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Sous vide? AKA "The best tasting steak I've had in years, and it was $2.99/lb"

Discussion in 'Beer & Food' started by dante, Jan 17, 2011.

  1. dante

    dante Unabomber

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    So after hearing about this on the internet, my wife and I decided to try it. For those who don't know, it's about cooking meat for a LOOOONG time at very low temperatures. In order to kill any bacteria the meat has to be at ~130F for 2+ hours, so the thought is that you keep a tougher piece of meat at that temperature for a long period of time, and it will not only sanitize it but also allow it to tenderize as the sinews break down. Basically you "cook" it at the final temperature you want the internal steak to be, and then pan-sear it at the end. You get the temperature control via a water-bath, with the meat in an airtight package.

    The Setup

    Not wanting to drop ~$400 on a full Sous Vide cooker, we opted for the "temperature controller + crockpot" method. We purchased a Johnson Controls temperature controller that will cut power to the crockpot once it's at a certain temperature, and then turn it on after it drops below that. The benefit of this is that when we want to turn our freezer into a lagering fridge, it can do the opposite (keep a freezer/fridge at low temperatures to ensure proper lagering). The crockpot was a cheap $15 one with just the twisty knob (needed because it has to stay in the "on" position after the power gets cut and comes back on).

    The Meat

    Since the main advantage of Sous Vide is tenderizing a tough but flavorful piece of meat, we opted for chuck steak, which was ~2" thick so it was almost more of a chuck roast. Trimmed most of the large bits of fat, but that might not have been necessary since the fat was mostly intact after the cooking process. Rubbed with salt/pepper/cayenne pepper.

    The Cooking

    Put the steak into a ziplock freezer bag with as much of the air removed as possible (the true setup uses vacuum sealing), plopped into the crockpot full of water with a plate on top to keep them fully submerged. Crockpot was set on "keep warm" setting since the Hi and Lo were definitely to warm, and it would overshoot the target temperature by a couple degrees after the controller cut the power. The crockpot was set to turn off at 131, and mainly stayed between 129 and 131. We left it that way for 48 hours, stirring occasionally to ensure that each piece was in full contact with the water. When the 48 hours was over, we patted the steaks dry, then pan-seared each in a frying pan with oil, about 30sec per side (so times 4, since they were relatively cubical).

    The Result

    O...M...F...G... It was relatively tender, probably more tender than a NY strip but MUCH more flavorful. Since we're used to grilling a steak where the rub encrusts on the outside, the whole sous vide process ended up with a lot less of the rub taste, and a whole lot more of the steak taste. It was basically the epitome of "what steak should taste like". Words can not describe how good this tasted.



    The Aftermath

    So it's got us thinking, planning, and scheming for the next time we're going to cook.

    1) The chuck steak was an excellent choice, but you can go for pretty much anything that is flavorful, *or* if you just want to marinate it you can go for anything. Not sure whether we're going to try to perfect the chuck process before moving on, or whether we might try something like a marinated top round... Wife has this crazy idea that eating leaner, healthier meat would be better for us.

    2) Cooking it at 131 for 48 hours was excellent, but did leave quite a bit of fat still in the meat. We're thinking about possibly a) cooking it for another 12-24 hours to get it a bit more tender and/or b) increasing the temperature by a couple degrees towards the end to melt a bit more of the fat. Not sure what either of those results would be, but based on the first test I imagine it would be amazing.

    Anybody else try this? Any good recipes, or thoughts on what to try next? Damo? We're probably going to do pork steak tonight (since it's already tender it doesn't need to stay in the water bath anywhere near as long), and the wife is already planning on making yogurt at some point... We're also probably going to invest in a vacuum sealer, but wanted to try it out with ziploc bags to see if it worked.
     
    #1 -   Jan 17, 2011
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2011

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  2. -BB-

    -BB- I broke all the rules, but somehow still became mo

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    Haha.... that is so ironic.

    In addition to being a MtnBiker I'm also a "reefer"... no, not that.... Well, not that for this particular purpose.
    Im an AQUARIUM guy!!

    Recently I picked up a Ranco temperature controler, Similar to your Johnson one, but maybe a slight step up. Mine is also dual-stage, but that has no bearing here.
    Anyway, I posted a thread on this VERY topic, but my idea was to use one of those plug-in electric burners that college kids use isn the dorms.... Using the slow-cooker is an even better idea though since I already have one of those and I have the controler already. Plus, if needed, I also have a bunch of water pumps for the circulation.


    Plus, to top if off I have one of those "Food Saver" things that will help create the vaccuum. I hear that helps get the marinade deeper into the meat.


    So what is next? Have you thought of doing something a bit more tricky like Chicken?
     
    #2 -   Jan 17, 2011
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2011
  3. dante

    dante Unabomber

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    For us the water pumps weren't necessary, but I just wanted to stir the water once or twice per day to ensure that the pieces of meat weren't touching and preventing the water from circulating around them. I also wanted to minimize the amount of stuff going into the pot, since that meant that heat would escape. As it was I just put a towel on top of it, and it held the temperature enough that the heater only kicked on once every 45min - 1 hour. Putting it on the "keep warm" setting also was key, as when it was on "low" the crockpot would warm up too much so that even after the controller shut off the power, it got up to 134deg at one point!! :eek: For this reason you can also use a rice-cooker (ours has a metal pot instead of the ceramic) which will probably not hold the heat as much, but ours is also quite small...

    Chicken is definitely on the docket, as our local deli/butcher has great bone-in chicken breasts, *but* we wanted to start with steak since the improvement is so much greater. You also don't need to cook them anywhere near as long, since it's more about ensuring that the meat gets to the right temperature as opposed to trying to tenderize it. Probably more in the 2-4 hour range as opposed to 48 hours plus. We're experimenting with a pork steak tonight, and probably going to shoot for ~4 hours since it's already a relatively fatty and tender cut of meat.

    In all honesty, if you go by the minimum temperature / time guidelines by the FDA you really can't screw it up. Just poke around for cooking times/temperatures, and go from there. Let us know how it turns out. :)
     
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    -BB- I broke all the rules, but somehow still became mo

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    So your Johnson controler can be changed from a Heat to a Cool setting... that is nice. Some are Heat only or Cool only, some can do either (like your s I guess), but you need to choose (ie, only one at a time), or for the fish tanks you usually use a dual-stage that will control both a heater and a "cooler" (chiller or fan). The last one is what I have since I need it to heat at night and cool during the day. the 1 degree temp dif is also very nice to have.



    Anyway, I was looking around and you can get a vaccuum bag food saver for about $75

    http://www.foodsaver.com/Product.aspx?id=c&cid=87&pid=8309
     
  5. DamienC

    DamienC Turbo Monkey

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    My parents bought us an electric fondue pot for Christmas and my first thought upon receiving it was to try to use it as a poor man's sous vide setup. I tested it out the other day and it was able to hold a water bath at a temperature set point +/- 2 deg. or so. Promising! I think our first sous vide experiment will be with salmon.
     
  6. -BB-

    -BB- I broke all the rules, but somehow still became mo

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    Hmm... good point. There are TWO things that you can accomplish with these. #1 being just getting someting to a desired temp to kill any parasites w/o getting to TOO high where you will start to denature the proteins. #2 being the "tenderness" factor. Getting meats to break down the tendons and stuff.

    :thumb:
     
  7. -BB-

    -BB- I broke all the rules, but somehow still became mo

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    Let us know how it goes with the pork tonight.
     
  8. dante

    dante Unabomber

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    Mine fluctuated between 129 and 131. It was set to go off at 131 and come back on at 130, but it would still cool down to 129 before the unit heated up enough to raise the temperature. Technically the FDA states that the food has to be at 130deg to kill off the bacteria, but I like living on the dangerous side of things... :rockout:

    This is a good website with recipes and cooking times, especially for the various cuts of beef...

    After reading a pork chop recipe on that site, I'm actually starting the pork now, and shooting for dinner at ~7pm (so 7 hours cooking time at 145deg). Will post a follow-up/pictures.
     
  9. TN

    TN Hey baby, want a hot dog?

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    been reading about this lately. very interested.
    It is cool you can use a crockpot.
    there was a vacuum sealer on woot the other day for $20...almost got it.
     
  10. dante

    dante Unabomber

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    So had the pork tonight, and the result was not as spectacular as last night, but definitely a good starting place. I think that either a longer heat time (or very possibly a higher temperature??) would get them to be more tender. The cut was a pork steak, which I *think* is just a steak-shaped piece of pork tenderloin. Regardless, it's a relatively fatty, moderately tender piece of meat. Based on (a huge and completely random set of) directions I found on the internet, I cooked at 145 for 6 hours, removed and pan seared. Also took photos. :)

    Sous vide setup as the water was coming up to temperature. Best to start with hot water, since it's not coming into direct contact with food, and will heat faster.

    $15 cheap-o crockpot from Farm&Fleet



    Temperature controller.



    Pork steak (pre-seasoned from the local deli, primarily garlic and pepper)



    Our expensive, intricate "heat retention device", aka towel.



    Pan searing.



    Done.



    Nice and pink. The area around the bone was even more so, but with the claims that we don't have to worry about trichinosis anymore, I'm fully willing to take that chance.



    We're not sure about how we want to cook it the next time. In the past we've just grilled this cut, and it's turned out fine... So not really sure, although we might try slightly lower temperature (140deg) for longer, maybe 12 hours? Shrug, who knows, we'll figure it out. But the big thing is picking up a nice, thick, juicy chuck steak to start Wed morning to be ready on Friday night.
     
  11. Damo

    Damo Short One Marshmallow

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    I'm intrigued.

    Where did you get the temperature controller?

    edit: just saw and looking into getting one!
     
    #11 -   Jan 18, 2011
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2011
  12. dante

    dante Unabomber

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    As an FYI, there are more expensive ones that can hold the temperature to a much tighter range (to 0.1deg), as opposed to the 1-1.5deg swing that mine was getting. If you're looking into using it in a professional setting, might be worth spending the extra cash? Think those started ~$150...
     
  13. ridiculous

    ridiculous Turbo Monkey

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    Oh man thats awesome! I am definitely trying this.
     
  14. dante

    dante Unabomber

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    As an FYI, I amended my first post since I originally had written "put steak into two ziploc bags" and that might have been confusing. It only went into two ziploc bags because we'd trimmed a lot of the excess fat running through the middle, and so ended up with two steaks. Don't double-bag it, since that will create an air pocket which can insulate the meat and not get it up to temperature.
     
  15. TN

    TN Hey baby, want a hot dog?

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    last night I saw someone make sous vide fried chicken. not sure on exactly how they did it (temp, time, etc..) but it sounded wonderful.
     
  16. ridiculous

    ridiculous Turbo Monkey

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    how much did you pay for your temp controller?
     
  17. dante

    dante Unabomber

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    $77 on Amazon. You can get a cheaper one for ~$50, but then you have to hard-wire it yourself (ie, cut the cord on the crockpot to wire it through the temperature controller.

    Also, if anyone is interested in trying this, you can do it with just a cooler and a meat thermometer for higher-end cuts of meat. So if you're looking to cook a ribeye, for example, heat water on the stove to just above your target temperature (maybe ~4deg higher than your target?). Ensure that it's enough water to completely fill the cooler with the meat inside (less air trapped at the top of the cooler means less temperature loss). Season steak, put in ziploc/vacuum sealed bag, and put into cooler filled with hot water. The water will drop ~1deg per hour, but since you're only looking to bring the meat up to temperature (instead of trying to tenderize it), it only takes ~1 hour for a 1" steak to fully come to temperature.

    After the hour, remove steak, pat dry and either grill or pan-sear for 30sec per side and you're done. I haven't tried this, but did read about it when perusing for sous vide steak recipes...
     
  18. -BB-

    -BB- I broke all the rules, but somehow still became mo

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    Thank you for that important clarification. I was picturing a "double bag" setup.
    :thumb:
     
  19. -BB-

    -BB- I broke all the rules, but somehow still became mo

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    Oh, and btw, I was watching something somewhere that was talking about how AWESOME a Sous-vied turkey is.
     
  20. OGRipper

    OGRipper Turbo Monkey

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  21. dante

    dante Unabomber

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  22. dante

    dante Unabomber

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    Update on "experiments in sous vide cooking":

    Yogurt. Yogurt's relatively simple to make (heat milk to 185deg to kill pretty much anything in it, cool, add live cultures (from any available yogurt), and hold at 110deg for 7-8 hours to allow the cultures to propagate throughout the milk). It's the last bit that's the hardest, since if you have it on the stove you have to keep a sharp eye on it. However, with the sous vide setup being able to hold it at 110 is simple, and you don't even have to be around to keep an eye on it. Furthermore, you can just use a cup of your new yogurt when you want to make *more*, meaning your cost for a 1/2 gallon of good yogurt comes out to whatever the cost is for a gallon of milk. Yogurt came out *excellent*.

    Marinated Bottom Round. Round is usually tough *and* flavorless, so we picked up a nondescript marinade (I think it was called "beef and pork marinade with garlic and pepper") and decided to give it a shot. We cut a bottom round roast into 2 "steaks" (only used one, going to have the other tomorrow), combined with marinade and cooked at 130deg for 24h. Results were.... ok. The steak was very tender (I wouldn't cook it for any longer or it would've turned to mush), but it was definitely lacking in flavor. We used the marinade sparingly, but since we didn't vacuum-seal it I don't think that it really penetrated the meat. We'll be looking at doing our own marinade (and more of it) for the 2nd half of the round.

    Also looking at picking up some short ribs, which are apparently amazing. What's most interesting is that that recipe has the ribs cooked at 133deg for the first 60 hours, and then raised to 145 for the last 12h.
     
  23. TN

    TN Hey baby, want a hot dog?

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    Interesting on the yogurt tip. I was jsut reading about hacking a slow cooker to make a yogurt maker here.
     
  24. Greyhound

    Greyhound Trail Rat

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    I haven't been over to these boards in a bit, and just caught this thread.

    I've been beer-cooler sous vide cooking for a few years now, and swear by it for many things.

    The beer cooler method is fantastic, and very controllable. Just a regular beer cooler from Wal-Mart will do just fine. Here's my whole setup:



    **Caution: Innuendo-heavy dialogue follows**

    Step 1.) Get a big pot of water going on medium heat.

    Step 2.)Whip out your meat. Say we're doing a steak...get a thick one. Don't f*ck around-we're sous-vide cooking, so it's going to be perfect. Season it to your liking. Avoid wet marinades as you'll get the moisture of the steak and the moisture of the marinade going together and the two just end up watering each other down.

    Step 3.) Take your seasoned meat and put it in a gallon-sized vacuum seal bag. Seal. If you don't have a vacuum sealer, put your meat in a heavy duty ziplock and submerge into water just to underneath the seal line. The water will compress the air out and you zip it shut.

    Step 4.) Remember that pot of water in step 1? You didn't put it on high, did you? Good, because we're looking for water temps of about 140-150 deg. Steak is perfectly rare at 125deg for about 1.5-2hrs(you can go for many more hours, but I'm ready to eat, dammit!). Medium is about 130 and well is 135-140. You can see that the temps do not have to vary by much to get to your desired finish -- that's why I prefer the cooler over anything else, because it's very accurate at holding temperatures. Just as it can keep beer cold, it can keep things warm just as well. Ignore fondue pots or crock pots or ovens as they cycle temps at too much of a variance for what we're looking for here. Just trust me.

    Step 5.) OK....so I said steak is great at 125deg for 1.5-2 hrs. I like 'em rare, so that's what I'm going to shoot for in this example. Take the steak in the vacuum sealed bag and plop it in the cooler. Remember that water is getting up to about 150 degrees, right? I know, I know....125deg is rare, why are you going to 150, dude? Because, when you put your steak in there, and the thermometer, plus the temperature of the cooler, you're going to lose about 25 degrees with all of those objects in there getting up to temperatures. Or, at least that's what I have found to be the case for my particular set-up, yours may vary depending on what you have.

    Step 6.) Put your thermometer in the cooler and pour about 75% of your water in. Leave the other 25% to put on the stove to add hot water to adjust cooking temperature. How did you do? Are you at 125deg? Too low? Bring that water on the stove over and add more. Too high? Easy fix. A couple of ice-cubes stirred in brings temps down very gradually. Once you are at desired temp, shut the cooler and go do something else.

    Step 7.) Get skillet hot....hot, dammit! Take meat out and sear a bit and off you go. Chow down, enjoy.

    I know that sounds like a lot of steps, but when you look at it simplistically, seal food, put food in hot water at temperature, eat food... is pretty easy.


    Tips:)

    -Chicken is absolutely melt-in-your-mouth perfect at 140-143 for at least 2.5 hours. Seriously, it's the best you've ever had. No need for searing. Say you're cooking for a bunch of people like at a BBQ or something in the evening: Put a bunch in the cooler around lunchtime, and just break 'em out when you're ready to serve. Pop them onto a hot grill for some marks, and you'll have everyone believing you're the next Emeril.

    -My cooler loses about 1 degree in temp every 2hrs or so. That's pretty good, and way better than crock pots, ovens or fondue pots. Unless you have a sous-vide cooker, this is the next best thing hands-down. I can get mine to temp, and just go check on it every hour or so just to make sure things are still good.

    -Steak: Rare-125 for 1 hr
    Medium - 128 for 1 hr
    Well - 130 for 1 hr.
    -Chicken: 140 deg for 2.5 hrs
    -Salmon: 115deg for 1 hr.
    -Pork Tenderloin: 145 for at least 2hrs.


    Any questions?
     
  25. TN

    TN Hey baby, want a hot dog?

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  26. -BB-

    -BB- I broke all the rules, but somehow still became mo

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    Probably to break down all that connective tissue and sinue inthe short-rib.
     
  27. dante

    dante Unabomber

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    Oh. Yeah, about that. We made that a couple weeks ago, and it might have been *THE* absolute best meal I've ever had. Home-cooked or purchased. It was.... phenomenal. If anyone has a sous-vide setup, I **HIGHLY** suggest trying the short ribs.
     
  28. TN

    TN Hey baby, want a hot dog?

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    I might have missed this, but how do you keep the meat fully submerged?
    does it sink if you get all the air out of the bag?
     
  29. Westy

    Westy the teste

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    i uze ledd sinckers. Worcks greyt.
     
  30. Greyhound

    Greyhound Trail Rat

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    It should sink, if not, a plate on top will do the trick. Do yourself a solid and get the vacuum sealer...it's worth it.

    Did some boneless chops this weekend...2.5hrs @ 140deg. OMGeeeee!!!
     
  31. dante

    dante Unabomber

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    We used a plate at first, but we've figured out how to get almost all of the air out of the bag without a vacuum sealer: remove as much air as you can (normally) and mostly close the ziploc bag, leaving about 2" "unzipped". Put a finger or two into the opening to hold it open, and then slowly submerge into the water, keeping just the open part above water. The weight of the water will force all of the air out, and and then just close the ziploc bag. It probably gets 99% of the air out of the bag.

    We've found that when you do that, the meat will sink to the bottom of the crockpot on it's own. :thumb:
     
  32. TN

    TN Hey baby, want a hot dog?

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    gave the beer cooler method a shot. my beer cooler is all wrong & loses too much heat so I had to stay on top of it. boo that.
    my chops turned out damn good though. will be better once i get a proper cooler.
     
  33. dante

    dante Unabomber

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    Did you fill up the cooler completely with warm/hot water? Any air is going to lose heat faster than if it's full of water. Also, maybe try putting the entire cooler into a warm oven (~100deg)? Might lose less heat than if it's in a cold house.
     
  34. dante

    dante Unabomber

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    So finally made chicken breasts tonight... and completely cocked it up. I was shooting for 140deg for 1.5-2 hours. Well, I went to start cooking and the chicken was still *solidly* frozen, and it was ~2 hours from when we wanted to eat. So put the (frozen) chicken in the crockpot with hot tap water, set the control unit to 141deg, and waited about 20min. I checked the water and it was only at 104. Crap. The frozen chicken was cooling down the water, even though the crockpot was on the "high" setting. Huh.

    Well I was heading out for a ride (meeting up with the wife who was riding home), and left the crockpot as-was, with the setting on "high". According to this site it needed to cook for an hour at 146, or 1.5-2 hours at 140 according to other websites. To kill the salmonella you need to hold it at 140deg (the whole breast) for 28-35min, and so I was going to check it when I got home, and if it was over 140 I was just going to keep it there for another 1/2 hour.

    .......... I screwed something up. Stuck a meat thermometer in and it read 156. WTF? I have a feeling that with the crockpot set on "high" it WAY overshot the desired temperature. Or the plate on top of the chicken was holding it against the hot crockpot (frozen chicken breast floats). Something caused it to go ~15deg above where I wanted it to. Fawk. Ended up leaving it in for another hour (back at 140) while we were getting everything else together, saute'd it and...


    Success. OMG, soft, juicy, chicken breast, cooked all the way through, *perfectly* done. Really couldn't ask for much more. Had it with some Marsala sauce and pasta, and it was excellent. My wife's only complaint is that it wasn't seasoned/flavorful enough. When you do roast chicken, you get the carrots, potatoes, butter, etc flavoring the meat, but this was just a little plain. Might try to do a bit of a brine next time, or possibly throw something else in with the breasts to give them a little flavor. But as far as perfectly cooking chicken this was pretty much it. It was in the hot water for ~2.5 hours, from fully frozen till we took it out to saute' it.

    Sorry no pictures. Ate too fast.
     
    #34 -   Mar 16, 2011
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2011
  35. Westy

    Westy the teste

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    I plan on wiring an Arduino controller to control my crockpot.
     
  36. Westy

    Westy the teste

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    Just made a steak with a ghetto sous vide setup. Just warmed up some water in the largest pot I had and figured out that the lowest setting on the stovetop would maintain the water at 135 degrees. Dropped the steak in and two hours later it was awesome. Had to turn up the heat a little bit at first as the cold steak dropped the water temp. Used a digital cooking thermometer with an alarm to let me know when I had to drop the heat. It required a little bit of monitoring but a lot less than when baking something. Pretty easy to do with little more than a $20 temp gauge. Seared for a minute on both side when taken out of the bath. It was the best cooked steak I have ever made.
     
  37. Greyhound

    Greyhound Trail Rat

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    Please reference post #24.

    Unless you have a sous vide cooker at home, just vacuum seal it, and put it in the cooler. This method of cooking has been tried lots of ways...rigging your crock pot, thermostat-rigging your oven, monitoring hot water on a stove....all of it is just reinventing the wheel, folks.

    Food, sealer, hot water, thermometer and a cooler. That's all you need to feed a massive amount of horseshoe-throwin', beer-drinkin' dregs of society. Did a cookout recently and I made up 2 dozen chicken breasts seasoned and sealed six to a pack. Dumped 'em into the cooler and hit it with 160 degree water.

    Let it sit for a few minutes so that the heat is dissipated throughout all objects in the cooler. Temps settled right at 142...which is fine. I'll lose a few degrees over the course of the 6 hours I had them in the cooler. I snuck about a quart of hot water back in there after about 4 hours just for good measure.

    When I pulled them out of the package and seared 'em on the already scorching grill, there was lots of questions about my technique, but everybody got really f'ing quiet when the poultry hit their pie holes. When they go this long, you can literally cut the chicken by staring really hard at it.

    I would be more than happy to help anybody out in getting started cooking like this. Like I said, I've been doing this for several years now, so I'm used to it.
     
  38. dante

    dante Unabomber

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    Mmmmm, chicken sous vide. The only thing we've noticed is that we need to figure out either a brine / marinade solution or just rely on a sauce. Usually when we grill or roast chicken, a lot of the flavor comes from the cooking method, but with sous vide there really isn't a whole lot of time to get flavor into the meat.

    Cooked at 141 for 2 hours, and then pan-seared at ~ a minute/side. Next time we're going to cut back on the searing, since it might've overcooked the outsides (I was worried since it was semi-frozen when we put it in).



    With a simple mushroom sauce.



    There are some short-ribs in it now (have been for the last 24h), and only have another 48h to go.... (pictures will follow)
     
  39. Nobody

    Nobody Danforth Kitchen Whore

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    I strongly recommend a basic brine. It's f'n magic on chicken. And turkey. And pork.
     
  40. sstalder5

    sstalder5 Turbo Monkey

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    Giving Greyhound's cooler method a try as we speak. Doing an organic grassfed ribeye for 5 hours at ~128*. I'm sitting in class right now almost drooling in anticipation.. :drool: