Experiment: Sous Vide Cooking

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I’ve been intrigued by the sous vide cooking technique since I first heard of it: what if I could cook things in water, which transfers heat so much better than air does, as in  the oven? What if I could keep the food dry, but immerse it in liquid, and cook it at such a low temperature that it would never overcook?

Anova Precision Cooker Red 300x300 Experiment: Sous Vide CookingI thought that would remain a restaurant technique used by the likes of Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, Heston Blumenthal, Ferran Adria, and Nathan Myhrvold: chefs who are serious about the science and the craft of cooking who have a panoply of nifty equipment at their fingertips. But then there was a Kickstarter program, which I backed – and just this week my Anova Precision Cooker arrived. It’s a nifty gadget that lets me cook sous vide right in my own kitchen. Mine’s a pretty shade of red, though I could have chosen black or white.

Of course I wanted to try it out right away. Please note that this is an unsponsored equipment review: I backed the Kickstarter campaign with my own money. I thought I’d report here about what I’ve done with this cool new kitchen toy.

Anova Sous Vide in use 131x300 Experiment: Sous Vide CookingFirst of all, it attaches to a pot with a clampFill the pot with water, plug in the machine, set the desired temperature in C or F, and start it up. It’ll beep when the water is at that set temperature. The phone app hasn’t arrived yet, though I’m looking forward to eventually connecting the Anova via Bluetooth and controlling the cooking, or checking on it, from my comfy chair. For now, I simply dial in a number.

While the water is heating, take the beef (I cooked a round steak, and short ribs), season it with salt and pepper, and seal it in a plastic bag. I could have used a freezer-weight zip bag for the steak, which only cooked for 2-3 hours, but for the short ribs, which went for 72 hours (yes, 3 full days) I used sturdier heat-sealed bags. At the end of the appointed cooking time, remove the meat from the bags, pat them dry, and sear them just before serving.

First up, round steak. It might even have been a cut of chuck, but it looked like round to me. It was labeled ‘family steak’ at my local butcher counter, and they recommend that it be marinated for a while then grilled, and sliced thin, because it’s not very tender. I thought I’d see just how it might turn out cooked sous vide. Result? Medium rare wall to wall, with just a little sear on the outside at the finish. The steak was much more tender than it would have been had I simply broiled or grilled it. Next time, I’d use a slightly lower temperature, but overall, this was a success.

Sous Vide Steak Collage Experiment: Sous Vide Cooking

Then I dove right into short ribs. I’ve read about them, and heard from several people: short ribs cooked for 72 hours are sublime. So they went right into the pot that night. And stayed there. And stayed. I put clingfilm on top of the pot, to minimize evaporation, and checked the level of the water every 12 hours or so, to ensure that the bags remained submerged. On the third evening, out came the ribs.

Sous Vide Ribs Collage Experiment: Sous Vide Cooking

They were as tender as filet steak, though they had the full hearty flavor characteristic of short ribs. After three full days of cooking, they were still pink inside, and had none of the stringy ‘pot roast’ texture you might expect – yet there were no juices that would seem to indicate meat that was not well done. I served the ribs with a merlot reduction made with thyme and mushrooms.

All in all, these experiments were a great success. I’ve noticed a few things about this cooking method already:

  • aromatics (garlic, herbs) can be sealed with the meat right in the bag
  • any sauce will need to be made separately; there aren’t pan juices or drippings
  • everybody needs to like their meat the same degree of doneness – no mixing ‘rare’ and ‘medium’ in the same meal, unless there are 2 sous vide setups to use
  • the meat has to be patted dry when it comes out of the bag, and then seared for maximum flavor
  • you can hold supper an hour or so very easily – no fear of overcooking!

I have a lot to learn – this is a new method of cooking, and like anything new, it will take time to feel comfortable. I’ll be checking out books and websites, and testing ideas and techniques. I’ve found an excellent way to mess around in the kitchen!

If you cook sous vide, I’d like to hear about it in the comments! Have you any favorite recipes or resources?