What is Sous Vide Cooking?
Pronounced “soo-veed”, this is a type of cooking that involves immersing your food slowly into a vat of precisely temperature-controlled water. The meat is placed inside a vacuum-sealed bag (sous vide actually means ‘under vacuum’ in French) and gently cooked by the hot water until it reaches the perfect internal temperature.
Of course, by cooking your meat in hot water and with the steak never actualy making direct contact with a heat source, the steak will be cooked but it is going to look pretty unappetizing with zero colour. Because of this, it is the usual way to finish up your sous vide and then briefly introduce your steak to a smoking hot pan to get that colour. Exactly how you would with a reverse sear.
It may sound a little bit science fictiony but the technique has been around since the 70’s and sous-vide machines these days are remarkable inexpensive.
Steak cooked perfectly every single time? I’m in
Why Sous Vide Is Great For Steaks
When you cook using sous vide you have complete control over the temperature of the water bath that the steak is submerged in. You can set the sous vide machine to reach and maintain precise temperatures and cook the steak to the exact level of doneness that you prefer.
This eliminates the guesswork to guarantee a medium-rare temperature. No stabbing with a thermometer, no cutting and peeking, no jabbing with your finger—just perfect results every single time.
Sous vide cooking is also incredibly flexible. There is no need to stand over the pan constantly or keep a watch on the oven. With sous vide you can set the water temperature, drop in your steak, and almost “fire and forget”. Steak in sous vide can be held for about several hours without noticeable integrity loss before you finish by searing and serving, which means that your steaks are ready when you and your guests are.
Finally, sous vide offers results that are simply not attainable by traditional methods. There is a thing called temperature gradients that develop within meat cooked in a traditional way and it means that some parts of the steak or more or less “done” than other pieces. This is normal with steaks that are thinner at one end or thicker in others, muscle tissue is a non-uniform subject so trying to get uniform results with it from a single heat source is near impossible.
With a sous vide steak, your meat is evenly cooked from edge to edge.
The Best Steak For Sous Vide
Cooking with the precision of sous vide is a great method for almost any type of steak from a tender rib-eye to a more rustic cut like a skirt. You really can’t go wrong, the main thing to consider is the thickness of the steak.
Choosing the thickness of a steak is not just about how hungry you are. Without an adequately thick steak, it's very difficult to get a good contrast between exterior and interior.
A very thin steaks will overcook quickly before it has a chance to develop a good sear, even over the hottest fire you can build.
With sous vide in particular, using a thicker steak will help you maintain more of that perfectly cooked interior during the last searing process and help you to achieve a fantastic sear on your perfectly cooked steak.
As a general guideline, try to get steaks that are at least an inch and a half thick. While this is a large steak, it gives you plenty of material to work with and the contrast between the perfectly cooked interior and the seared exterior is a lot more apparent on larger steaks.
What is the right temperature for sous vide steak?
When you’re looking at the “doneness” of a steak and how to achieve it, what you’re really looking at is how hot the interior of the meat became during cooking. This may seem obvious but there are also things to consider such as the time it spends in traditional cooking methods like ovens or pans, the carry over cooking when it’s removed from a heat source, and how small of a window you have between levels such as medium rare and just medium. Things can quickly go wrong if you’re not attentive.
That’s for traditional methods anyway. With sous vide cooking, on the other hand, that window of time is stretched into hours, which means your steak will be hot and ready to go whenever you're ready to sear and serve it. All you have to be mindful of is what temperature you set your sous vide to.
Here's a rough breakdown of how your steak will end up at different temperatures.
Rare sous vide steak (120°F/49°C): The steak is still pretty much raw. It will have a very loose mouthfeel, like a jelly almost and will also be quite chewy. The fat will not have rendered and will take on a waxy texture which is not for everyone. We recommend only cooking extremely lean steaks to rare.
Medium-rare (129°F/54°C): At medium rare the steak is now a nice deep red but also has a cleaner bite thanks to the muscular fibres contracting. This contraction will pull out some of the juiciness of your steak but it will be towards the lower end. We recommend medium rare for almost every type of steak because it is a good mix of juiciness, a crisp sear, rendered fat, and not too much “blood”.
Medium sous vide steak (135°F/57°C): Your steak is a light pink from end to cap but has lost a lot more juices than it would do at rare. A piece of well marbled steak with properly rendered fat will account for the loss of juices though and extremely fatty pieces of steak should be cooked a bit over medium rare.
Medium-well sous vide steak (145°F/63°C): When your steak reaches medium-well in a sous vide, it’s lost a huge amount of its moisture and is on the verge of becoming dry. The meat will take on an almost grainy mouth-feel. If you are planning to cook steak to medium-well in a sous vide then we would suggest using fatty cuts such as short rib or skirt which are somewhat saved by their fat content.
Well-done sous vide steak (156°F/69°C+): Cooking a steak to the point of it being well done in a sous vide is largely pointless as you can just as easily put the meat into the oven and leave it. While we understand that some may like their steaks well done for various reasons, sous-vide is not the recommended option on this occasion.
Sous Vide cooking can be a little bit intimidating at first with strange looking machinery, water baths, and vacuum packs but there really is no easier way to ensure pinpoint perfect internal temperatures of meat.
The method has been tried and tested in French kitchens for almost 50 years now and the machines can be picked up very inexpensively.
We fully recommend trying sous vide cooking at least once, it will change your steak game overnight!