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I bought a slow cooker:

SPT-SC-5355-Zisha-Slow-Cooker

and connected it to a temperature controller:

WILLHI WH1436 Digital Temperature Controller

Usually precise temperature control is employed in sous-vide, but I don't want to cook food in plastic bags, only I want to adopt to precise temperature control for making the perfect tender goulash out of cheap goulash beef meat (which can be almost any part of beef which is not nice enough to be sold as a prime part).

I am not going to sear the meat, because of AGEs concern.

So I am cutting the meat into pieces, putting in the slow cooker with vegetables (little or no liquid, the meat and vegetables is gonna give off plenty of its own), and then sticking the temperature controller probe into a piece of meat through a small hole in the lid.

Now I am wondering what temperature and time would be ideal for this exercise? I know I will need to experiment myself, but maybe someone already did this, and if not, at least what values to start experimenting not to have to many failed dinners, and also not have to wait unnecessarily long.

I can probably set it to 65°C (150°F) and wait 3 days, but is it likely to produce a better goulash then some higher temperature at which it will be done in 8 hours? There is probably some point in decreasing temperature and increasing time at which the improvement is infinitesimal or even negative.

Bear in mind in there there are also vegetables like carrots, celery root, parsley root, leeks, radish, swede/rutabaga, and I would prefer them not to be completely unrecognizable.

  • What does the instruction for your cooker say ? Most crock pot recipes for Goulash set it at low temperature for about 8 hours. (YMMV) – Max Feb 8 '17 at 19:57
  • @Max: I am using the cooker in the way different then it is intended by the manufacturer. The question is mostly about ideal temperature, the cooker originally didn't have any precise temperature control, just LOW and HIGH, note that I attached it to a PID digital temperature controller where I can set the temperature with a resolution of 0.1°C. – yannn Feb 8 '17 at 20:00
  • Then, only experiment will give you results you are seeking. – Max Feb 8 '17 at 20:24
  • Out of curiosity, what kind of PID temperature controller are you using? – mike Feb 9 '17 at 22:59
  • @mike Cheap WILLHI WH1436(PID) - most of WH1436 identical looking controllers are not PID, only if its labeled (PID) on the device , but now I ordered a more expensive SousVideMagic TM-1500D, seems more robust if I am to leave it unattended for many hours I don't want a too cheap controller which has more risk to burst in flames. – yannn Feb 10 '17 at 7:06
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Here's an older answer to a similar question that is potentially quite relevant. I won't reproduce the text in full, just pull out some of the salient points.

Goulash being a stew, traditionally cooked with tougher cuts much higher in collagen, your ultimate goal is to break down that collagen into gelatin. Traditional wisdom holds that this breakdown doesn't really begin until about 70°C/160°F, but modernist resources suggest that the actual reaction starts as low as 50°C/122°F and increases exponentially with temperature. If you're able to maintain a sous vide style temperature using the controller, you should be able to take advantage of similar results.

From @Stefan's linked answer:

The answer to the question, "how low can you go and still get collagen break-down" I would answer 55°C/130°F or even a bit lower. That is NOT a realistic temperature for cooking a stew, especially not if you will put veggies in it, but as far as collagen breakdown goes that is the lowest temperature for 'stewing meat'.

This also notes the challenge with cooking at such a low temperature: the vegetables won't respond to such a low temperature in the same way as the meat. They need higher heat and more moisture to break down. You probably need to consider cooking them separately for optimal results:

I think you must cook the veggies at much higher temperature (80°C-95°C) so you would have to separate the two. If the end result is worth the effort I do not know, I have wanted to try doing a 'stew' with meat cooked sous vide at 55°C - 60°C for 24h+, with the veggies done on the side at 80°C-95°C, normal stew style, to see if it would be better [...]

This is good guidance in my opinion; I'd let the meat go for about 24 hours to start (you could experiement with longer if you like and have the patience to do so) and quickly cook the vegetables on the stove for maybe an hour before you're ready to serve with just as much liquid as necessary.

The only thing you might miss out on with this method is the well-known phenomenon of stews tasting better the day after they're made. If you're going to experiment, consider reserving a portion of the combined result, letting it chill overnight, and then (gently) reheating the next day to see if you get the same "marriage" of flavors.

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