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"Maillard-ing" Sous Vide Meat


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One of the recurring issues is how to finish a sous vide meat dish that usually is grilled or roasted, to provide a touch of the maillard reaction. I had come to prefer a bit of oil in a hot pan more than the dry pan at close to 700 degrees F, since I thought it looked better overall. However, both were a compromise, since neither really did the job of charring without cooking, AND adding a decent amount of charring for appearance and flavor.

Then I put out my grills for the season, and discovered that I had a perfect solution. My small gas grill was formally a not-so-hot purchase of a portable grill that had only an infra-red ceramic element. When I bought this unit, infra-red ceramics had not yet become common as a searing element on better grills. This little unit, heated only by the infra-red, was only good for hot dogs and hamburgs, since it was far too hot to cook a thicker item without burning the outside to a cinder while leaving the inside raw.

However, it is PERFECT for finishing sous vided meats! It claims to operate at 1400 degrees F, and it really is great. In about a minute per side, I get a nice overall char without cooking the interior. I have done chuck, brisket, and chicken breast so far.

So, for anyone thinking about a new gas grill purchase, consider one with a ceramic charring element along with the regular gas burners. They usually have a separate switch, so you don't have to turn on the whole unit.

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I've been thinking about trying a chimney charcoal starter "jet engine" set up: get coals going white-hot in the chimney, put a grate over the "blowtorch" and briefly slap the meat on to finish. I think I saw an episode of Alton Brown where he used this to brown the exterior of a piece of otherwise raw tuna. Seems like the same principle should work for finishing many sv meats like smaller steaks.

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Like most of us, I use a (butane) blowtorch for most my searing. If you tend to overcook the interior of the meat when using a pan with smoking hot oil, you can use the following trick:

(i) prepare a glucose wash (100 g water plus 2--4 g corn syrup),

(ii) dry the surface of the meat and brush the glucose wash over the meat,

(iii) sear in the smoking hot pan until nicely browned (say 20--30 seconds).

If you do a side-by-side comparison, I think you will be surprised at how effective the glucose wash is at enhancing the Maillard reaction; note that it has to be a reducing sugar (glucose, fructose or lactose) and not table sugar (which is sucrose). You can also try adding a pinch of baking soda to the wash, since increasing the pH of the meats surface increases the availability of the amino acids which can react with the reducing sugars. Be careful though not to add to much baking soda or corn syrup, since baking soda can give a soapy taste if there isn't enough acid (on the meats surface or in the sauce) and too much corn syrup will give an unwanted sweetness.

My Guide: A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking, which Harold McGee described as "a wonderful contribution."

My Book: Sous Vide for the Home Cook US EU/UK

My YouTube channel — a new work in progress.

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Douglas, is this post-cook, once out of the bag?

“Do you not find that bacon, sausage, egg, chips, black pudding, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread and a cup of tea; is a meal in itself really?” Hovis Presley.

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adey73: Yes it is post-cooking once it comes out of the bag.

infernooo: So long as you don't add too much glucose or baking soda, it tastes just like traditionally seared meat, it just takes a lot less time (and heat) to achieve the same level of browning. One of the benefits of this method is that it decreases the production of carcinogens formed during the Maillard reaction (when compared with traditional cooking methods).

To quote the recently expanded "Maillard Reaction" section of my guide:

The Maillard or browning reaction is a very complex reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars. After the initial reaction, an unstable intermediate structure is formed which undergoes further changes and produces hundreds of reaction by-products. See McGee (2004) for a nontechnical description or Belitz et al. (2004) for a technical description.

The flavor of cooked meat comes from the Maillard reaction and the thermal (and oxidative) degradation of lipids (fats); the species characteristics are mainly due to the fatty tissues, while the Maillard reaction in the lean tissues provides the savoury, roast and boiled flavors (Mottram, 1998). The Maillard reaction can be increased by adding a reducing sugar (glucose, fructose or lactose), increasing the pH (e.g., adding a pinch of baking soda), or increasing the temperature. Even small increases in pH, greatly increases the Maillard reaction and results in sweeter, nuttier and more roasted-meat-like aromas (Meynier and Mottram, 1995). The addition of a little glucose (e.g., corn syrup) has been shown to increase the Maillard reaction and improve the flavor profile (Meinert et al., 2009). The Maillard reaction occurs noticeably around 265°F (130°C), but produces a boiled rather than a roasted aroma; good browning and a roasted flavor can be achieved at temperatures around 300°F (150°C) with the addition of glucose (Skog, 1993). Although higher temperatures significantly increase the rate of the Maillard reaction, prolonged heating at over 350°F (175°C) can significantly increase the production of mutagens.

Mutagens formed in the Maillard reaction (heterocyclic amines) have been shown to be carcinogenic in mice, rats and non-human primates; however, while some epidemiological studies have shown a relation with cancer development, others have shown no significant relation in humans (Arvidsson et al., 1997). These mutagens depend strongly on both temperature and time: they increase almost linearly in time before leveling off (after 5–10 minutes); an increase in temperature of 45°F (25°C) (from 300°F/150°C to 350°F/175°C or 350°F/175°C to 390°F/200°C) roughly doubles the quantity of mutagens (Jägerstad et al., 1998). While adding glucose increases browning, it can decreases the production of mutagens (Skog, 1993; Skog et al., 1992). The type of fat used to sear the meat in a pan has only minor effects on the formation of mutagens, but the pan residue using butter was significantly higher in mutagens than when using vegetable oil (Johansson et al., 1995).

In order to limit overcooking of the meat’s interior, very high temperatures are often used to brown meat cooked sous vide. Typically, this means either using a blowtorch or a heavy skillet with just smoking vegetable oil. Butane and propane blowtorches can burn at over 3 500°F (1 900°C) in air, and produce a particularly nice crust on beef; while many use a hardware propane blowtorch, I highly recommend using an Iwatani butane blowtorch since propane can leave an off-flavor. I prefer the lower temperature of a skillet with just smoking vegetable or nut oil (400°F/200°C to 500°F/250°C) when searing fish, poultry and pork. Since the searing time at these high temperatures is very short (5–30 seconds), mutagens formation is unlikely to be significant (Skog, 2009).

Edit: Added quote from my guide.

Edited by DouglasBaldwin (log)

My Guide: A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking, which Harold McGee described as "a wonderful contribution."

My Book: Sous Vide for the Home Cook US EU/UK

My YouTube channel — a new work in progress.

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This is an interesting-sounding technique, Douglas. I wonder how it would work if you used reduced/skimmed/clarified ozmasome (aka "meat liquid from the bag") instead of water to make the glucose wash?

Edited by slkinsey (log)

--

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This is an interesting-sounding technique, Douglas.  I wonder how it would work if you used reduced/skimmed/clarified ozmasome (aka "meat liquid from the bag") instead of water to make the glucose wash?

What an interesting idea. I'm guess that it will work as well or better than water, but I won't know until I give it a try.

My Guide: A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking, which Harold McGee described as "a wonderful contribution."

My Book: Sous Vide for the Home Cook US EU/UK

My YouTube channel — a new work in progress.

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I'm interested to try it myself. I have an idea for a project I'm developing for the fall where I have to turn out a lot of meats from a poorly-equipped kitchen with a relatively inexperienced "staff" of helpers.

One of the things I'm trying to figure out is how to do little lamb and little beef "mini burgers" on rounds of toasted brioche. I've thought of molding and freezing 1.25 diameter by 0.75 tall "pucks" of home ground 80/20 meat ahead of time and bagging these in a single layer. Then, at service, I could cook them to temperature in a 55C water bath, de-bag and quickly blot dry, then put them on a rack over a sheet pan, paint with the ozmasome/glucose wash, blast with a blowtorch to brown, then quickly get them onto the rounds, drizzle a touch of homemade ketchup, top with a "bread and butter" pickle slice, stick with a toothpick (no top bun) and send out.

Hopefully the "Maillardizing wash" will help them brown very quickly so the throughput is fast. Also hopefully, the aesthetics will be good without needing to brown both sides. If I need to brown both sides to get a good look, I'll consider freezing the mini-burgers and browning one side prior to bagging and cooking so that I still only have to torch one side in between de-bagging and plating. I have a fair amount of testing to do and mini-burgers to eat!

Edited by slkinsey (log)

--

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  • 3 months later...

Does this "trick" still work using the blowtorch? I've been using either a pan with a thin film of canola or an Ace hardware propane plumbing blow torch. I'm still trying to determine which method is best for which application.

Like most of us, I use a (butane) blowtorch for most my searing.  If you tend to overcook the interior of the meat when using a pan with smoking hot oil, you can use the following trick:

(i) prepare a glucose wash (100 g water plus 2--4 g corn syrup),

(ii) dry the surface of the meat and brush the glucose wash over the meat,

(iii) sear in the smoking hot pan until nicely browned (say 20--30 seconds). 

If you do a side-by-side comparison, I think you will be surprised at how effective the glucose wash is at enhancing the Maillard reaction; note that it has to be a reducing sugar (glucose, fructose or lactose) and not table sugar (which is sucrose).  You can also try adding a pinch of baking soda to the wash, since increasing the pH of the meats surface increases the availability of the amino acids which can react with the reducing sugars.  Be careful though not to add to much baking soda or corn syrup, since baking soda can give a soapy taste if there isn't enough acid (on the meats surface or in the sauce) and too much corn syrup will give an unwanted sweetness.

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I'm interested to try it myself.  I have an idea for a project I'm developing for the fall where I have to turn out a lot of meats from a poorly-equipped kitchen with a relatively inexperienced "staff" of helpers.

One of the things I'm trying to figure out is how to do little lamb and little beef "mini burgers" on rounds of toasted brioche.  I've thought of molding and freezing 1.25 diameter by 0.75 tall "pucks" of home ground 80/20 meat ahead of time and bagging these in a single layer.  Then, at service, I could cook them to temperature in a 55C water bath, de-bag and quickly blot dry, then put them on a rack over a sheet pan, paint with the ozmasome/glucose wash, blast with a blowtorch to brown, then quickly get them onto the rounds, drizzle a touch of homemade ketchup, top with a "bread and butter" pickle slice, stick with a toothpick (no top bun) and send out.

Hopefully the "Maillardizing wash" will help them brown very quickly so the throughput is fast.  Also hopefully, the aesthetics will be good without needing to brown both sides.  If I need to brown both sides to get a good look, I'll consider freezing the mini-burgers and browning one side prior to bagging and cooking so that I still only have to torch one side in between de-bagging and plating.    I have a fair amount of testing to do and mini-burgers to eat!

Using a blow torch to brown may be very time consuming instead using a very hot large gridle (if it is available) may be a lot faster.

Edited by AVFOOL (log)
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I ususally chill the meat fast, still in the bag, and then dry it/sear it in a hot pan. Being fairly cold when I do it the inside does not have much chance to cook while the outside cooks as fast as you like. It works well, with the only problem being returning the rest of the meat to a pleasant 'hot' temperature to serve. Good for dishs where it can be served cold or warm though.

I gotta get a blowtorch.

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The glucose wash really blows me away. Aside from cooking, I love to see original thinking at work. Douglas, where did you come up with this idea?! Somehow, I get this vision of you sitting bolt upright at 2AM with this idea just come to mind. Especially the specificity of the sugar! I can't wait to try it. From my viewpoint, it shows special merit for more delicate items, and at a 4% solution, is really unnoticeable as a taste.

Stu

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Stu,

I'm afraid it wasn't anything as exciting as that. When browning meat cooked sous vide, we want brown the surface without overcooking any of the interior. Since time (primarily) determines how much of the interior is overcooked, we must brown the surface as fast as possible. For the fastest possible browning, we need amino acids available to react, we need reducing sugars available to react, and we need heat to get the reactions going. Martin (over at Khymos) showed how well baking soda improved the browning of onions by making the amino acids more available to react. In meat, we are more concerned with the availability of reducing sugars, so washing the meat with a reducing sugar (such as glucose or fructose or lactose) should speed up the reaction considerably --- this availability means we can brown as quickly in a (smoking) hot skillet as we can with a blowtorch. It happens that someone (Skog, 1993) already thought of washing the meat with a glucose solution to speed the reaction, so my only novel part is applying it to sous vide cooking.

-- Douglas

The glucose wash really blows me away. Aside from cooking, I love to see original thinking at work. Douglas, where did you come up with this idea?! Somehow, I get this vision of you sitting bolt upright at 2AM with this idea just come to mind. Especially the specificity of the sugar! I can't wait to try it. From my viewpoint, it shows special merit for more delicate items, and at a 4% solution, is really unnoticeable as a taste.

Stu

My Guide: A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking, which Harold McGee described as "a wonderful contribution."

My Book: Sous Vide for the Home Cook US EU/UK

My YouTube channel — a new work in progress.

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it really hasn't worked me.

Made a 5% glucose solution a couple of time (it was easier) and thought I had wasted my time, there was no perceivable difference.

Any pointers?

“Do you not find that bacon, sausage, egg, chips, black pudding, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread and a cup of tea; is a meal in itself really?” Hovis Presley.

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adey73: Yes it is post-cooking once it comes out of the bag.

infernooo: So long as you don't add too much glucose or baking soda, it tastes just like traditionally seared meat, it just takes a lot less time (and heat) to achieve the same level of browning.  One of the benefits of this method is that it decreases the production of carcinogens formed during the Maillard reaction (when compared with traditional cooking methods).

To quote the recently expanded "Maillard Reaction" section of my guide:

The Maillard or browning reaction is a very complex reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars. After the initial reaction, an unstable intermediate structure is formed which undergoes further changes and produces hundreds of reaction by-products. See McGee (2004) for a nontechnical description or Belitz et al. (2004) for a technical description.

The flavor of cooked meat comes from the Maillard reaction and the thermal (and oxidative) degradation of lipids (fats); the species characteristics are mainly due to the fatty tissues, while the Maillard reaction in the lean tissues provides the savoury, roast and boiled flavors (Mottram, 1998). The Maillard reaction can be increased by adding a reducing sugar (glucose, fructose or lactose), increasing the pH (e.g., adding a pinch of baking soda), or increasing the temperature. Even small increases in pH, greatly increases the Maillard reaction and results in sweeter, nuttier and more roasted-meat-like aromas (Meynier and Mottram, 1995). The addition of a little glucose (e.g., corn syrup) has been shown to increase the Maillard reaction and improve the flavor profile (Meinert et al., 2009). The Maillard reaction occurs noticeably around 265°F (130°C), but produces a boiled rather than a roasted aroma; good browning and a roasted flavor can be achieved at temperatures around 300°F (150°C) with the addition of glucose (Skog, 1993). Although higher temperatures significantly increase the rate of the Maillard reaction, prolonged heating at over 350°F (175°C) can significantly increase the production of mutagens.

Mutagens formed in the Maillard reaction (heterocyclic amines) have been shown to be carcinogenic in mice, rats and non-human primates; however, while some epidemiological studies have shown a relation with cancer development, others have shown no significant relation in humans (Arvidsson et al., 1997). These mutagens depend strongly on both temperature and time: they increase almost linearly in time before leveling off (after 5–10 minutes); an increase in temperature of 45°F (25°C) (from 300°F/150°C to 350°F/175°C or 350°F/175°C to 390°F/200°C) roughly doubles the quantity of mutagens (Jägerstad et al., 1998). While adding glucose increases browning, it can decreases the production of mutagens (Skog, 1993; Skog et al., 1992). The type of fat used to sear the meat in a pan has only minor effects on the formation of mutagens, but the pan residue using butter was significantly higher in mutagens than when using vegetable oil (Johansson et al., 1995).

In order to limit overcooking of the meat’s interior, very high temperatures are often used to brown meat cooked sous vide. Typically, this means either using a blowtorch or a heavy skillet with just smoking vegetable oil. Butane and propane blowtorches can burn at over 3 500°F (1 900°C) in air, and produce a particularly nice crust on beef; while many use a hardware propane blowtorch, I highly recommend using an Iwatani butane blowtorch since propane can leave an off-flavor. I prefer the lower temperature of a skillet with just smoking vegetable or nut oil (400°F/200°C to 500°F/250°C) when searing fish, poultry and pork. Since the searing time at these high temperatures is very short (5–30 seconds), mutagens formation is unlikely to be significant (Skog, 2009).

Edit: Added quote from my guide.

Douglas,

I tried "Maillarding" with reducing sugars (I did not have glucose at hand, so I used freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, which contains 2.14% glucose, 2.26% fructose and 2.44% sucrose) on one side of a veal chop (thickness 35mm, SV 53°C/3 hrs.), searing in smoking hot rice bran oil. On the sugar-treated side, there were many tiny black charred dots, whereas the untreated side showed an evenly brown crust. Maybe 247°C (smoke temperature of rice bran oil) is too much with reducing sugars? As I marinate all my meat to allow for safe aging 24 hrs. at ambient temp., maybe the marinade already leaves sufficient carbohydrates on the meat to give a nice brown crust easily? BTW the veal chop came out fork-tender, tasty and juicy.

Peter F. Gruber aka Pedro

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Your oil was indeed too hot. If you are searing in a smoking hot pan with an oil with a high smoke point, I absolutely agree that you do not need or want a glucose wash.

If, however, you have an anemic range or a light pan or a low smoke point oil, then a glucose wash will allow you to sear the meat at a lower temperature in about the same amount of time as your very hot pan.

Therefore, I would only recommend using a glucose wash when searing in a 175--200C/350F--400F pan; when searing in a 200C/400F or hotter pan, I would not recommend using a glucose wash.

Douglas,

I tried "Maillarding" with reducing sugars (I did not have glucose at hand, so I used freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, which contains 2.14% glucose, 2.26% fructose and 2.44% sucrose) on one side of a veal chop (thickness 35mm, SV 53°C/3 hrs.), searing in smoking hot rice bran oil. On the sugar-treated side, there were many tiny black charred dots, whereas the untreated side showed an evenly brown crust. Maybe 247°C (smoke temperature of rice bran oil) is too much with reducing sugars? As I marinate all my meat to allow for safe aging 24 hrs. at ambient temp., maybe the marinade already leaves sufficient carbohydrates on the meat to give a nice brown crust easily? BTW the veal chop came out fork-tender, tasty and juicy.

My Guide: A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking, which Harold McGee described as "a wonderful contribution."

My Book: Sous Vide for the Home Cook US EU/UK

My YouTube channel — a new work in progress.

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I tried this method for the first time this evening... success!!! I tried it on a dish I do every few weeks - flank steak cooked 131F for about 36 hours - I find it's still a bit tough after 24, 36 hours is a bit better...

Typically, I would remove from the bag, blot with paper towels, sprinkle with wondra flour, then sear in a smoking pan with grapeseed oil or peanut oil (high smoke point)....

Tonight, I tried a medium hot pan (grapeseed oil was not smoking) and a 4% glucose wash.... I found out the hard way that less is more with this application as the first side was a little wet and splattered all over the place when it hit the medium-hot oil... but still, in very little time, I got great color and since the heat was lower, it didn't cook through more than 1mm or so...

I was thinking about making a big jar of 4% wash that way I don't have to mix it fresh every time I need it... do you think I should refrigerate it after mixing or can I keep it sealed in the cupboard?

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I was thinking about making a big jar of 4% wash that way I don't have to mix it fresh every time I need it... do you think I should refrigerate it after mixing or can I keep it sealed in the cupboard?

a 4% sugar solution would be a bacteria extravaganza.

My guess is that precision isn't all that important and you could wing it easily. 1/4 tsp of honey or glucose syrup in a shot glass of water will get you in the ballpark.

Notes from the underbelly

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I was thinking about making a big jar of 4% wash that way I don't have to mix it fresh every time I need it... do you think I should refrigerate it after mixing or can I keep it sealed in the cupboard?

a 4% sugar solution would be a bacteria extravaganza.

My guess is that precision isn't all that important and you could wing it easily. 1/4 tsp of honey or glucose syrup in a shot glass of water will get you in the ballpark.

That's what I thought... glad to check it though.... Your guess is on the money - I used 2g glucose in 50g water... the biggest problem is that the glucose sticks to everything - so while I put 2g in my mixing container, probably 1.5 g stuck to the spoon.... plus, to get it to dissolve faster, I stuck the glucose/water mixture in the microwave for about 20 seconds to warm it up... I know I could put warm up the glucose too to get it to flow better, but it's in this big plastic tub that would take forever to warm up... oh well, I'll just have to think ahead each time I need it!

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It is really the change in pH that matters. I just suggest baking soda because it is a pantry staple. The only real problem with using baking soda, say to brown onions for a soup base, is that if you don't add an acidic component later you will have a soapy tasting soup.

Question about the baking soda: will it have the same effect in an acidic environment, or does it work spefically by raising the ph?

My Guide: A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking, which Harold McGee described as "a wonderful contribution."

My Book: Sous Vide for the Home Cook US EU/UK

My YouTube channel — a new work in progress.

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      † Beef, pork, lamb and chicken (or at least two kinds of meat) as well as chorizo, chickpeas and onions are mandatory ingredients, other vegetables vary according to desire and availability.
      Cooking
      Boil chickpeas in water for 30-60 min.
      Sauté onions in olive oil, add chorizo, continue sautéing, add chickpeas including its cooking water, add remaining vegetables, cover and cook to the desired softness, stir from time to time. If additional liquid is needed, you may add Sherry instead of water.
      Reduce heat. Season to taste. Add parsley.
      In a heavy skillet, sear the meat dice in just smoking hot rice bran oil (very high smoking point allows very quick sear, not overdoing the center of the meat).
      Sear one kind of meat at a time and transfer to the pan with the vegetables.
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