For a while now I've been intrigued by the notion of sous-vide cooking. Basically, you seal whatever food you want to cook in a plastic bag and put it in a hot water bath at a very specific temperature for a long time until it slowly reaches that temperature. It over complicates something while being more precise which somehow appeals to my nature. Typically a sous-vide device attaches to a large pot of water and circulates that water while maintaining a very exact temperature. The cheapest one on Amazon is $50 but you can pay well over $100 if you feel you need for wi-fi and bluetooth connectivity. It occurred to me that I could use a temperature controller I have on hand along with a hotplate to perhaps achieve the same results.
Last night I ran an experiment. It also happens that I wanted to hard boil some eggs. So I set my temperature controller to 170 and threw in some eggs, and left them for an hour. My temperature controller has a high and low alarm which I set to 172 and 168*. The alarm never went off which means the temperature was within a single degree of the 170 mark. I'd love to tell you how the eggs turned out but I make them for my lunch so I won't know until Monday.
Today I wanted to make a real go of it and sous-vide some steaks. Wendy and I stopped by Wal-Mart and picked up a couple NY strip steaks, 1.23 lbs total or about 10 oz each. $12.26 for the pair. We followed these instructions. It took a minute to dial in the hotplate and temperature controller. Turns out you want to set the hot plate to just barely enough to keep it at the desired temperature. If you simply put it on high it will heat the water too much and bounce well above your set point. That website recommended from 129 to 134 degrees for medium-rare. So I set the temperature controller to 130 and set the high/low alarms to 135/128*. The only time the alarm went off was when I felt the need to mess with the equilibrium by moving the steaks around. After an hour we started our side and after an hour and a half we took out the steaks and gave them a sear on the stovetop. Fear not Pop, I'm totally down with the Maillard reaction.
I have to say, it was about the best steak I've ever had. Wendy liked it too. The only seasoning we did was to salt and pepper them before putting them in the bags. We actually bought some A-1 steak sauce while we were getting the steaks but I didn't need that at all. It was so juicy and delicious and wonderful.
All of the sous-vide units sold brag about their precise temperature control, to within a tenth of a degree. But all sous-vide recipes give a range of temperatures. So why do you need control to within a tenth of a degree if there's a 5 degree window on the recipe? That being said I might actually shell out for a standard sous-vide device. While doing research I read reviews that suggested something pretty awesome. You can use those devices in an igloo style cooler. And they even have sous-vide balls to put on top. Can you imagine cooking in a container insulated on all six sides? I can't fathom getting much more efficient than that. One drawback of this method is that all the steaks are cooked the same. So if the family can't agree on how they're cooked it's a no go. But as Wendy found in an article she read online, if you want your steak well done *cough* my ex *cough* then why are you bothering with sous-vide?
All in all, it was a grand success.
*respectively. Of course, it's respectively. What kind of lunatic would say a pair of this and a pair of that and it wouldn't be respectively? Saying respectively is redundant.