I tried something on the weekend, and it seemed to work well, so I thought I'd ask for comments.

We'd planned to make steak for dinner, and it happened to come in a vacuum-packet plastic. So before opening the bag I dropped it into some hot water (about 170F) for a couple hours. The temp obviously fluctuated a bit, but I topped it off with hot water from time to time.

I like my steak "lightly seared", so pretty much "blue". So out the bag, into a bit of oil, then into the (very hot) pan. Maybe 60 seconds each side (probably not even that much). Out. Rested. Eat.

It was very soft - and perhaps predictably "warm through" - which was different as "blue" can end up being quite cold. Was very tender though.

So to my question - any suggested improvements on the technique? Would it benefit to keep the steak in the water longer? (I'm thinking of trying a 24 hour period next).

One down side is that marinading of the meat (in the bag) isn't possible - so good quality meat with good flavor is a must.

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    Interesting, I never thought of trying to cook it in the supermarket packaging, but I suppose it's not much different from vac-packing for sous vide. I'll have to try it. – ElendilTheTall Jun 14 '11 at 10:25
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    Hi Elendi - yeah I don't have a vacuum pack machine - but I've seen other stuff done in a waterbath - so it was a bit spur-of-the-moment. And specifically 'cause it was vacuum packed - usually the stuff we get is just on a tray with cling-film. – Bruce Jun 14 '11 at 11:31
  • Check what type of plastic is used, make sure its one that can take the heat w/o leaching plasticizers, etc. – derobert Jun 17 '11 at 21:40

You've basically re-invented sous-vide cookery for steak. Steak is about the easiest food to cook sous-vide. You can find a lot of resources describing it on the web, but here's a few notes

1) 170F for 2 hours undoubtedly left your steak very well-done. Not a problem if that's how you like it, but also not necessary. You can get medium rare by cooking in the 130-135F range for two hours. Cooking sous-vide below 130F (necessary to get steak rare) is not recommended for safety reasons, as temperatures that low can encourage the growth of dangerous bacteria.

2) With sous-vide, there's no need to rest a steak after searing it. Resting grilled steaks is necessary to give heat time to move from the outside of the steak to the center, and actually get it cooked to the desired temperature. With sous-vide, you already did that in the water.

3) With an impromptu sous-vide setup like yours, you probably don't want to cook for more than a few hours. You risk your temperature getting too low overnight, and then you're down in the bacteriologically dangerous ranges. You can get some great effects cooking longer (I had 24 hour marinated skirt steak last night that was amazing), but you should probably do so with powered equipment. There are home sous-vide machines available (a bit pricy) or you can build your own. There are dozens of different rigs described on the web. I built mine for about $100.

4)Longer cooking times are better for tougher cuts anyway. If you're just looking to do ribeyes and strips, then two or three hours is fine.

5)You can marinade, but obviously not in supermarket bags (unless the supermarket marinades, e.g. pork tenderloin). To do so, you either need to purchase a vacuum sealer (not too expensive), or be clever with drawing air out of ziploc bag and sealing it very tightly.

  • thanks for the comment Dave. Regarding the steak itself it wasn't well-done or anything like that - indeed there was no color change at all. It was still very rare - visually "raw" - after the bath. Perhaps I'm getting my math wrong - it was about 70 C (which I wouldn't expect to "cook" the meat much). Maybe my thermometer needs checking :-) I like the comment about other things though - there's a lot of other things that come vacuum packet from the supermarket. And I like the idea of a powered device - I'll investigate that. – Bruce Jun 14 '11 at 11:29
  • Oh, and I grilled it after bathing it - hence the rest. Would you say the rest is not needed even if I grill it? That would help a lot in serving it "warm". (My wife complains that the steak is too cold sometimes.) – Bruce Jun 14 '11 at 11:39
  • 70C is a little under 160F.. Still well done, but not quite as bad as 170F. Personally I like mine a little under 140F. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temperature_(meat) for some targets – Ray Jun 14 '11 at 11:44
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    There's some disagreement over whether or not a rest is needed with sous vide. I'd say you want to rest after grilling, since muscle fibers will relax as they cool, allowing them to retain more moisture. Cut in too soon, everything spills out, and your steak is dry. When not searing post-bath, I drop my meat into a 120F water bath (hot tap water for me) for ~10 minutes for a controlled rest, getting optimally succulent results. – Ray Jun 14 '11 at 11:50
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    What was the temperature of the steak before you added it to the water? If it was very cold (or frozen), that could account for your doneness. Also, the longer you cook the steak the more collagen (tough connective tissue) will convert to delicious gelatin. As @Dave implied, certain (usually tougher) cuts of meat start off with more collagen than others, and thereby benefit from longer cooking times. Finally, you can even use a good blowtorch instead of a pan/grill to sear the outside of the meat (it's quicker and makes for less cleanup). – ESultanik Jun 14 '11 at 12:31

As others have said, this is sous vide. One thing to remember is that sous vide meats are generally bagged right before they go into the water bath (often with flavourings and aromatics). If you buy meat from the butcher in a cryovac bag, it's very likely to have been wet-aging in that bag for some time, which can cause some really funky, smelly compounds to be created. It's a signature smell of cyrovac'd meat - it's not a nice smell, and it dissipates quickly on contact with air, but I wouldn't want to cook in a bath of it.

So, suggestion - if you like this technique (and it is an awesome one), buy a vacuum-bagger, and re-bag your meat before you bath it!

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