This perfectly cooked beef didn’t come out of an insane 750 F steakhouse oven.
The cut of the tender steak (marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, and chili flakes before being dusted with fine espresso grounds) is not porterhouse, NY strip, or anything fancy (well, besides being grass-fed), it is shoulder!
Our steak was transformed by vacuum sealing it with a hand pump into a sous vide Ziplock bag and then letting it rest in a gentle 57 C (134.6 F) water bath for five hours. We covered it with tin foil and circulated the water with an aquarium bubbler (so safe and cost effective)!
When we pulled steak out of the bag— a deep, earthy aroma of beef and coffee filled our tiny East Village kitchen like holy myrrh.
Then, the steak got seared for a minute on each side to give it a nice char.
When cut, the meat accepted the knife as easily as an insomniac welcomes benzodiazepine.
Mmmm, as I write about it, that perfect, striking taste is immediately conjured back into my mouth. No flavor was hidden or overpowering. The smokey espresso was intoxicating and its bitterness was tempered by the sesame oil. The briney unctuousness of the soy sauce brought out all of the savory notes of the beef and the red pepper cut the cloy-play of all the aromatics with an exciting zip.
Such a harmonious balance flavors and tenderness wouldn’t be possible without this method of cooking. Sous vide allows for a controlled reaction in proteins. Whether it be in an oven or your Italian grandmother’s cast-iron pot, the “doneness” of meat or fish is related to the peak temperature reached. With sous vide we can make this temperature low and consistent for as long as we want. The protein is cooked through to the center by using time instead being coerced by a volatile high temperature which can yield mixed results.
According to Harold McGee, in his bookOn Food and Cooking, the flavor of meat is intensified through cooking. However, for maximum stimulation of the tongue, one should cook the meat lightly in order to inflict simple physical damage to the muscle fibers and cause them to release their fluids. He doesn’t make it sound so sexy but after this biological process tended to our steak for six hours, I experienced a near lysergicistique-technicolored mouth sensation unlike any before.
What you’ll need:
Adding to our previous design, you’ll need a vacuum system and a better way of circulating water through a large container. The first is handily provided by Ziploc (bags are even labeled “sous vide”!), the second can be achieved with a non-toxic aquarium air pump.
The Techie Parts:
- Ziploc vacuum (sous vide) pump and bags (Amazon)
- Elite A800 aquarium air pump (Amazon)
- Aquarium air tubing
- Large bowl/pot/whatever will fit your steak
Setup: Air pump
Like air, hot water rises, and we want to counteract this with some vertical mixing. As air flows out of the pump, it will drag cool water with it, and warm water will be transported from the surface to replace it. Thus, we want to place the air pump at the bottom of the container. By putting the pump underneath the heating element, we circulate water faster and prevent it from getting too warm.
We taped a spoon to the end of the plastic blue air tube to help it sink and keep in place. By keeping the pump elevated above the bowl, we prevent water from flowing back into the pump, which could cause damage.
- 1 inch steak, your favorite cut
- 1/4 cup of soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon of sesame oil or hot sesame oil
- ground black pepper (to taste)
- 2 tablespoons finely ground espresso
Our cooking spirit is less technical and more improvisational. Cooking to us is like love: put in the effort and play with the timing.
Put the soy sauce, sesame oil, and black pepper in a curved dish.
Put the espresso grounds in a separate flat dish.
Give the meat a flash marinade (4 minutes on each side) in the soy sauce, sesame oil, and ground black pepper, just enough so that it allows the espresso to stick.
After all, the meat is going to be marinating all that time in the bag so there’s no need to overdo it. Don’t use a marinade with acid (like citrus or Dr. Leary’s special brew) or else it will overcook the meat! Also, cream based marinades have a life of their own under vacuum and often do nothing for the flavor of your meat.
Et viola, vacuum seal, put it in the water bath at 57 C, cover it, and let it sit for at least two hours to pasteurize and at least four hours for the muscle proteins to break down and the larger fats to emulsify. We cooked ours for six.
When you’re searing, play around. Although we recommend searing each side for a minute, if you have a steak with fatty edges you’ll probably want to pick up the steak with your tongs and sear it on its lardaceous sides for two to four minutes until browned.