I consider my self to be a fairly competent cook (just look at my partner's belly) and only claim to be great at a few dishes. One of those just happen to be Carne Asada. Chile rubbed flank steak, quickly seared, and sliced oh so thin; once you had my tacos, you'll be hard pressed to pick up a boxed kit again. I didn't think it could get any better... until a big box showed up at my door containing a remarkable device called the SousVide Supreme.
Spoiler alert: tastiness ensued.
What Is Sous Vide?
Sous vide cooking was invented in the mid-1970's by a french chef, and the term literally means "under vacuum." The process involves vacuum sealing cuts of meat or veg, and placing the bags in a precisely controlled water bath at the desired temperature. Because water is such an excellent conductor of heat, an even temperature is distributed throughout, without going a degree over your desired doneness. And because the food is vac-sealed, moisture stays locked inside where it should be. Adding flavored butters, spices, or rubs will work their magic while the food cooks, and helps eliminate the need for beforehand marination.
In the past, sous vide has only been available in commercial kitchens, where upscale restaurants praise the method for serving large quantities of orders with exacting and delicious results every time. They use what's called an immersion circulator: It's expensive (oft over a grand), too large, and too industrial for the standard home kitchen.
The SousVide Supreme
A gay geek's arsenal of toys should always include a few culinary weapons, especially ones that involve thermodynamics and gastronomy. Enter the SousVide Supreme, which launched late 2009 as the first consumer friendly sous vide water oven. No bigger than a dorm-size microwave, the SVS has a ten liter capacity stainless steel basin, carry handles, digital controls with timer and LCD display, and can hover anywhere between 41°-203° F within a single degree of accuracy.
Cost: $450. Note that you'll also need to have a way to vacuum seal your food, so expect to spend another $150 on a vac-sealer and bags, if you don't already have a Food-Saver or something.
Two Weeks of Tasty Science
I managed to get my hands on a demo unit for a fortnight, and while I planned to experiment with the gamut of possibilities I didn't touch a single veggie. Don't get me wrong, I eat my greens, but I'm a carnivore first. Below are the results of my experiments with various cuts and dinner scenarios.
Ribeye For Three
Part of the benefit of sous vide is the ability to stage the rest of your meal while the protein hovers at the perfect temperature until you're ready to serve. I called my buddy Andrew and told him I was taking over his kitchen for the night to test out a new toy. Rib eye steak is something I can accomplish on the grill, but indoors, I'm not so successful. I picked up a few USDA choice rib eye from the grocers and headed over. Setting up the SVS, I let them coast to 131° (medium rare) for about an hour before starting the rest of the meal. I made the cheddar asiago mac and cheese, broccoli, and béarnaise sauce, then right before serving I freed the beef from their pouches.
As a char loving carnivore, sous vide will take a bit to get used to. Because of the vac bag, the surface of the meat is unscathed and comes out in dire need of a flame kiss. That can be done right before serving on either a skillet, grill plate, or blow torch.
After a quick pat dry and dusting of salt and pepper, each steak got a quick skillet sear before settling on their plates with the rest of the meal. Perfect timing, and perfectly cooked medium rare rib eye.
Rosemary Balsamic Sous Vide Pork Tenderloin
Jay and I love us some pork tenderloin. It's our chicken in the house, and does a excellent work of sapping up the flavors of marinades and herbs, but can dry out if cooked for too long. I ground up a handful of fresh rosemary into a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar before sealing the bag and setting the SVS to 142°. Two hours later, we cut into the juiciest tenderloin ever, with prominent notes of rosemary and the sweet tang of balsamic.
My poppa bear Huw and I have been trying to organize a taco feast for dinner one night at his co-op house. I get home from work around 6:30, and to be ready to eat by 7pm (hippie house rules) is just impossible for me. The SVS seemed the perfect tool to remedy my time crunch. The day before I rehydrated a handful of ancho and guajillo chiles with a few chipotle peppers, and blended them all together with juice of a lime, a teaspoon of orange peel and a couple cloves of toasted garlic. I rubbed the chile paste over four pieces of flank steak and sealed them for an overnight dip in 131° water at spa SVS.
The next day I came home from work, whipped up some guac, grabbed my meat bags, and crossed the block to the hippie house. Huw had made the vegetarian tacos for his housemates, and while they gnawed on TVP, I began to sear my now incredibly tender bits of flank steak. This is where I fell in love.
The ability to turn pedestrian cuts of meat into filet mignon amazes me and I've never had flank steak so soft, so flavorful, and so damn medium rare. Carne Asada is delicious, but is only tender as long as it's sliced thin and on the bias. Even then, its still a bit chewy. Sous Vide Carne Asada? The extended period of time in the SVS lets the connective tissues of the flank steak dissolve a bit, but stays red and juicy with all of the flavor.
While there is no doubt in my mind that sous vide is an amazing and modern cooking method, I still think $450 is a lot to pay for any cooking gadget. There have been several successful attempts at DIY sous vide posted online, but each one requires a constant eye on the temp, making me believe some of the $450 price-tag goes towards convenience and innovation. And like every new gadget, the price will surely come down after a while; I don't think I'm gonna wait that long, I'm craving sous vide tacos again.
Link - SousVide Supreme