Saturday, January 05, 2008
I had my first taste of sous vide cooking the other night at McCrady's.
The technique involves vacuum-sealing food in a plastic bag and cooking it in sub-boiling water (around 140 degrees Fahrenheit) for long periods of time. Because it cooks under pressure in tightly-sealed bags, none of the juices or fat is lost during cooking; because it is cooked in water, the temperature of the food can be precisely controlled--to the tenth of a degree. All told, the technique is supposed to intensify the natural flavors of meats and vegetables and bring out the absolute best in top-quality ingredients. (For some great pictures, see this post at the molecules blog).
Proponents of sous vide include heavy-hitters like Paul Bocuse, Thomas Keller, and Joel Robuchon. Here in Charleston, the leading practitioner is Sean Brock down at McCrady's.
There were two fine beef sous vide choices on the menu: a tenderloin and a ribeye. I went with the ribeye on the waiter's suggestion, but I tried a friend's tenderloin, too, so I got to try them both. It was a tight contest, but I think the tenderloin edged out the win.
Both were very tender and flavorful steak--how much was due to the cooking method and how much to the quality of the meat it's hard to say. The one thing I did miss, though, was the crusty seared outside that you get when you pan-sear a steak or cook it in a very hot oven. In fact, one of my all time favorite gustatory delghts are the crispy, fatty outside bits of a well-seared steak. You miss all the with the sous vide method. The meat is tender as can be--not exactly butter-like (why do people insist on describing tender steak as being like butter?)--but close to it. In the end, though, it left me a little flat. Bring on the crispy bits, I declare!
I'll remain open minded, though. The short ribs appetizer (also cooked sous vide) was absolutely out of this world--a small slab of the most tender, flavor meat I think I've ever had.
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