February 14, 2012

Not quite foolproof

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Tonight I finally got to test out my SousVide Supreme.  It wasn't the first time I had used this little toy, but my previous attempts have all been soft-boiled eggs.  This was the first time I tried to cook a hunk of meat with it.

When someone first preached to me the benefits of sous vide cooking, it was said that this method of cooking is foolproof.  One can cook something at low temperature for a long time - hours, in fact, without overcooking.  I distinctly remember being told that I could chuck a piece of meat in the water bath before heading out to work in the morning, and come home to tender and juicy meat.

I can definitely say that this is not the case.

Not wanting to have a really late dinner, I went home during lunch to begin the cooking process for a couple of pieces of steak.  I had read in Thomas Keller's Under Pressure that the cooking time for steak was 45 minutes, but at the same time I had previously consulted a sous vide website and learned that one should pasteurize beef for about 2 hours.  Then I looked at some other website and was informed that one can cook beef for a long time, as long as it's not excessive like 10 or 12 hours.

So I vacuum packed my filet mignon and beef shank, dunked it in my SousVide Supreme at 55°C, and left them cooking for the next 5 1/2 hours…

When I got home after work and opened up the lid to the tank, my heart sank immediately.  Even without opening the bags and cutting open the beef, I could see that I've overcooked my steak…

Once I had seared the meat in a hot pan for a couple of minutes and then cut open the two pieces of beef, my fears were confirmed.  While the color was still pink on the inside, it was visibly drier than the medium-rare that I was trying to achieve.  Texture-wise it was probably closer to medium.

The filet mignon looked something like this…

The shank looked something like this…

The meat was still reasonably tender… certainly better than the steaks I used to churn out myself.  The only problem is that it's no longer as juicy as a real medium-rare steak should be.  Not a total disaster, but it could have been so much better… and a far cry from what I had at the home of the Specialist.

Now clearly 5 1/2 hours is too long to cook a piece of steak, even at 55°C.  The conclusion of my subsequent discussions with Legolas Jr. - who is one of the Sous Vide Monsters originally responsible for telling me it's "foolproof" - is that the problem lies partly in the beef.  Since the meat had been previously frozen - it's Aussie - the cell walls had been damaged somewhat.  With prolonged cooking, the blood and juices had seeped through the damaged cell membranes and leaked out, thereby making the meat less juicy.  Technically the meat was not overcooked and still medium-rare, but simply lacked the juiciness and the brighter red of a true medium-rare steak.

1993 Haut-Brion en demi-bouteille - smoky, cigar, earthy, oaky, candied fruit, green pepper and mint.  Pretty sharp and alcoholic at the beginning.  Very classic.

Oh well, I won't make the same mistake again.  Next time sous vide will be done on the weekends, not after work on a weekday!

3 comments:

Jon Lin's Food Adventures said...

I was wondering where you would get vacuum sealed bags in Taiwan?

Mike Harris said...

Hope you had better luck. My favorite thing is chuck roast. I'll cook a ~3 lb chuck roast at 132F for 3 days, it's amazing.

For better/leaner cuts like filet, you don't want to leave the meat in much past the point when it reaches your desired temp. You want it to touch the temp and take it out ideally.

For fattier/tougher cuts like chuck, you want to hit the temp and leave it there for a long time.

Lawrence Pedrick said...

I agree with Mike Harris. I learned the same lesson with leaner cuts; the longer cooking times definitely dry them out and make them "grainy". My beef tenderloin looked exactly like yours.

Once you have reached your desired cooking temperature internally, the only benefit a longer cooking time would achieve would be to break down collagen (connective tissue) in the meat. That is why it shines for cuts like Chuck. Since Filet Mignon is already very tender the only thing you're doing is turning it into paste.

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