How juicy and tender does this steak look? The grain is almost falling apart it’s that tender. Would you be at all surprised if I told you that steak cost $6 for both and was cooked in a cooler?
If you’re not yet familiar with the [relatively new] cooking technique sous vide, oh baby! Let me get you two acquainted.
Sous vide literally translates to “in vacuum” and consists of vacuum-packing or sealing the food air-tight and cooking in a temperature-stabilized water bath set at just the temperature you want the food to end up at. Want a 130º medium-rare steak? Set your water bath to 130º. This way, the food cooks through completely, but only just to the temperature you want, preventing greyed, overcooked edges and toughness.
Unfortunately, most sous vide equipment starts at $100, for a super hack (involving a Crockpot… yes). Real sous vide equipment starts at $500. Not sure you’re going to love it and sous vide all the time? I have the hack for you!
All you need is a beer cooler and a good food thermometer.
The beer cooler will keep the water at about the exact temperature you need for about two hours. If you’re attempting a recipe that needs to cook much longer than that, try one of Dorkfood’s DSV temperature controllers that you plug a Crockpot into! However, for most cuts of meat (steaks, chicken breasts, fish), you’re fine.
The water will drop about 6º, so you want your water to start 6º hotter than your ultimate desired end temp. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is to heat a bunch of water to about 10-15º warmer than your ultimate desired end temp, pour into the cooler, and monitor it with a reliable food thermometer. When it reaches 6º hotter than your ultimate desired end temp, submerge your food. If you only heat to 6º warmer, you’ll lose a lot of your heat during the transfer from pot to cooler.
You’re not likely to reach the temperature you need directly from the tap, though, so try to use a smaller cooler than a big ole giant one.. you know, like we did. It took LOTS of boiling and waiting.
To prepare the food, place your steak in gallon plastic ziploc bags. Place your aromatics in there with the steak–I used a sliced shallot, two smashed garlic cloves (one for each steak), and a thyme sprig for each steak. The flavors really meld during the water bath and infuse the meat with an awesome depth of flavor. Avoid salting your food before the water bath, and the salt will draw out the moisture in the steak in a way you’re trying to avoid. You’ve got that covered!
To submerge the food, close up the ziploc bag almost all of the way. Slowly lower the plastic bag into the hot water. The water surrounding the plastic bag will force the air out, creating an atmosphere completely devoid of air and perfectly full of flavor and juiciness. You can hang the top of the ziploc bag out the edge of the cooler (between the edge and the closed lid), as long as all your food is completely submerged. This is crucial.
If you submerged the food properly, it will not float.
After 45 minutes, your steak will be perfectly cooked. Don’t worry too much about timing this, though, as, since your highest temperature is the one you want the meat to end at, you can’t overcook it.
Red meat, however, can usually benefit from a quick sear after slowly cooking in its water bath.
Remove steaks from the bag and discard the aromatics (or set aside and add to a pan sauce after). Season both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy cast-iron or non-stick skillet over high heat and pour in about 1 tablespoon vegetable oil for the two steaks. Once it’s screaming hot, place the steaks in the hot oil and sear for about 60 seconds on each side.
Serve alone, topped with a sliver of compound butter (recipe to come, I’m sure!), with a pan sauce, or a smooth béarnaise.
Easy, Perfect Sous Vide Steaks
– 2 steaks, any cut of meat besides strictly stew/chuck-type cuts (flank, hangar, or other fajita-type steak is fine here! Obviously, ribeye would be amazing, but you don’t need to shell out loads for a weekday steak using this method!)
– 2 sprigs thyme
– 2 garlic cloves, smashed
– 1 shallot, sliced
– sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
– vegetable oil
– gallon ziploc freezer bags
– beer cooler
– food thermometer
1. Place your steaks in a gallon ziploc freezer bag. Rub the aromatics (thyme, garlic, shallot) into the steak.
2. FOR MEDIUM RARE*: Heat water to about 140º and pour in cooler. Leave the lid open, and when the temp cools to 136º, submerge your steaks. Slowly lower the plastic bag into the hot water. The water surrounding the plastic bag will force the air out. You can leave the edge hanging out, as long as the food is completely submerged.
3. Let cook for 45 minutes–up to about 2 hours. When ready to sear, remove the bags, take out the steaks, discard or set aside the used aromatics, and season liberally with salt and pepper.
4. Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over high heat. Place steaks in the skillet and sear on each side about 60 seconds.**
5. Serve immediately — alone, with a simple pan sauce, or a smooth, flavorful béarnaise.
*For different temperatures (rare, medium, medium well, or well done [WHY?!]), heat water to 10º above desired end temp. Let cool to only 6º over the desired end temp and then submerge food. For a great resource on sous vide and steak temperatures, check out this SeriousEats link!
**For quite thin steaks, try searing just 30 seconds on each side.2