Saturday, January 05, 2008

Sous Vide

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.


Rev. Biggles said...


I believe they misspoke, they meant to say, "beef butter". Beef fat rules.

I ain't tried the sous vide, but I can picture it all in my mouth. I'm with you on the crunchy and/or smoky bits. Kinda reminds me when I had a caja china roasting box. Sure the meat was all cooked and tasty, but no smoky love. Of course now they have a way of infusing the meat with smoke, but not so 3 or 4 years ago. In any case, roll on.


Scott said...

Amen on the crispy bits. I haven't tried sous vide either. I'm sure it has its place, but ribeye and tenderloin wouldn't be my first choices.

Robert said...

Mmmm . . . beef butter!

sans serif said...

I have to agree with the above comment about a well seared steak...which is why i would never order something like steak sous vide. Fish is always a winner however, or if beef is your game then maybe short ribs. I've had the short ribs at McC. and they are heavenly...though i'm not 100% sure they are sous vide.

Robert said...

Hmm . . . I seem to recall the waiter saying the short ribs were sous vide, but I could be wrong. I think this means further research is required. I'm on it!

Wil said...

Cooking a ribeye sous vide at 130 F degrees for 30 minutes and then finishing it on a hot grill with a butter & olive oil baste gives you the best of both worlds. It's my favorite way to prepare ribeye.

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