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Final Thoughts on Sous Vide Steaks and A Lobster Attempt

Okay, so, for me, the two reasons for owning a sous vide are the ability to make the perfect steak and also the perfect egg. With a couple of weeks under my belt, I kind of feel like I have a handle on those two things and I am ready to move on.

I am now bucking the common opinion that a 64C egg is the perfect egg and, for us anyway, the perfect egg is the 75C for 14 minute egg (based on a a large sized egg that weighs approx 65g straight from the fridge). I have tried it a number of times and it produces a delightful poached egg with a fairly solid white but the yolk is still soft and creamy - most importantly, no icky, wiggly undercooked stragglers in the whites.

The other thing that we have had consistent success with is steak. The only wrench was the day we did the flank steak but didn't check times/temps until a couple of hours before dinner and hadn't factored in the crazy long cooking time but even though we ate a day late, the steak was delicious. Barring flank steak, generally all other steaks are cooked the same way.

two sous vide baths going at once??? Go me!

A New Sous Vide Cooker Has Entered The Fold 

Because I am the luckiest woman I know, his week, I received another Sous Vide Cooker, this time from Sansaire . The Sansaire cooker is also consistently in the top three cookers in every test drive so I am really excited to see what this one is like. Having TWO heaters also means that I could cook two different things that require different water temperatures for the same meal. Is this totally decadent? Of course, but it is also very cool. After using this myself I am going to be handing it over to Craig Wong of Patois , one of the hottest new restaurants in Toronto and he is going to use it for a while and let us know what he thinks of it.

Craig not only trained at the famous Institut Paul Bocuse in France ( here is an article about Craig in the school's newsletter if you speak French) but he also worked under Heston Blumenthal  at Fat Duck. Blumenthal is world renowned for his scientific approach to cooking and a pioneer of sous vide cooking, so the guy knows his way around a sous vide and therefore, so does Craig Wong.

Craig will put the Sansaire through it's paces

Sous Vide Steak

Last night we did a strip loin and a ribeye just to see if it would make a big difference, since we almost exclusively buy strip loins.

I put both steaks,pretty much brought to room temperature, in their air tight bags with a pat of butter and some kosher salt and pepper and cooked them at 132F/55.5C for 2 hours (they were quite thick).

all snug as bugs in rugs in their bags with butter pillows, bags labeled and ready to go in the sous vide bath

When I first removed the ribeye after it's two hour soak, I was worried that it felt way too soft and expected to cut into a raw steak. I had Shack use a blow torch on it instead of searing it in a pan and this was a great choice, especially because there is such a thick strip of fat on the outside. We sat the steak on a metal cooling rack set on a baking tray and torched the snot out of it for a couple of minutes and then, when we cut into it, it was, in fact, an absolutely perfect medium rare steak.

strip loin after 2 hrs at 132F/55.5C and a torching

ribeye after 132F/55.5C and a torching

after pan frying and blow torching, I am sold on the torch

The strip loin was also torched, also perfect although it felt much firmer when I removed it from the water bath. I would say the strip loin may have been just a tiny bit more well done than the ribeye, but not by very much. At this point, we are all sold on the torch but are anxiously awaiting temperatures that will allow us to venture outdoors and fire up the charcoals and throw our sous vide steaks on a super hot grill for a minute per side to get a nice char on them.

Important Steak points:

Cooking Times and Temps:
I like this guide from Modernist Cooking - they give two temperatures and the range for least amount of time in the water to the longest time you can leave it in. 

Pretty much the only cuts we like to eat are in the 2+ hour category (apart from our beloved flank steak of course)

Basically, my perfect temperature is 133F and I cook the steaks at least 2 hours instead of getting a ruler out to figure out how many mm thick my steaks are. If your steaks look really thick, cook them for closer to 3 hours to be safe and call it a day.

Regarding food safety - If you are cooking at a temperature that is under 55C/130F, you are not supposed to cook the food for longer than 4 hours. If you like your steak rare and want to cook it at a temperature of 130F or lower, keep that in mind but knowing that holding the meat longer than the minimum cooking time will only help to make the meat more tender, I would say to budget between 3- 3 3/4 hours for your steaks to make life easier and safer.

Re: Torching vs Pan Searing- 
You MUST dry the steak off after it comes out of the bag, before you sear. You should never grill, sear or broil wet meat. I remove the steaks from the vacuum sealed bags to a plate with a paper towel on it and pat both sides with it.

Shack said that he approached the torching like he would approach removing paint with a heat gun. Keep the flame moving so that you aren't actually going to "cook" the meat anymore and just keep sort of pushing the flame along until it's nice and seared. Now, if, like me, you have never used a heat gun to strip paint, just keep the flame moving constantly over the meat and you should be good.

When I have pan seared, I get that little ring of well done, grey meat around the top and bottom but that didn't happen as much with the torch. 

If you love a good gadget and if you are wanting a sous vide cooker, clearly you do, this seerzall is a great toy. It turns a torch into a portable salamander or broiler and it's amazing. Watch their kickstarter video on youtube here and then Watch David Chang  wield the seerzall to actually cook a piece of salmon for fun at 2 mins 29 seconds.

The next time we do steak, Shack wants to try adding kosher salt to the steak right before he sears it for some reason. I will report back.

Butter in the bag vs no butter: After reading testimonials for and against adding butter to the steak when you seal it and trying it both ways, we both like it with butter. I can't give you a sciencey answer for that, we just do. I mean, when is food NOT better with a pat of butter?

Sous Vide Lobster Take 1

Okay, so we are feeling confident about our steak game. Let's move on to the lobster, which, for some crazy reason, cost me $27. I am used to buying lobsters in Chinatown for somewhere between $6.99 and $9.00/lb so I almost fell over when this little guy was weighed and bagged and the gentleman announced $27. I have never paid $17/lb before and I almost refused to buy it but I really, really wanted to try doing a lobster. Unfortunately, this also put a zillion times more pressure on me to NOT screw it up.

So, I spent a couple of hours reading up on sous vide lobster times and temperatures and was left absolutely confused. Thomas Keller says to cook at 59.9C/139F for 15 minutes. We should all be able to trust Thomas Keller, no?

The first blog I read was this one where he says that Chef Keller's method is terrible and that the only way to cook a lobster is 46C/115F

The Anova site says to cook it for 30 minutes at 54C/129F but if that blogger said that 15 minutes at 115F was perfect, what was twice the time at a higher temperature going to get me?

Modernist Cooking wants me to cook lobster tails at 60C/140F for non sushi grade lobster for 30 minutes! If Thomas Keller is right this temperature sounds okay but it cooks for twice as long and if the first blogger is right, this will give me a $27 tennis ball.

This was a great discussion on this confounding topic that I found on reddit and Kenji from Serious Eats used to cook them at 130 but now cooks them at 135 which is slightly lower than Keller but higher than the Anova recipe and the original blogger who cooks at 46C115F, which is, by far, the lowest temperature in the range.

So, Thomas Keller is too warm, The blogger is too cold, but something in the middle might be juuuuuust right. I decided to cut the difference, set my Sansaire for 138F/58.9C and I cooked it for 20 minutes which was 5 minutes longer than Thomas Keller but 10 minutes shorter than many of the other recipes. This was clearly not the most scientific method but it was getting late, I was tired and I just wanted to eat at that point.

First you need a healthy, live lobster (or you can pay more $$ and buy just the tails if you like and who am I to judge? I just paid $27 for one little lobster that yielded a disappointingly small piece of tail meat)

Here is a good video that demonstrates how to kill the lobster, which is something you really want to do before you cook it.

I threw the lobster in a pot of boiling water for about two minutes so that I could remove the shell more easily because peeling the shell from a raw lobster is very difficult, so the quick par boil is important.

I removed the lobster from the pot and threw it immediately into an ice bath to cool it and stop the cooking process and then I proceeded to crack the shell and get the meat out. The tail is easy and it came out in one piece after cutting through the soft underside with kitchen shears but I had a bit of a hard time with the claws and knuckles so I ended up with an assortment of chunks. I hope you have better luck than me.

I put the lobster in a zip lock bag with some salted butter and sprigs of thyme, removing the air with a straw inserted in the zip lock. I would have used my Food Saver but I didn't have any small bags left and my $$$$ lobster ended up yielding a small amount of flesh, so I used a zip lock.

When it was time to cook, I threw it in my 138F/58.9C water bath and cooked it for 20 minutes.

After I removed the bag, everything but the tail and one claw sort of fell apart so I chopped all of that up and I served the chopped lobster meat on top of baked potatoes, drizzling the lobster butter from the bag over the top. I then sliced up the tail as well as I could and we just ate that on it's own, with a little bit of the butter from the bag as well.

I am not sure what I think about the lobster at this point. I think that the tail might have been a bit mushy, which could be a result of the extra 5 minutes of cooking time. It didn't slice cleanly so I was left with chunks, rather than slices. The boys said the lobster tasted good and they both LOVED the chopped lobster and butter on the baked potato but I am not there yet. I am going to have to wait for the price of lobster to go back down before I start to really explore the right method because that was a very expensive experiment. The other complaint was that the lobster wasn't hot but I don't think we ever eat lobster hot - this could have been improved by serving it with the butter heated up, perhaps.

So, at the end of the day, steak is a consistent win but the lobster is a work in progress. 

Both my Sansaire and my Anova Sous Vide Cookers were given to me free of charge so that I could use them and share my thoughts about them. My opinions, as always, are absolutely my own.

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