Sous Vide in the Home
Can anyone give me some advice on Sous Vide in the home. I bought it a few months ago and have probably prepared 10-12 dishes in it. Certain aspects I enjoy greatly about it. The ability to do other things while it cooks, producing meat that is very tender, and most of the fish dishes I've had came out very well.
The biggest issue I have currently is the lack of flavor. Perhaps I should say flavor added to the meat.
For example I wanted to try steak burritos with a cheaper piece of meat. I knew the Sous Vide would make the meat very tender. I took the steak (bottom round I believe) and covered it in a homemade taco dry seasoning. Normally I add a couple teaspoons to ground beef when I cook the ground beef, this time I applied directly on top of the steak. Both sides. Placed it in the oven for 24 hours.
Upon removing I removed the liquid from the bag, patted dry, and seared the steaks. The steaks themselves were cooked very well. Very tender... but they had no taste. Not only was the steak lacking the beef flavor (poor cut of meat, I expected that), it also had absolutely no "mexican" seasoning taste on it.
What went wrong here? Are the spices being poured away upon the removal of the liquid in the bag? I've also performed something similar with salmon except with a jerk seasoning and had similar results. More flavor than the beef, but certainly not a strong flavor. Luckily the salmon was good for just being the taste of salmon.
Perhaps a marinade would be better? Better ways to get the meat to accept a dry seasoning? My next attempt will be performed on flank steak if that helps any.
Hi AnomalyEE --
There are more knowedgable hounds than myself, but I'll give my opinion (isn't that what the Internet is for??) :o)
The flavors should be somewhat incorporated into the meat when you vacuum seal the bag. I do the same, and opt to create my own using whatever I have available and what sounds good (kind of like you do with your homemade taco seasoning). Also, I always try to remember to season with salt and pepper, as well as a bit of oil (bacon fat or butter) in the bag.
The strength in Sous Vide is definitely in texture and cooking proteins at the steady temperature -- that's how the tough parts break down and you get a much better texture. The combination with vacuum sealing and keeping the meat suspended in it's own juices and the spices you add should help get some flavor into the meat as well. Do you think you may not be pulling enough vacuum with your vacuum sealer?
The only times I've found the flavor of added spices to be lacking is when I've purposefully underspiced. Marinades are tricky with the vacuum but I've had success marinating overnight then drying before bagging. You can also (depending on what's in your marinade) freeze cubes or blocks of marinade to add to the bag before sealing.
Flank Steak we've done with lots of success, using the method above. Season with S&P, some herbs (usually dried garlic, onion, and a dash of chipotle) and seal with a nice generous pat of butter. I think Flank I cooked at 135 deg F for 8 hours. Good luck!
As to your flank steak with butter perhaps you should try it without the butter next time for an even better result. There was a lot of research conducted on using butter with steaks and the results were rather surprising. With the slow cooking time of sous vide adding butter actually leads to a much less flavorful cut of beef because so much of beefs flavor is soluble in fat. Over the course of cooking much of the steaks flavor is extracted into the butter instead of staying in the steak.
In your example of the steak burritos:
The problem was that you seasoned the surface, dissolved much of it into the juices from the meat created as you cooked it in the water bath, and then removed most of that seasoning when you patted the surface dry before searing. The liquid left in the bag should be nicely seasoned and flavorful. The upside is you have a few options as to how to fix this.
You can just reapply seasoning after drying the meat but before searing, creating a cajun-like blackened spices effect. Frankly, you might not even get much benefit from applying the spices at all until after the sous vide bath and drying of the meat. Depends on the spices, the meat's surface area, the intended effect.
You can use a marinade instead, which is slightly better at penetrating meat than a dry rub. The other upside of a marinade is you can give the meat a splash of it at the very end of searing for increased flavor. The downside is the main flavors that penetrate are acids (citrus juice, vinegar), salt, sugar, and strong aromatics, none of which may be the effect you're going for. To apply marinade, you can either freeze it before vacuum sealing the bag or just use a ziplock freezer bag in lieu of a foodsaver.
If you are cooking sous vide hot enough and long enough to fully pasteurize the meat, you can apply the dry rub before cooking but then use a jaccard or even just a fork (over and over again) to drive the seasoning through the meat. Different effect, but you would get more flavor penetration that way.
You'll find that some flavors penetrate better than others cooking sous vide. Citrus zest for example seems to penetrate very well. Other spices - sometimes there's no point of applying them until the meat is out of the bag.
Also, keep in mind that the liquid left over in the bag afterwards can be useful for sauce-making.