Here’s a good technique for cooking steak to exactly the level of doneness that you want. Not only that, but this technique will make dinner parties a LOT easier.
A couple of important pieces of information:
- If you leave meat in a water bath at constant temperature, eventually the meat will reach that temperature the whole way through.
- When cooking meat, the doneness is dependent on temperature, not time.
- Food safe temperature for cooking/maintaining hot food is 60°C or greater (Australia, different rules may apply elsewhere).
The practical upshot of this, is that you can sous vide a steak for an extended period of time, and as long as you can maintain the minimum temperature above 60°C, and ensure that the maximum temperature doesn’t go above that required for the level of doneness that you want, you won’t get food poisoning and the meat will be perfectly cooked all the way through.
According to my friend Adrian Richardson (okay, we’re not friends, but he’s got a good book, a good TV show, and we share a lot of the same feelings about butter and cooked meat), the doneness of meat versus temperature is as follows:
- Rare 35°C
- Medium-rare 45°C
- Medium 55°C
- Medium-well 65°C
- Well done 75°C
So if you sous vide your steak at 60°C (individually, or in the form of a big old slab of meat), you can put the steak into the water bath several hours before dinner is due. Then 5 minutes before dinner, get your frying pan very hot, and sear both sides of your steak. Ideally this searing should be as hot and quick as possible, to avoid cooking the rest of your steak any further. That is, of course, unless some of your guests prefer their meat more cooked; in this case, the majority of the cooking is already done, and you can just cook these steaks a bit further through. If ALL of your guests like their steaks cooked further, simply set the water bath at a higher temperature so that this level of doneness is your starting point.
The best thing about this technique is that you can have all of your steaks ready to go, with only finishing required to serve them up. This is great for when you are expecting guests who are known to be tardy.
Now, how do we sous vide cheaply? Buy a cheap deep-frier (check that it’s safe to use with water instead of oil – I take no responsibility for anyone doing this using the wrong type of equipment and something bad happening). Set the deep frier to very low, and monitor using a digital thermometer. My deep frier can achieve accurate control with +/-2.5°C precision. This allowed me to cook a chunk of meat at 60°C with some excursions down to 55°C (yes, I should have probably gone 60-65°C, for food safety, but… Meh)
Here’s an example of some awesome wagyu rib fillet that I cooked last weekend:
Note: If you’re going to use a deep frier as a sous vide machine, first MAKE SURE IT’S SAFE TO PUT WATER IN. In my machine, the heating element is inside stainless steel tube and it’s water tight.