*Or, as I like to call it, Bubba Sous Vide.
I've been reading about the magic of sous vide cooking for a while now. Chefs have been using the technique for years; it lets them cook food to a very specific level of doneness, using a water bath with an immersion circulator. If they want a steak cooked to perfect medium-rare, 128*F, they set the immersion circulator to 128*F, seal the steak in a vacuum bag, and put it in the water bath. The steak cooks all the way through to the temperature of the water, and stays at that temperature for as long as it is in the water. When the chef is ready to cook, they unseal the bag, sear the steak, and serve it. Voila - perfect medium rare from edge to edge.
Immersion circulators aren't cheap; professional models are out of the price range of home cooks. (Or at least this home cook.) Sous Vide Supreme came out with a model for home cooks last year - it is tempting, but at $500, I've been able to resist temptation so far.
*I'd love to get one, but I couldn't justify the $500 price tag, and the kitchen space it will use. I love my gadgets, but this seemed like a gadget too far.
Then, Kenji Lopez-Alt had a brainstorm. Instead of an immersion circulator and a vacuum sealer, he filled a beer cooler with hot water, and used a zip-top bags. The cooler traps the heat, keeping the temperature of the water steady enough to use as a sous vide water bath.
Kenji's Beer Cooler Sous Vide was a hack worthy of McGyver, and I loved reading about it. I put it on my "I need to try that" list, and...promptly forgot about it. That is, until I went grocery shopping for Valentine's Day dinner. My local grocery store had a great deal on thick cut New York Strip steaks. I grabbed a couple, then wondered how I could cook them to a perfect medium-rare. (Perfect medium-rare is my quest.* And it's tough with thick cut steaks.) Kenji's technique popped back into my head, and I knew what I had to do.
*My greatest shame is presenting my mom with a steak that is not rare. For all my skill as a cook, I have a problem with overcooking beef. What can I say? I get distracted sometimes. I was hoping a side effect of this technique would be more consistent results. It is easier to measure the temperature of a cooler full of water than it is a thin steak.
The process is simple: fill a beer cooler with water about five degrees higher than the temperature you want the steak to finish at, because the temperature will drop slightly. Season the steak, then put it in a zip-top bag, and seal the bag most of the way shut. Slowly lower the bag into the water to force out the air. Once the bag is almost all the way submerged, seal the top and close the cooler. Let the steak sit in the water bath for at least one hour, to cook all the way through to the temperature of the water.
*Timing isn't critical - the steak can't get hotter than the water, so it can not overcook. This is part of the beauty of the technique.
Remove the food from the bag, pat it dry, then sear on ripping high heat for about a minute a side to get a browned crust. It doesn't need any more cooking than that; it is already cooked to the doneness you want by the water bath.
Instead of searing in a fry pan, I got my grill as hot as I could, then grilled the steaks for 2 minutes a side. I had nice browning, an impressive set of diamond grill marks. And the results? Oh...the results...Ohhhh...
*Sorry, give me a moment. I'm overcome by the memory.
This was, bar none, the best thick-cut steak I've ever cooked. An inch and a half of perfectly pink beef from edge to edge, with a thin browned crust on the outside. Not the usual gradation of red in the middle, through shades of pink, then gray and overcooked, before getting to the brown crust. This was medium rare from one side to the other. And, tender? The long, slow cooking in the water bath leaves the juices in the meat. They don't get squeezed out during the cooking time. The result is buttery beef, the likes of which I've never made before.
*I can't wait to try this technique with prime grade beef. Or rack of lamb. Or a thick cut pork chop. Oh, and about that Sous Vide Supreme? Darn it, now I'm lusting after one.
Are you a home cook looking to try something out of the ordinary? Have you been on a quest for a perfectly cooked piece of beef? You have to try this out. Thank you, Kenji!
Recipe: Beer Cooler Sous Vide Grilled New York Strip Steaks