30 Hours Until Dinner
Seems to me sous vide is the ultimate in slooooooow cooking. Thirty hours for this roast beef. I could roast a whole pig in a pit in less time! But it did have a delicious outcome. And one benefit is that once you put the roast in the water bath, there is no worry about ruining your appetite by snacking!
I'm still a newbie with this technique but willing to share what I did and how/why I did it in hopes the information might be useful to someone else.
THE BEEF: A grass fed dry aged (21 days) shoulder roast of Charolais (breed) beef from Baldwin Beef. You can look at their cattle and read about their beef here:
The only thing I did to the shoulder roast before prepping was remove the bone and stick it back in the freezer with the bones that are waiting for the stock pot. Once the bone was off, I transferred the beef to a plate and gave it a rub with evoo and a light sprinkling of dried thyme and rosemary. I *thought* I had gone light on the rosemary, but it seems it is an herb that jumps in and takes over in a warm moist environment, so next time I will go even lighter. The end result was not bad, but the rosemary was talking a lot louder than I had intended! Anyway, I rubbed the herbs and evoo into the roast and allowed it to rest while I prepared a small amount of wine in stock to go into the sous vide bag with the roast.
A common complaint on the web about wine in sous vide cooking is that it's "problematic." The problem seems to be with the alcohol not cooking out. So I cooked it out before putting it in the bag. Easy! But first I crushed about 8 fairly large freeze dried morel mushrooms and put them to soak in a small amount of chicken broth. I did not soak them all the way to "soft" because with 30 hours in a Jacuzzi ahead of them I didn't think I needed to. I soaked them in the saucepan with enough broth to barely cover them. Then I added a full glass of prime vintage "Black Box" cabernet sauvignon to the pan and simmered until reduced by half. Hey, I am NOT going to open a whole bottle of wine unless the recipe calls for the whole thing. Meantime, "Black Box" cabernet sauvignon works just fine. It sits right next to my bottle of Noilly Pratt, my other cooking wine! '-)
When the wine sauce was reduced, I tasted for balance, but NO SALT in the broth. I added a few bits of kosher salt to the tasting spoon instead. It was good. The wine was not "alcoholly." I was good to go. So I slipped the herbed and oiled roast into the cryovac bag, added the wine/stock reduction and every last bit of morel and sealed the bag.
SOUS VIDE TEMPERATURE FOR ROAST BEEF: This is very difficult information to come by on the web. The most mentioned temperature (though there was nothing as specific as temperature for a beef shoulder roast) was 131F for about 30 hours. So that's what I went with. When the thermostat said the water was 131F, I sent the roast for a long swim! Next time I think I will drop it down to 129F. Grass fed beef cooks lower than grain fed and I would like it just a tad bit more rare.
A day and a quarter later, it was time to reap the bounty. The first thing I did was clean and chunk a large baking potato, chunk a small onion, and wash some baby carrots. I put them in a steamer and steamed them for nearly twenty minutes; which was when all were just barely fork tender. Next the potatoes and onions went into a stainless steel bowl where they were tossed with evoo, salt, and a little thyme. The carrots were gently kissed with butter and kosher salt. I oiled the inside of my roasting pan and set my oven for 550F convection and let it warm up.
Finally, the roast came out of the water oven. Lovely! Nice amount of liquid with it. For stability sake, and so I would not lose any of the cooking juices, I put the whole thing in a ss bowl, then cut the top off the bag. With tongs I gently removed the roast and placed it in the waiting oiled roasting pan. I did NOT dry it, as many sous vide recipes suggest you do to promote browning. I wanted those lovely juices to dry roast right into the surface of the beef, so no patting with paper towels or anything else! And now, salt touched the beef for the first time. I sprinkled it with Fusion black truffle salt, but not in an overwhelming amount Then I put the potatoes at each end of the roast and the carrots on each side and into the oven for twenty minutes Nothing was browned the way I hoped so I gave them about a minute under my oven's industrial strength broil. Perfect!
While the beef rested (though I'm not convinced resting is required with sous vide beef, but it did give me time to do the sauce) I tipped all of the juices from the cooking bag into a saucepan, then used a spoon to scrape the "fond" (joke) from inside the bag, making sure I got all of the morels. Now I added kosher salt and tasted. Nice, but I wanted a bit more wine, so I added it and reduced. Nicer... I thickened with a small amount of corn starch slurry, then floated in some unsalted butter off flame and tasted. Lovely!
FINAL STEP: I took a picture for you guys. I diagonal sliced the beef. I plated it all. Took a picture of the plate for you. And finally, I FEASTED! The beef is magnificent! Yes, I would unhesitatingly serve this to company. BUT.... Next time I will count the needles of rosemary I add and be stingy. That is one bossy herb!
I didn't address this very well in my "big" response. You control how well done or rare the meat comes out by the temperature you cook it to. Here's a list of temperatures for beef:
very-rare (120°F/ 49°C)
medium-rare (130°F/ 54.5°C)
One of the advantages of sous vide cooking is that if you do not exceed the temperature for the degree of doneness you want, that is the degree of doneness you will end up with regardless of how long you leave it in the water bath. BUT if you leave it too long, you can push the texture from tender over the top to mushy. But that requires a long time. How long you cook any particular cut depends on the cut. The thing I failed to take into consideration (and I should have!) was that I was using grass fed beef which is known to cook quicker and at lower temperatures than grain fed beef, hence I ended up with the meat a little beyond the medium rare I inteded. My bad. But now I know! It is the "can't overcook" part of sous vide cooking that makes it big in the restaurant world. If you go to a restaurant and order a medium rare steak and the waiter tells you they're out of them, then you imediately know they use sous vide.
For roxlet and blue room and anyone else who is curious too, for this dish I used my Sous Vide Supreme counter-space-hog full size water oven.
When I first became curious about sous vide and what all the ruckus was about, I thought, "Low and slow? I can do that on the top of my stove." But I soon learned I couldn't. At least not if I wanted to try a sous vide dish that called for a different temperature than the "pot luck" I got with my largest stock pot on my most sensitive burner. I would put the pot on the burner, fill it with water, turn the setting to the lowest possible and wait an hour before checking the temperature, then again in a half hour and then a time or two every 15 minutes to see what temperature I got THAT day. On four different attempts I got steady temperatures that ranged around the 140F to 146F range. I could not fine tune it to 138f or any other temperature outside of what I got that specific time out of the gate. Not good. Problems: First off, there aren't a lot of things, overall, that call for that temperature range, so that was not very helpful. Second off, when my electric bill for my all electric house arrived, I knew that stove top sous vide sucked for at least two reasons!
I roamed the web reading about sous vide in a cooler, sous vide with thermo-couplers, all sorts of ways people were using to avoid buying a fairly expensive but extremely accurate Sous Vide Supreme water oven. My overall lifetime experience has taught me that (FOR ME!) I'm ahead of the game if I avoid imitations and "short cuts." I did draw up a lit of reasons (rationalizations and justifications) for my buying the water oven, as well as a long list of reasons not to. I'm happy to say that, in the end, I won! I should also add that every time I see that Chowhound thread about what counter top appliances people leave out all the time, I feel a small twinge of guilt for not owning up.
Does sous vide produce a different flavor or texture in the process? That's a difficult question and the most honest answer I can come up with is "Sometimes, but not exactly." When done properly, sous vide of beef (and most proteins) does produce a more reliably tender and uniform result than any other cooking method. The absolute of sous vide cooking is that (failing a power failure) you KNOW what you're going to come out with at the other end when it comes to doneness and texture. You also know that you're not going to be pressed for time in assembling the final dish because whatever it is that you sous vied, it will hold for a long time while you steam the carrots or peel the potatoes or do whatever else you need to do. It's also interesting that with proteins such as beef, you will get uniform doneness throughout the entire cut of meat. But with a toast, for example, if most people want medium rare and a few want medium well, you have to cook the medium well on top of the sous vide medium rare. There is no serving someone the heel of the roast because it will be medium well and serving everyone else the interior because it is medium rare. It will ALL uniformly be the degree of doneness you cook it to. So there can be "convenience limitations" that may not be a problem with traditional cooking methods. But hey, I can live with that!
The other side of the coin is that there are some things that sous vide does NOT do well, or even doesn't do at all. You cannot reduce the stock that collects in the sous vide bag during cooking. You have to wait until you open the cryovac bag and then pour the liquid into a sauce pan and reduce it in the traditional way. Some say that sous vide concentrates the flavors because it doesn't allow them to escape the bag. That can float either way. Sometimes it is an advantage, sometimes it is not. Depends on what you're cooking and what you desire as an end result. Most of the things I've cooked sous vide also include other cooking techniques to produce the end result I'm after. The ONLY thing I've found so far that is a simple straight-forward "in the water bath and out" and you're done is sous vide "soft boiled" (but the eggs are never boiled) eggs. You absolutely do get a texture and very subtle difference in flavor profile of the "cooked" egg that you cannot achieve with any other cooking method. And I LOVE them!
Things I would not try to cook using sous vide are vegetables, sauces, pasta dishes, or ice cream bases and such. But if someone comes along and claims they have come up with a sous vide recipe for bitter melon and strawberries that is to die for, I will at least read their recipe. But no promise I would try it, but who knows? I might.
Is it worth it? That's a totally subjective call. There are a gazillion other ways to cook food and come out with a truly memorable meal that will live in your memory for decades to come besides sous vide. If I was told I could have a pressure cooker or a sous vide water oven, but only one for the rest of my life, I'd go with the pressure cooker in a heart beat. But meantime, I'm glad I have both. And I see no danger of the water oven going into the box of Kitchen Mistakes to keep my pasta machine company any time soon. I went with the full size Sous Vide Supreme simply because I don't like aluminum. It's a purely personal thing.
Hope this helps. If you have any more questions, I'm here and I'lll do my best. :-)
Caroline I salute you. What a wonderful account of a sensational undertaking. Your passion for achieving optimal results is infectious and your meal looks and sounds sensational. I most definitely lived vicariously tonight so thank-you! Special thanks for the photos too!
I was surprised that nothing browned after 20 mins @ 550°F convection. Is that a typical experience for you? I'm one day in w a convection oven and I've found that my food is browning much quicker. Tonight's roasted cauliflower had a lovely caramelization on one side after only 10 mins @ 375°F.
Any convection cooking tips would be sincerely appreciated.
I strongly suspect that the reason things didn't brown in a 550F convection oven is because of the shape/depth of the roaster pan. I think it sheltered them. On my oven, it's an easy push of a button to switch over to super broil and that did the trick. And I may have added to the no-browning by setting the oven to a one shelf convection configuration, then using the top shelf, which may have resulted in the food not getting a good browning curent.
I'm so pleased you found my little excursion into sous vide interesting. It's the only meal I've ever cooked (so far) where I spent thirty hours twiddlig my thumbs waiting for it to cook. Sous vide is not for the hungry-now crowd!
Convection tips? Nothing comes to mind at the moment. I would hate to be without it, but I also use straight thermal baking/roasting sometimes too. One of my favorite uses for convection is to crust up and warm French bread (or similar breads) because it does a MUCH better job than just plain thermal heat. It's a good thing! '-)
Impressive, and congratulations on taking on this technique.
I found your comments on temperature interesting; I traditionally like my cow very rare, but I've been doing steaks at 131ºF because I have noticed a taste difference between the results with a bath in the 120s and a slightly warmer temperature. Have read and have been told the slightly higher temperature will allow the fat within the meat to melt. There's less of this obviously with grass-fed than grain-fed cow, but I'll be curious as to how your lower-temperature runs go.
I also gave up on olive oil and butter in the bag and have been using rendered beef marrow to boost the "beefiness" though that's causes all sorts of reactions when I tell people.
For steaks, I've yet to find a "finishing char" that I'm 100% happy with. I've tried pan searing in cast iron, broiling under the super hot oven broiler, charring with a kitchen torch and I'm not particularly thrilled with any of them. Kitchen torch tastes like kitchen torch and not charcoal! I was on the verge of buying an hibachi when it occurred to me that I DO like the flavor my huge, double burner cas iron grill produces, but it weighs a ton and is a pain to get out for one little steak. So instead of the hibachi, I picked up a Lodge 10" casft iron grill. If I'm not happy with it, THEN I'll probably go with the hibachi. And the charcoal. And the mess. I'm hoping the cast iron grill satisfies me...!!!
I don't always up the fat content by using oil or clarified butter. I did it this time because I wanted the herbs to glue themselves to the beef. I am thinking about picking up a bottle of truffle oil to see if it holds any charm. And I probably should order a nice chunk of grass fed beef suet next time I place an order. A nice thin slice of that in the bag might be just the thing? It's all trial and error. The beef marrow sounds lovely, but after the bath in a bag, can you still spread it on toast? '-)