sear lines that I like. What's nice about cooking the steak sous-vide is the consistency of doneness throughout the steak as well as having the fat cooked as well - it is quite juicy and edible rather than how it usually turns out with surface cooking.

I may consider placing a lifting device (maybe a steaming vessel) or something similar so that the heat of the bottom of the pan does not affect the steak. I have been fairly successful so far in maintaining the temperatures that I require without over-cooking my steaks, but I imagine a fully automated water thermal bath may give some ease of mind as I can just put my steaks in there and forget about them for a while. 


  1. looks really good ... love my steaks at least medium ... my wife likes hers well done ... for sum reason i thought all Kuwaitis like it well done. glad you are not one :)

  2. I've found that to be generally true, most Kuwaitis prefer their meat well done. I wouldn't necessarily cook supermarket-grade meat in the same way, but if I'm getting a nice cut from a reputable butcher, then I will enjoy the steak the way I feel it should be enjoyed.