Bread And Butter: The Sous Vide Experiment
My husband bought a sous vide machine for our recent anniversary. Up until about a week before purchase, I didn’t know what a sous vide machine was despite my minor in French or my, what I assumed was passable, cooking knowledge.
Sous vide literally translates as ‘under vacuum.’ What I learned through the videos my husband shared with me while researching his anniversary present wish, was that it’s often loosely translated as the ‘low-temperature, long time’ cooking method. Or, you pack your protein in a vacuum-sealed plastic, food-grade silicone pouch or a glass jar and lower them into a water bath.
You attach the machine to the side of your container and set the temperature. The machine heats and moves the water while keeping it at a steady temperature in order to cook your protein evenly inside and out with no guesswork or thermometers needed. This method was pioneered in the 1970s and it seems to have no shortage of controversy or love when looking into it.
During my short reading, I found that it is dismissed by many chefs as a lazy way to cook. I also found that unless you are cooking exactly as that chef believes, you are taking the lazy way to cook.
What I took that to mean, really, is that the sous vide method is incredibly hands-off, yet results in predictably consistent results. It takes very little skill. A little more digging, however, and you find that many chefs, even though they deride general use of this method, use it themselves in their restaurants when the time to fry a steak or cook pork to perfection is prohibitive, but having a bundle in a water bath, simply waiting for the finishing touch of a slight sear in a blazing hot cast iron pan, means consistent and consistently delicious food, served quickly and to perfection.
My husband settled on a vacuum sealer and a sous vide machine and we ordered and bought. Once everything was here and ready, he picked a Sunday near our actual anniversary to give it a whirl.
The week before, I had picked up local petite sirloins at our farmer’s market and they had been sitting in vacuum-sealed bags in the refrigerator for a couple of days, patiently waiting. There was a slight pause as he tried to work out the best vessel to house the water bath for three steaks before he settled on our enamel cast iron stockpot. He attached the machine to the side and programmed it for a constant 140 degrees (because I don’t like steak that moos) and let the water begin to heat and slowly cook our steak.
It seems to be a constant opinion on-line that sous vide protein does not look appetizing when it comes out of the water bath. It can take on a wet and dull grey pallor that no one would want to come near. There also seems to be a little disagreement on whether to marinate your meat before sous vide, salt it just prior to sealing and cooking or to wait until in comes out to season just before searing.
My husband went the way of salt before sealing and then searing once the meat was thoroughly cooked. The wet and dull grey pallor disappeared. What we were left with was a perfect, evenly cooked steak with the slightest crisp on the edges.
My husband and son ate theirs as is. I had him leave mine a touch longer in the pan, seared a little more than the others. I was hesitant as I’m a picky steak consumer, but was ultimately won over by the taste. In the debate over sous vide, I think we fall on the pro side. It takes away the guesswork, or what professionals call skill, but in return gave us completely succulent steaks, evenly cooked with no fighting over what actually makes it ‘done’ (for the record, I’m of the ‘when there is zero red to be found’ camp. My husband, not so much.).
I’m not certain it will become a regular staple in our home, but I don’t think we’re sorry this is the present my husband chose. And in case you’re wondering? I chose boots. Knee-high, hot-pink suede boots, in fact. They don’t cook anything, but maybe they’ll make an appearance the next time my husband decides to sous vide steaks on a random night just because he can.