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Guy MovingOn

Sous Vide: Recipes, Techniques & Equipment (Part 7)

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I weighted the bag with a small ceramic bowl. It was horizontal -- the cut is too wide to sit vertically. The probe rested adjacent to the meat, tied to a ceramic spoon. From what I've read, it only takes about an hour for the convection currents to get to work in a covered and insulated rice cooker. And the meat was center, allowing currents to circulate on all sides. If it was a piece of fish going in for 30 minutes, I would have aerated the bath. In a 24 hour soak, cold/warm spots aren't an issue, especially since I didn't put the meat in until the water was nearly (130+) up to temperature. The only technical issue I found was actually condensation from the outside of the rice cooker pooling onto the counter. A towel solved the problem. And the line on the pot goes to 4.5L, but there's room for more -- probably closer to the 5L side.

As for the quality of meat: standard supermarket USDA Choice. A higher grade I don't think makes a difference on a 7-bone cut -- or even exists. I wanted to try first with a cheaper cut and see the effects. I'm going to try flap steak next -- I want to see what happens with a leaner cut that doesn't have large fat deposits throughout the meat.

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135F is definitely moving into medium rather than medium-rare. I would say 131 to 133 is a better temperature range. 4.5 liters is pretty small for a large piece of meat. I would only do 131F if you are certain that everything is calibrated correctly. It is a good idea to check the reading on the PID unit against a fairly accurate thermometer.

Fat won't render at these temps. So, you don't want to use cuts that have large interior chunks of fat. Btw, you mention this as preparatory experimentation before doing a prime rib sous-vide. I don't think that there is any benefit to doing prime rib sous-vide. Prime rib is a pretty tender cut. I have done quite a few chuck roasts and they can rival prime rib when done sous-vide. For non-wagyu chuck roast, I think that 48 hours is probably better than 24 hours.

Beef-cooked sous-vide doesn't look pretty on the outside. So, there isn't anything unusual about what you found.

For your first experiments I strongly recommend skirt steak for 24 hours at 132F or or short-ribs (trimmed of excess fat) for 48 hours. Those two cuts are the ones that really demonstrate the transformative nature of sous-vide.

Also, when considering USDA grading, it is telling you more about marbling than the actual quality of the flavor and tenderness of the meat. Not all USDA Choice beef is of equal quality.

Hi, new to this thread and to sous vide cooking. Picked up a SousVide Magic 1500D and wanted to contribute. For anyone interested in the device, I put together a quick video demo of a typical setup.

A breakdown on costs:

SVM controller: $160

Black & Decker 4.5L rice cooker: $50

Reynolds Handi-Vac: $10

Handi-Vac bags: $0.50 per

A super cheap setup. After some experimenting, I'd suggest getting a taller rice cooker so you can vertically float multiple steaks. The thing is, the price jumps drastically up. If you're going past $150, you might as well get FreshMealsSolution's heated water aerator, which you can use in any container, albeit less efficiently.

On my first real cooking attempt, I made a 146 degree egg. Worked perfectly. On my second, I made a 7-bone chuck blade steak. 1.9 lbs., about 3/4" thick, 135 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 hours. I bought a super marbled piece and wanted to see what would happen. No marinade, no seasoning.

The meat came out of the bag smelling like prime rib. I measured about a cup of liquid that came out of the steak. I noticed right off that there was very little fat in the liquid -- a bad sign. Tried reducing it to make a gravy, but the texture and flavor were not pleasant.

The meat itself was very blotchy, as the cut of meat was uneven, with bones poking out here and there. Protein coated parts of the steak, leaving them very unpleasantly gray. I let the meat rest a little to dry off the surface, then seared it on a crazy hot All-Clad pan for 45 seconds per side. I tried 30 seconds initially but the steak was not very flat and didn't brown well. Some areas were untouched, while others were burnt. Note to self: buy a torch next.

Upon cutting, the meat was definitely medium as opposed to my goal of medium rare. During the cooking process, the SVM definitely kept the temp at 135.0. In the initial temperature rise, I noted that the temp did go briefly above 135.0, but never more than 136.0. Cutting into the steak, it released no liquid. The texture was firm, a bit chewy, as if I had grilled it. The real problem was that though the meat was heavily marbled, there were also large junks of fat scattered throughout the meat, not just along the edges, and none of the fat had rendered away, leaving grainy, chewy pieces every other bite. The taste was definitely beefy, non-metallic, though with an almost boiled odor.

I don't think 7-bone cuts would work for steak. For starters, it's just not a very pretty cut of meat. But more importantly, I believe the large islands of beef fat won't really begin to render until around 140 degrees, and by that time, your meat would be completely overcooked. Lowering the temp to 131.0 and doubling the cooking time, I don't think that would really help, either. More time would help the texture of the meat, but it wouldn't do anything about the fat. I'm worried that I might come across this same problem if I were to cook prime rib, which I often find with large islands of fat spread along the interior of cuts at times.

Other concerns I have are with the proteins coming to the surface, and the smell. Do I need to briefly brine the steaks to leech out the water soluble proteins prior to bagging? Or brush off the non-Maillard reaction proteins that have clung to the surface of the steak? And has anyone else thought about the almost boiled smell of the meat soaking in its juices? Has anyone tried debagging the meat to drain out the liquid and dissolved proteins, then rebagging to finish? I imagine I can bag with aromatics, but I'm afraid that would just change the boiled smell to boiled plus aromatics smell.

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I just wanted to report that this method of rendering lard --

f you really want to render the fat well you must grind or homogenize the fat with water first. Put the fat to render in a blender with water (nearly to cover). Blend it until it is very fine and smooth.

...

4. Seal the fat-shake mix in a sous vide bag and cook in a water bath or other method at 180F/82C for 12 hours. The fat can be poured off the top. If you clip the top corner off the bag, you can pour the fat off pretty well.

--

works like a charm. Be sure to blend that fat up well: I didn't get too worried about the few chunks that didn't get whipped to pork mayonnaise in the blender, but 12 hours later those bits hadn't rendered much at all.


Chris Amirault

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I did another batch of Ad Hoc fried chicken, adding a step where I let the chicken dry out in the fridge, uncovered for about 1.5 hours. This didn't have much of an effect and for thighs at least, I'm willing to throw in the towel on using sous vide for this. I think if I was cooking breasts, it might be a different story. Thighs at 140 for an hour is really borderline on cooked. I'm using a pretty ghetto sous vide setup and probably overloading it, but the meat near the bone was a little more red than I would like. Thighs are generally juicy anyway.

The little wings did come out very well though. I would do that again.

I also don't think the breading in ad hoc chicken is to my preference. I'm looking for more crunch. The search continues...

When I have followed the Ad Hoc recipe (without any sous-vide), I have found the chicken to be very crispy, crunchy. Is it possible that your frying temps aren't quite right or that you are overloading the skillet and getting a huge temperature drop when the chicken goes into the pan?

Btw, I pan fry them rather than deep fry as Cook's Illustrated convinced me that pan frying (i.e. in a skillet with oil that doesn't completely submerge the chicken) gives a better result than deep frying. I don't recall whether the Ad Hoc recipe calls for deep frying -- but it if does I departed from the recipe at that stage and did pan frying.

I used a deep fat fryer that holds a gallon of oil and only did two thighs at a time. The temp drops about 40 degrees according to the display, but recovers nicely. I'm thinking that one reason to sous vide for longer would be to help the fat in the skin render out longer. That might help..and raising the temp too.

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By the way, I highly highly highly recommend doing skirt steak -and cooking at 132F for 24 hours. Since we discovered it, it has become our go-to cut of meat when we want to wow guests. People consistently tell us that it is the best beef that they have ever had. It is even tastier than short ribs. I put a couple of tablespoons of 5 to 7% brine in the bag along with 1/2 cap liquid smoke. (And then sear it with a torch before serving).

e_monster - thanks so much for the skirt steak suggestion. I did a 1 lb. skirt, cut into three segments and trimmed, in a freezer Ziploc with a bit over a 1/4 tsp of liquid smoke and 2 tb of 6% brine. 24 hours at 132 in the PolyScience SV Pro and then Iwatani torched briefly. The texture was amazing, practically fork tender. The torch did a nice job on the small amount of remaining fat and very small bits of membrane/connective tissue that I couldn't remove with a knife. Lo temp worked as advertised - the steak was barely more than one centimeter thick, but only a millimeter or so was browned, the rest was all perfectly done. A happy success for my first red meat experiment. Next time, I think I'd try it without liquid smoke, or with more liquid smoke - I couldn't decide if the faint essence of smoke was something I liked or not. Maybe I just didn't prefer this intensity level. I don't know what size a "cap" is on your bottle, so I just guesstimated.

The related question is this - with nice skirt steak running $13/lb. at the nice grocer near me (I haven't shopped the cheaper stores for it yet, it's not a cut I normally buy), what are the $5/lb. cuts that work well SV? That skirt was barely cheaper than ribeye! I will try boneless short ribs as soon as I find some (or get to Costo), but will london broil, chuck roast, etc. work, or will the intramuscular fat and connective tissue that doesn't melt ruin the final texture?

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I did bone in short ribs together with a hunk of chuck, all vac packed separately at 131F for 48 hours this last week end.

The results were spectacular. The finished product taste more like steak than what you would expect. Go for it.

alanjesq

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The related question is this - with nice skirt steak running $13/lb. at the nice grocer near me (I haven't shopped the cheaper stores for it yet, it's not a cut I normally buy), what are the $5/lb. cuts that work well SV? That skirt was barely cheaper than ribeye! I will try boneless short ribs as soon as I find some (or get to Costo), but will london broil, chuck roast, etc. work, or will the intramuscular fat and connective tissue that doesn't melt ruin the final texture?

I did a chuck roast in the SVS for 72 hours at 55C. It was incredible. I put salt, granulated onion, a bay leaf and some fresh thyme in the bag. I used the bag juices with some demi-glace prepared as nickray describes on this thread. I added some, minced shallot, mirepoix and garlic to the juice before deglazing the pan with some red wine. It was stellar. The chuck meat had to be trimmed of the fat and torched before saucing and serving but it was tender, intensely flavorful and tasted more like prime rib. It was not the least bit stringy, dry or in anyway sinewy. I am going to try an arm roast this week.


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I'm blogging as the Fabulous Food Fanatic here.

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e_monster - thanks so much for the skirt steak suggestion. I did a 1 lb. skirt, cut into three segments and trimmed, in a freezer Ziploc with a bit over a 1/4 tsp of liquid smoke and 2 tb of 6% brine. 24 hours at 132 in the PolyScience SV Pro and then Iwatani torched briefly. The texture was amazing, practically fork tender. The torch did a nice job on the small amount of remaining fat and very small bits of membrane/connective tissue that I couldn't remove with a knife. Lo temp worked as advertised - the steak was barely more than one centimeter thick, but only a millimeter or so was browned, the rest was all perfectly done. A happy success for my first red meat experiment. Next time, I think I'd try it without liquid smoke, or with more liquid smoke - I couldn't decide if the faint essence of smoke was something I liked or not. Maybe I just didn't prefer this intensity level. I don't know what size a "cap" is on your bottle, so I just guesstimated.

The related question is this - with nice skirt steak running $13/lb. at the nice grocer near me (I haven't shopped the cheaper stores for it yet, it's not a cut I normally buy), what are the $5/lb. cuts that work well SV? That skirt was barely cheaper than ribeye! I will try boneless short ribs as soon as I find some (or get to Costo), but will london broil, chuck roast, etc. work, or will the intramuscular fat and connective tissue that doesn't melt ruin the final texture?

A couple of things. I have done expensive and less expensive skirt steak (less expensive isn't cheap but maybe 8.95/lb) and I have been impressed even with the cheap ones.

I am personally not particularly fond of top sirloin/london broil done sous-vide. Yes, they come out tender -- but for me the taste/texture is inferior to many other cuts.

I think that short ribs are the cheap cut that undergoes the most luscious transformation. They are juicy and beefy and are great if you have decent quality short ribs.

A marbled chuck roast (you want fine marbling not but chunks of interior fat) is very nice but the final result while very tasty resembles other meat with which one is familiar. Short ribs when the quality is good are really unlike other cuts -- even better than prime rib.

Anyway that's my personal taste -- others will have their own prefs.

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... I'm thinking that one reason to sous vide for longer would be to help the fat in the skin render out longer. That might help..and raising the temp too.

I don't think that leaving the chicken to cook longer will result in significant fat rendering during the sous-vide cooking of the chicken unless you raise the temperature significantly. At least that is my experience.

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I'm going to be serving some very prime, 8-week dry aged shell steaks to a big group of people this weekend, and have borrowed an immersion circulator to make it happen (I'm going to think of it as a sous chef with two buttons and no mouth).

My plan is to cook at 55°C with a little cultured butter in the bag, then sear on a griddle after brushing with a maillard-promoting glucose solution. I'll serve the steaks sliced on the bias across the grain, in strips a little less than 1/2" thick.

I'm wondering about cooking time. Seems like anywhere from an hour to forever will work, but more time seems to equal more tenderness, and this is already a tender cut. At what point will I risk crossing over from tender to mushy?


Notes from the underbelly

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Hey guys,

When you cooked the duck skin on between silpats do you use any weights on top?

Whats the ratio for this glucose solution you speak of?

Thanks in advance!


Sleep, bike, cook, feed, repeat...

Chef Facebook HQ Menlo Park, CA

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I'm going to be serving some very prime, 8-week dry aged shell steaks to a big group of people this weekend, and have borrowed an immersion circulator to make it happen (I'm going to think of it as a sous chef with two buttons and no mouth).

My plan is to cook at 55°C with a little cultured butter in the bag, then sear on a griddle after brushing with a maillard-promoting glucose solution. I'll serve the steaks sliced on the bias across the grain, in strips a little less than 1/2" thick.

I'm wondering about cooking time. Seems like anywhere from an hour to forever will work, but more time seems to equal more tenderness, and this is already a tender cut. At what point will I risk crossing over from tender to mushy?

It's going to depend on the thickness of the steaks. I would suggest you review Douglas Baldwin's or Nathan's tables for the cooking times that will get your steaks center up to the desired temperature. After that an hour or two is probably fine and will not result in a mushy steak. I've never left any tender steak more than an hour after it's "done" per the cooking tables though, I just never needed to.


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

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contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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I'm going to be serving some very prime, 8-week dry aged shell steaks to a big group of people this weekend, and have borrowed an immersion circulator to make it happen (I'm going to think of it as a sous chef with two buttons and no mouth).

My plan is to cook at 55°C with a little cultured butter in the bag, then sear on a griddle after brushing with a maillard-promoting glucose solution. I'll serve the steaks sliced on the bias across the grain, in strips a little less than 1/2" thick.

I'm wondering about cooking time. Seems like anywhere from an hour to forever will work, but more time seems to equal more tenderness, and this is already a tender cut. At what point will I risk crossing over from tender to mushy?

I'd cook it for 1.5-2 hours

Whats the ratio for this glucose solution you speak of?

1:30 light corn syrup to water

(edited for clarity on glucose component)


Edited by therippa (log)

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I'm going to be serving some very prime, 8-week dry aged shell steaks to a big group of people this weekend, and have borrowed an immersion circulator to make it happen (I'm going to think of it as a sous chef with two buttons and no mouth).

My plan is to cook at 55°C with a little cultured butter in the bag, then sear on a griddle after brushing with a maillard-promoting glucose solution. I'll serve the steaks sliced on the bias across the grain, in strips a little less than 1/2" thick.

I'm wondering about cooking time. Seems like anywhere from an hour to forever will work, but more time seems to equal more tenderness, and this is already a tender cut. At what point will I risk crossing over from tender to mushy?

How thick are the shell steaks? Once you know their thickness, you can get the minimum time from the tables. At that temp, I have left in the waterbath up to4 hours or so without noticing a difference. At 55C, tenderization takes a long time... Another possibility is to cook the steaks at 55C and leave in to pasteurize in advance - like today if necessary, or if you had the circulator in advance, up to 3-4 weeks in advance assuming your refrigerator is less than 38F. Then at service, the searing will also bring the steaks up to temp (depending on thickness - if it's too thick, then by the time the outside is nicely seared, the inside will still be cold). Doing it from cold has an advantage of getting a thicker crust on the steaks without overcooking the inside.

Also, just a thought, but shell steaks are pretty tender... I usually go for 127-128F (53C) for such a tender cut which will leave it more rare. If doing this, you don't want to leave it in the bath for longer than 4 hours, and you can't really pasteurize, so cook-chill is out.. I don't know the "rare tolerance" of your guests, however...

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How thick are the shell steaks? Once you know their thickness, you can get the minimum time from the tables. At that temp, I have left in the waterbath up to4 hours or so without noticing a difference. At 55C, tenderization takes a long time... Another possibility is to cook the steaks at 55C and leave in to pasteurize in advance - like today if necessary, or if you had the circulator in advance, up to 3-4 weeks in advance assuming your refrigerator is less than 38F. Then at service, the searing will also bring the steaks up to temp (depending on thickness - if it's too thick, then by the time the outside is nicely seared, the inside will still be cold). Doing it from cold has an advantage of getting a thicker crust on the steaks without overcooking the inside.

Also, just a thought, but shell steaks are pretty tender... I usually go for 127-128F (53C) for such a tender cut which will leave it more rare. If doing this, you don't want to leave it in the bath for longer than 4 hours, and you can't really pasteurize, so cook-chill is out.. I don't know the "rare tolerance" of your guests, however...

I can cut the steaks to whatever thickness. I was thinking about 1", which would allow everyone to have a little more crust than if they were cut thicker.

53C sounds reasonable. I don't think that will be too rare for anyone. I won't need to hold them for a long time at all. i'd prefer to go straight from circulator to searing, just to keep things quick. There won't be any extra hands in the kitchen, so the less time i can spend searing etc. the better.

Do you think 2 hours at 53 is reasonable? At this temperature is there any tenderizing effect to consider over these relatively short cooking times?


Notes from the underbelly

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How thick are the shell steaks? Once you know their thickness, you can get the minimum time from the tables. At that temp, I have left in the waterbath up to4 hours or so without noticing a difference. At 55C, tenderization takes a long time... Another possibility is to cook the steaks at 55C and leave in to pasteurize in advance - like today if necessary, or if you had the circulator in advance, up to 3-4 weeks in advance assuming your refrigerator is less than 38F. Then at service, the searing will also bring the steaks up to temp (depending on thickness - if it's too thick, then by the time the outside is nicely seared, the inside will still be cold). Doing it from cold has an advantage of getting a thicker crust on the steaks without overcooking the inside.

Also, just a thought, but shell steaks are pretty tender... I usually go for 127-128F (53C) for such a tender cut which will leave it more rare. If doing this, you don't want to leave it in the bath for longer than 4 hours, and you can't really pasteurize, so cook-chill is out.. I don't know the "rare tolerance" of your guests, however...

I can cut the steaks to whatever thickness. I was thinking about 1", which would allow everyone to have a little more crust than if they were cut thicker.

53C sounds reasonable. I don't think that will be too rare for anyone. I won't need to hold them for a long time at all. i'd prefer to go straight from circulator to searing, just to keep things quick. There won't be any extra hands in the kitchen, so the less time i can spend searing etc. the better.

Do you think 2 hours at 53 is reasonable? At this temperature is there any tenderizing effect to consider over these relatively short cooking times?

For 1" thick, 2 hours is more than ample, and will not have any tenderizing effect. It will just be uniformly 53C edge to edge.

Also, just make sure you trim any big chunks of fat, since they won't render at those temps and aren't so appealing...

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ScottyBoy: In my original post on using a glucose solution to promote the Maillard reaction, I recommended a 4% glucose wash. While the concentration does make a small difference in the final taste, I usually just add a drop of light corn syrup to about a quarter cup water and stir until it's well mixed. If you're really interested, I can dig up the journal articles and give you references for further reading.

Paul: I generally agree with the above comments. I'd suggest cutting a little meat off and testing 53C for a few hours and then searing it with a blowtorch (since pan-searing would overcook too much of a small piece of meat). But I'm a scientist and like to empirically verify my theories.


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

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Also, just a thought, but shell steaks are pretty tender... I usually go for 127-128F (53C) for such a tender cut which will leave it more rare. If doing this, you don't want to leave it in the bath for longer than 4 hours, and you can't really pasteurize, so cook-chill is out.. I don't know the "rare tolerance" of your guests, however...

...

For 1" thick, 2 hours is more than ample, and will not have any tenderizing effect. It will just be uniformly 53C edge to edge.

Also, just make sure you trim any big chunks of fat, since they won't render at those temps and aren't so appealing...

I think Kenneth is right on. If the steaks are good quality, I wouldn't leave the in the bath any longer than 3 hours. And one to two hours will be sufficient. I notice already tender steaks degrading in texture after about 3 hours or so -- some people don't mind it but I find it less appealing than in its original state.

I also personally, would recommend cutting the steaks a bit thicker (personal pref is 1.5 to 2 inches thic) and making sure that the crust is really nice. A nice crust goes a long way. I find that with thicker steaks it really highlights the nice rare/medium-rare meat in a way that doesn't happen with steaks 1-inch thick.

Anyway that is just my personal pref.

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Thanks everyone. I'm going to stay conservative since I won't have much chance to experiment. 1.5" sounds good, and I'll probably go for 2 hours.

When I cook steaks in a pan I typically finish with butter (unless I'm using the long, slow Ducasse method, where I'll use butter for the whole process). The flavor works so well with aged beef. Has anyone experiemented with putting a little butter in the bag with the meat?

Also, when cooking in a pan I generally pre-season with salt and pepper. Would there be any disadvantages to preseasoning before sous-vide?


Notes from the underbelly

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Thanks everyone. I'm going to stay conservative since I won't have much chance to experiment. 1.5" sounds good, and I'll probably go for 2 hours.

When I cook steaks in a pan I typically finish with butter (unless I'm using the long, slow Ducasse method, where I'll use butter for the whole process). The flavor works so well with aged beef. Has anyone experiemented with putting a little butter in the bag with the meat?

Also, when cooking in a pan I generally pre-season with salt and pepper. Would there be any disadvantages to preseasoning before sous-vide?

I typically use a couple of tablespoons of 5% to 8% brine per steak in the bag to season them. It seems slightly more effective than just salting and bagging the meat, and I find that the steaks turn out a tad-jucier this way than if salted and put in the bag without added water. I think that if you salt the meat without adding a little bit more water that the salt seems to cause a bit more liquid to come out of the steak. Or you could season the steaks and add a tablespoon or two of water. If you don't have time to experiment, I think you are safest waiting to season until they have come out of the bag and been dried prior to searing.

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Thanks everyone. I'm going to stay conservative since I won't have much chance to experiment. 1.5" sounds good, and I'll probably go for 2 hours.

When I cook steaks in a pan I typically finish with butter (unless I'm using the long, slow Ducasse method, where I'll use butter for the whole process). The flavor works so well with aged beef. Has anyone experiemented with putting a little butter in the bag with the meat?

Also, when cooking in a pan I generally pre-season with salt and pepper. Would there be any disadvantages to preseasoning before sous-vide?

I usually put some butter (or even better, rendered foie gras fat) in the bag - maybe a tablespoon or two per bag... and I always season prior to bagging. Just make sure to dry the steaks off with a paper towel prior to searing... you can butter your griddle just prior to adding the steaks for a little extra maillard/butter flavor.

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I typically use a couple of tablespoons of 5% to 8% brine per steak in the bag to season them. It seems slightly more effective than just salting and bagging the meat, and I find that the steaks turn out a tad-jucier this way than if salted and put in the bag without added water. I think that if you salt the meat without adding a little bit more water that the salt seems to cause a bit more liquid to come out of the steak. Or you could season the steaks and add a tablespoon or two of water. If you don't have time to experiment, I think you are safest waiting to season until they have come out of the bag and been dried prior to searing.

Interesting - I never thought of putting a brine in the bag with the meat... I've always pre-seasoned and put some type of oil/fat in the bag. At such low temps/short times, I've never had problems with any liquid being exuded... definitely not true for long time stuff like 36 hour flank steak, etc (there's lots of exuded liquid)... I have to try the brine next time.

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I'm a little wary of brine ... I don't want to add moisture to meat that's been dehydrated by dry aging.

How much moisture does meat typically lose when sous vided at 53C?


Notes from the underbelly

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I'm a little wary of brine ... I don't want to add moisture to meat that's been dehydrated by dry aging.

How much moisture does meat typically lose when sous vided at 53C?

The amount of moisture that comes out during cooking varies -- a number of factors influence it -- including the original moisture content. In your case, using fine dry-aged beef, I think I would season just before searing

I don't think that there is an advantage to putting salt and pepper in the bag with meat like you are cooking and there might be some disadvantage. The seasoning won't be any better if it is in the bag than if you add the seasoning after removing from the bag and drying off. And an argument can be made that there is an advantage to waiting if you are using salt with an uneven grind. (Because the tongue will be coming into contact with different sized/shaped salt crystals which apparently has an important psychological impact on the perception of saltiness).

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I typically use a couple of tablespoons of 5% to 8% brine per steak in the bag to season them. It seems slightly more effective than just salting and bagging the meat, and I find that the steaks turn out a tad-jucier this way than if salted and put in the bag without added water. I think that if you salt the meat without adding a little bit more water that the salt seems to cause a bit more liquid to come out of the steak. Or you could season the steaks and add a tablespoon or two of water. If you don't have time to experiment, I think you are safest waiting to season until they have come out of the bag and been dried prior to searing.

Interesting - I never thought of putting a brine in the bag with the meat... I've always pre-seasoned and put some type of oil/fat in the bag. At such low temps/short times, I've never had problems with any liquid being exuded... definitely not true for long time stuff like 36 hour flank steak, etc (there's lots of exuded liquid)... I have to try the brine next time.

I just use a small amount -- but I am doing it because I always notice a few teaspoons of liquid in the bag after the ribeyes have been cooking (typically one to two hours). If your meat isn't losing the liquid, there might not be an advantage to the brine. I just do it to compensate for that little bit of loss. I haven't done a side-by-side comparison so I could be fooling myself. But since the results have been so good, I haven't messed with it. (I also often put a tiny bit of liquid smoke in the brine to give the meat a hint of smoke).

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      According to Grant, "You can pull it back as far as you want. The experience is going to start before someone even picks up the phone to make a reservation to this restaurant. It's going to be about their perceptions; why are they picking up the phone to make a reservation? What did they see? What did they read? What's leading them up to that point? They call to make a reservation, that's another experience. The drive to get to this neighborhood is another experience. The minute they open their door and take one step out of their car, now they're surrounded by another experience."
       
      Advancing the functional elements of how food is served is an innate part of the cooking process for Grant, who seeks to render the traditional boundaries of dining obsolete. When asked what he will be able to accomplish at Alinea that he couldn't accomplish at Trio, Grant says, "the obvious is to create the container in which we create the experience. I think that's the very exciting thing for me that I've never been able to have a part in." For Grant, a restaurant's physical space represents the ultimate container and the ultimate personal challenge. The result should break new ground in the world of fine dining.   Grant and Nick are intense and competitive. In both their minds, "crafting a complete experience" is the primary focus of Alinea. According to Nick, "the whole idea is to produce an experience where the food lines up with the décor, which lines up with the flow through the restaurant and from the moment you get, literally, to the front door of the place and you walk in, your experience should mirror in some respects--and complement in others--the whole process you're going to go through when you start eating." Grant takes it a step further. "It's about having a central beacon from which everything else emanates and therefore, it's seamless. The whole experience is crafted on one finite point and if everything emanates from that point, then there's no chance that the experience can be interrupted."
       
      The search for Alinea's space further reflects not only their shared philosophy but also their separate intensities. Says Nick, "One of the things we felt really strongly about, and we both came to it, was that we wanted it to be a 'stand alone' building because if you're in something else you can't help but take on some of that identity. And it's really difficult to find the right size building in the right kind of location, with the right kind of construction that was suitable for the identity of Alinea."
      Nick and Grant drove down every street within a chosen geographical band, armed with a giant map and a set of green, yellow and red markers. Once they had found a set of acceptable streets, they asked a realtor to show them every space available on them.
       
      "Once we did find the building," says Grant, "whichever space we would have chosen, we would have analyzed and considered each different aspect to provoke a certain emotion, a very controlled emotion depending on how we wanted it arranged. But I also think that we wanted the neighborhood to feel a certain way, the street to feel a certain way. Is it like Michigan Avenue where I have people 4-deep, walking straight down the sidewalk, non-stop, all day and all night or is it more of a tranquil environment outside? All those things were spinning around and once you identify the golden egg, then you have to go find it."
      While they would probably never admit it, each innovation, each step they take together in building their venture serves as yet another a opportunity for the Alinea team to challenge the restaurant's competitors. Their attention to all the details provides countless opportunities to distinguish Alinea from other restaurants.
       
      Here the two men can share in the creation, combining their diverse skills and experiences into a unified and shared vision. Alinea will be their baby. They want it to be the best --not just the best food -- but the best everything. They even want the experience of calling for a reservation to be a memorable one.
       
      The Path From Here
      In that spirit, the Alinea food lab opens this week. Grant refuses to promote even one of his legendary creations to 'signature dish' status. Instead of populating Alinea's menu with previous favorites from Trio or 'trial' dishes that have been only roughly tested, Grant and his team will take six months to devise, develop and perfect the dishes and delivery modes that will appear on Alinea's opening menu. When the idea of maintaining a kitchen staff for six months before the restaurant's opening was presented to its investors, in spite of the additional expense, "it seemed like a no-brainer" according to Nick. Grant is an equity partner--a true chef/owner--in the venture and there is a solid consensus among all the backers about the priority of his vision.
      * * * * *
      In addition to being one of today's foremost chefs and culinary innovators, Grant Achatz is a long-time member of eGullet, and a lively, provocative contributor to our discussion forums. Read his March, 2003 eGullet Q&A here.
      Photos courtesy Alinea
       
      eGullet member, yellow_truffle, also contributed to this report
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