The first thing most of the sous vide beginners will try as an ultimate cooking test is the all-time favorite beef steak. Lots of people are scared of cooking a steak at home, because there is plenty of room to mess things up, especially when an expensive prime cut of meat is on the line. We will guide you step by step, so you will be able to eliminate all the potential threats and always end up with a perfect result.
Ingredients (2 servings):
- 1 lb (0.5 kg) of your favorite cut of beef (Rib-eye, Filet Mignon, NY strip)
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) of kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) of garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) of freshly ground black pepper
- 1 twig of thyme or rosemary
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of olive oil
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) of unsalted butter
- a pinch of finishing Maldon salt
- Selecting the Best Meat
- Getting prepared for cooking (
Mise en place)
- Cooking sous vide – Temperatures and Time
- Finishing the steak
Step 1: Selecting the Best Meat
Before you even start to think about cooking a perfect steak, you need to select a proper cut of meat from your local grocery store or butcher. But how can one determine which piece of meat is good for cooking and which is not worth even looking at, when there are so many different cuts and meat grades? There are a few rules about how to make a qualified choice. This step is most crucial in the whole process.
Cuts of the Meat
When looking for a great steak, first, you need to realize which cuts of beef are suitable for it. You will surely need to choose the tender parts, which do not need to be cooked for a long time. For your first steak prepared with sous vide, it would be appropriate to select one from the following: filet mignon/tenderloin (lean, most tender), rib-eye steak (bit fatty, flavorful) or New York strip/sirloin (less fatty, flavorful). Make sure that it is somewhere between 1″ (2.5 cm) and 2″ (5 cm) thick.
Age of the Cattle
One factor that has a direct impact on the quality is the age of the cattle, which the meat was sourced from. A younger animal usually provides more tender meat, but also less flavorful. This information usually is provided on the product label, and you should look for beef aged somewhere between 18 and 36 months. Once more: A younger animal gives more tender meat, while an older animal guarantees more intense beefy taste.
It is a property connected to the wellbeing of the animal and the conditions, which it was raised under. You can visually evaluate the quality of marbling by looking at the part, where the meat was cut against the grain. Beef with more intramuscular fat (marbling) should be more tender and have a much more pronounced beef flavor. Here it may not be intuitive for beginners because the golden rule is the following:
Fat equals flavor. And the reason is quite simple – the fat renders during the cooking process, so the meat is being cooked in its own fat, which makes it more flavorful and tender.
The Grading System
Some countries have developed official methods, that helps customers to get oriented in the different quality grades of the meat. For example, US citizens can make qualified decisions thanks to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Beef Grading System. Beef that is given a higher grade (like Prime) is usually from a younger cattle and has more intramuscular fat (marbling), so therefore it would be more tender and flavorful.
On top of the things that were mentioned above, there is one of the most crucial factors of how to select a great cut of meat. Meat aging is a process when your butcher or specialized producer leave the meat on the bone in a controlled environment and keep it aging for several weeks. During that period, the natural enzymatic processes start to break down the connective tissue, which leads to the more tender meat. The moisture is also pulled out, so the more intense beef taste is achieved. Next time you will be selecting your steak, search at least somewhere between 14-28 days of aging.
Step 2: Getting Prepared for Cooking (
Mise en place)
When you have a great piece of meat like a 28 days dry-aged rib-eye steak, there is not much needed to end up with a perfect steak. However, a few things extra can be done to enhance the beefy flavor and upgrade the steak to an entirely different level.
- Salt, garlic powder and freshly ground black pepper to season the steak
- Twig of rosemary or thyme
- Few cloves of garlic
- A little bit of olive oil and a knob of unsalted butter
Before you begin, season your steak generously with salt, garlic powder, and freshly ground black pepper. You may put some of the aromatics into the sous vide bag (a twig of rosemary or thyme). Seal the bag, and you are ready to start cooking. It’s important to emphasize one thing – do not add the butter or more significant amounts of olive oil into the bag. That will dilute the beef flavor significantly, so you better keep them for later.
Step 3: Cooking Sous Vide – Temperature and Time
Now let’s examine the essential step in your sous vide cooking – how to set the optimal temperature and how long to cook your steak for. Below you can see a time and temperature table which shows you exact numbers and ranges for your beef steak. You may also use your sous vide application if your device manufacturer provides one.
|Very Rare to Rare||120 °F (49 °C) to 128 °F (53 °C)|
|Medium-Rare||129 °F (54 °C) to 134 °F (57 °C)|
|Medium||135 °F (57 °C) to 144 °F (62 °C)|
|Medium-Well||145 °F (63 °C) to 155 °F (68 °C)|
|Well-Done||156 °F (69 °C) and up|
|Note: These temperatures and timings apply for beef only|
Also, it is often said by many, that the fattier cuts like rib eye tend to taste better when the cooking temperatures are set slightly higher (around medium). In contrast to that, the leaner cuts like tenderloin are better to be cooked at a lower temperature (medium-rare to rare). The higher temperatures allow the fat to render, which adds a lot of flavor to your meat and tenderizes it. You also don’t want to chew into undercooked or even raw pieces of fat in your steak.
There is not much else to say here, this is the most straightforward part of the whole process thanks to your sous vide device.
Step 4: Finishing the Steak
Your steak has spent the required time cooking on the desired temperature, so its time to pull it out and make the finishing touches now. Put your skillet (preferably a cast-iron one) on the stove and let it heat up. After you open the bag, pull your steak out using tongs and lay it on a paper towel. Keep the juices that have been trapped inside the bag for later use.
Pat the meat dry with a paper towel all over and wait until the pan is scorching hot and starts smoking. Pour about one tablespoon of olive oil into the pan. Place your steak immediately into the pan and sear it for about one minute on the first side. You are looking for nice brown crust covering the whole surface, so when it is formed, flip your steak to the other side. Keep the steak searing for about 45 seconds, then add a big knob of butter, three or four garlic cloves (you may leave the skin on to prevent it from going bitter), and a twig of rosemary or thyme. Lower the heat to avoid the butter and garlic from burning and baste your steak using a large spoon and pouring the bubbling butter over the steak. The crust will form all over after a minute or so. The steak will be infused with all the aromatics and should be ready to be taken out.
Place the steak onto your cutting board, cover it with aluminum foil, and let it rest for few minutes. When your steak is resting, get rid of the excess fat from the pan, leaving all the brown bits that formed on the bottom (sediments). Keep the garlic and the herbs in the skillet too. Increase the heat to the maximum and deglaze (boil-off) the pan with the juices that you reserved. You may scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon. After a minute or two, depending on the initial volume, you should end up with a simple sauce, and with your steak correctly rested.
You may cut your steak to manageable pieces right before serving, place them on a pre-heated plate, and add the pan sauce (jus). It is also desirable to season your steak at this final stage again with some flaky salt. You get an ultimate umami bomb with some of the flavored ones, like with our real all-time favorite Maldon sea salt, which we highly recommend to enjoy especially with beef steaks.