From Tradition to Table

Raised Steaks

I have a confession to make: I’m a neophile.

I get really excited by new, innovative things. When these innovations combine two or more of my many passions (like food, science, and technology, or iPod, cooler, and bottle opener), I find their pursuit irresistible. This causes no small amount of tension (and amusement?) in my marriage as my wife is forever encountering my latest experiments where she least expects them.

Wife: “What’s this tupperware in the freezer labeled ‘ice cream?’ It doesn’t look like ice cream.”

Me: “Don’t eat that! It’s duckfat-tomato puree.”

Wife: “…”

Me: “I was trying to create a colloid…”

Wife: “…”

Not all of my experiments are failures. Case in point: the recent introduction of sous vide cooking to our home. “Sue-what?” Yeah, I get that a lot. The truth is if you’ve ever boiled an egg, you’ve basically cooked sous vide.* French for “under vacuum,” sous vide is the process of cooking food in a water bath at a controlled temperature for a set amount of time. Watch any of the thousands of competitive cooking shows out there and you’ll see it. It looks incredibly complicated and produces results that are more than worthy of those cooking competitions. But sous vide is a refining of the overall cooking process that anyone can do at home. It requires no special equipment and involves very little active time.

Let’s talk steak. I don’t mean the tough-to-chew, gray-around-the-edges, raw-in-the-middle abomination that passes for steak in most kitchens. I mean the perfectly medium-rare (or medium, or medium-well—you get to decide), pink-edge-to-edge, tender-to-chew, fat-rendered steak that you only see in magazines and only eat at the finest restaurants. That can be your steak. And you can eat it in sweatpants. Here’s how you achieve elevated steak without having to buy the same fancy machinery I did:

For your equipment, you’ll need a stock pot, your best frying pan, a thermometer, some ice cubes, a zip-lock bag, and a beer cooler. You will fill the cooler with water and submerge your steak, so it doesn’t need to be The Biggest Cooler In The World. I’ve used a small Coleman that was made to handle a six-pack. For your taste buds, you’ll need a clove of garlic, a sprig of thyme, two tablespoons of butter, kosher salt, and fresh ground pepper.

And steak. A decent steak. This doesn’t need to be the most expensive cut in the case (in fact, this method works great on cuts that are traditionally tough, like hanger, skirt, flank, and London broil), but it should be fresh. Pull that sucker out of its plastic wrap, put it on a plate, salt both sides, wrap it in fresh plastic, and pop it back in the fridge for at least a few hours (or as many as 24). Even if you don’t like salt, this’ll help. Trust me. When you’re ready to cook (at least an hour before you’re going to eat) fill a stockpot with water. Pull the steak out of the fridge. Dry it off and pop it into a zip-lock bag with a sprig of thyme and a sliced clove of garlic. Carefully lower the bag into the water until only the zipper is exposed (you’ve allowed gravity to force out all the air—suck it FoodSaver!). Zip it up and set it aside.

Now set up your water bath. Your target temperature is going to depend on your desired doneness. If you prefer rare or well-done, this method is not for you. Honestly, cooking is not for you. Find another pursuit. I like my steak medium-rare (130 degrees). My wife prefers medium (140 degrees) so we split the difference at 135 degrees.     Heat the water in the stockpot until it gets to be five degrees warmer than your desired temp. Pour said water into beer cooler. Add bag-o-steak. Check temp. Your steak will be colder than the water, so the temp will drop. If it drops too much, add some more hot water. If it’s not dropping enough, add an ice cube. A degree or two variance won’t make a huge difference in the end result. When you hit your desired temp, close the lid and walk away. You want your steak to bathe for at least 45 minutes to an hour. You can also hold it at this temp for up to four hours.

Does this sound like more work than you put into a date? No wonder you’re single. When you remove your steak from the water bath and take it out of the bag, it will be fully cooked and damn-near perfect. Except that it will look like a sad, gray hockey puck. No fear. We can fix that. To pretty it up a bit, put that frying pan on the stove and add the butter.** Crank the heat as high as it will go and let that butter burn. Dry off your hockey puck steak. When the pan/butter is smoking, gently lay the steak in. Count to 30 out loud. Turn it over. Count to 30 again. Get it out of the pan and onto a plate. Season with salt and pepper and dig in (no rest time necessary).

Once you’ve polished off the juiciest, best-cooked steak you’ve ever made, you may, be tempted, like I was, to invest in some of that fancy machinery. Good news: there are almost as many at-home options for cooking sous vide as there are television shows about cooking competitions. My personal favorite is the Anova One ($199 from anovaculinary.com). It’s got intuitive controls, a nice LCD display, and is accurate to the one tenth of a degree. The only thing it doesn’t have is smartphone controls, which is why I’ve already pre-ordered the newest model: the Anova Precision Cooker ($179, due out at Christmas) with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

My wife is gonna kill me.

  • Eggs come conveniently pre-sealed in their own shells. Try cooking them at temperatures other than boiling for a real treat.
  • I use a blowtorch for this step, but that’s just because I get to bring in a fourth passion.

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