Saturday, June 21, 2014

Xan: Sous-vide beef chuck!

Kris and Cammy got us an Anova immersion circulator off our wedding registry. You Vongsafooders probably know that already, because I have been going on about it for 2 months now.  I know, I know, that's a lot of talk and no pictures for a guy who has a food blog. But don't worry, your patience will be rewarded.  Today!


Sorry, but I have to give some background on sous-vide at least once.  If you just want to see the results, scroll down to the next section.

To quote from wikipedia,
Sous-vide (/sˈvd/; French for "under vacuum") is a method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath...for longer than normal cooking times—72 hours in some cases—at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking.
Much like the internet, meat is basically a series of tubes, except full of water instead of the NSA. And when you heat it to a given temperature, the tubes contract, squeezing out water that will never come back.  (Unfortunately, the internet doesn't quite work that way).

Ordinary cooking methods produce a gradient of doneness. By the time the center is cooked to the desired temperature of, say, 130 degrees, the outer layers of meat are overcooked. Sous-vide cooking gets around this by cooking the meat in a water bath at the exact temperature you wish your meat to end up.  As a result, it can never overcook and stays pink from edge to edge.

Furthermore, consider a tough cut like beef chuck.  Normally, you would cook it at a higher temperature (say 190 degrees) to break down all the tough connective tissue.  Unfortunately, the tubes still contract and you are left with dry, gray meat.  Of course, chuck is full of fat so it's still delicious.  But what if you could have the best of both worlds?

It turns out that connective tissue will break down at lower temperatures, but much more slowly. Enter sous-vide. By holding the water bath at 135 degrees for 24-72 hours, the chuck becomes tender while remaining pink and juicy.  (Photographic proof below!)

Because I love meat, I've been excited about sous-vide cooking for a while now. I did some experimenting back in January 2011, but I certainly wasn't going to cough up $500 for a large countertop appliance, plus another $150 for a large vacuum sealer gadget.

A few years later, immersion circulators are just starting to become affordable for home cooks. They are smaller (you just attach them to any pot), much cheaper, and actually outperform the countertop appliances anyway.  And I discovered Ziploc vacuum bags that you pump the air out of with a small, $5 plastic vacuum pump.  What's not to love?  It was clearly time to jump aboard.

Great, let's get to the meat of it!

The very first thing I cooked was beef chuck, and it was amazing.

I sealed the meat in a vacuum ziploc and pumped out the air.  Then I put it in a water bath at 135 degrees F:

24 hours later, this emerged:

It's nothing special to look at yet.  All the magic is on the inside. Since meat doesn't really brown at 135 degrees, next we give it a quick sear on all sides:

After a couple minutes...

...the meat is transformed into this:

Now let's cut into it and see what we have:

Yep. As promised, it is pink from edge to edge.  This is beef chuck with the consistency of a good steak, and more flavor to boot.  Dinner is served!

The texture can be adjusted by varying the cooking time.  To produce a more falling-apart texture, we could increase the time to 48 (or even 72) hours.  But we really like the 24-hour chuck and have cooked it several times now.

More to come!

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