This article was first published on 19 March 2018 and updated on 16 February 2021.
Think about a plump, juicy, perfectly cooked steak the whole way through. Now image achieving that perfect cook, every time.
Enter the world of sous vide cooking.
Pronounced “soo-veed”, this is a method of cooking that involves immersing your food slowly into a temperature-controlled water bath. The meat is sealed inside a vacuum-sealed bag (sous vide actually means ‘under vacuum’ in French) and gently cooked in water over a period of time.
The steak is then finished off with a quick sear in a pan, but it is the temperature of the water bath that determines the final doneness of your steak.
The technique might sound fancy, but sous vide cooking is actually much simpler than it sounds.
When did sous vide become popular?
The act of preserving and cooking food in a sealed cover has been around for a long time (think back to when food was wrapped in leaves or stored in fat and salt). But it wasn’t until the 1970s, when French food scientist Bruno Goussault developed the first sous vide gadget, that the modern technique of sous vide was born.
In more recent years, sous vide cooking has increased in popularity, thanks to cooking shows and the antics of celebrity chefs around the world.
Why sous vide produces a better steak
The sous vide method relies on a device called an immersion circulator that allows you to perfectly control the cook of your beef, taking out most of the guesswork of cooking. Sous vide removes all of the air out of the bag, so when the proteins break down the juices remain inside, producing a moist and tender steak.
Not just for fancy restaurants and top chefs, this cooking method is ideal for those who either tend to overcook meat, or who simply want more time to focus on other things when they cook.
The benefits of sous vide steak are:
Cooking meat the traditional way over high heat has lots of variables that can affect the outcome – things like what cut of steak you are cooking and how many, whether the meat is at room temperature or straight out of the fridge, and how thick or thin each piece is. These variables can often result in more overdone or dry steak, especially if you are cooking more than one at a time.
When you sous vide, every steak – no matter its dimensions – produces a perfectly even temperature and colour from edge to edge. There’s no need to use a meat thermometer, poke it with your finger or cut off a piece to check whether it is done. This makes sous vide a perfect method for home cooks who get anxious about cooking time.
When cooking steak on the grill or in the oven, you are required to monitor it constantly to check for overcooking and done-ness. Leave your steak on the pan for an extra two minutes and dinner can be ruined.
Sous vide cooking brings food to a precise temperature and keeps it there, so you can benefit from the looser time restraints. Guests running late? Unexpected dinner delays? Got three small kids? With sous vide you can keep your steaks in the water bath and go about your afternoon, until you’re ready to quickly sear and serve.
Sous vide cooking can turn tough, collagen-heavy cuts into perfectly tender meat. By leaving your steak in a hot water bath at a low temperature for a long period of time, you can achieve the same tenderising effect as braising. Sous vide preserves the natural flavours of the steak without the juices escaping, guaranteeing a moist and tender eating experience.
Read next: Recipe: 24-hour Sous Vide Beef Short Ribs
Are there any food safety concerns with sous vide?
There have been some concerns raised around cooking in low-grade plastic, cooking at low temperatures and bacteria caused from cooking with plastic bags. However a considerable amount of research has been done on sous vide cooking and experts have determined that it is safe, thanks to its precision and control. But, there are a few tips you can follow to ensure you are cooking sous vide safely.
- Use only recommended food-safe plastic bags for sous vide. Freezer ziplock bags do the trick and are perfectly safe.
- Ensure your bags stay submerged during the cooking process
- Cook at or above 130ºF/54ºC to reduce risk of bacteria
- Don’t sous vide raw garlic
How to sous vide steak
Cooking steak sous vide is a two step process: first, sealing your steak inside a vacuum-sealed bag and cooking it to temperature inside the water bath; then searing it to render any fat and develop colour, flavour and texture.
What temperature do I sous vide steak at?
The time and temperature you cook it will depend on your desired level of done-ness.
- For a medium rare steak, set your temperature device to 130ºF/54ºC
- For a medium steak, set your temperature device to 135ºF/57ºC
- For a medium well steak, set your temperature device to 145ºF/63ªC
You can invest in a sous vide machine for a few hundred dollars, or purchase an immersion circulator device that you insert into your own pot of water.
If you are a frequent sous vide cook, you might want to invest in a vacuum sealer machine, but otherwise get yourself some high quality sealable bags to cook the steak.
- A sous vide machine, or an immersion circulator and a large pot
- A vacuum-sealer machine, or freezer ziplock bags and a clip
- 1 x 200g-350g steak with a decent thickness, either a tenderloin, rib-eye or striploin
- 1 tbsp of olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Optional: Rosemary or thyme sprigs
Fill a large pot with water and place your immersion circulator inside. Set it to the desired temperature and wait for the water to come to temperature.
Season your steak with salt and pepper and place it into a sealable plastic bag or heavy-duty ziplock bag. Add any desired herbs such as rosemary or thyme sprigs.
If you have a vacuum sealer, seal the bag and slowly immerse it into the water.
If you are using a freezer ziplock bag, slowly immerse it into the water, letting the pressure of the water gently press the air out through the top of the bag. As you submerge the bag, more air will come out. When most of the air is out of the bag, carefully seal the bag just above the water line. Clip the bag to the pot to make sure no water escapes inside.
For a 200g-350g set, set the timer to 2 hours.
Once the timer is up, remove the immersion circulator from the pot and take out the steak from the bag. Place it on a plate and pat dry.
Heat the oil in a hot skillet and sear your steak for 30 seconds on each side.This will give the steak a nice golden-brown crust.
Let it rest for five minutes and serve.