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Pre-searing steak before sous vide

Hi, I've been using the sous vide method to cook steak for a while. However, due to laziness, I've never pre-seared, only post-seared... I have a few questions for those of you guys who sous vide:

1) do you pre-sear, post sear, or both and why?

2) I watched this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZenV... and the chef claims that we would get sick if we pre-seared and then put the steak directly into the bag and started sous videing. So, my question is, do you also chill your meats after pre-searing?

3) do you pat dry after sous videing also (before the final sear)? chefsteps mentioned that it browns faster if you leave the juices on which I found weird.

thanks in advance!

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  1. I only post-sear. I don't see how pre-searing and then sous viding could make you sick, but it's an extra step that I find totally unnecessary.

    1. Sous vide, pat dry & sear. Never understood the idea of pre searing sous vide.

       
      1 Reply
      1. 1) I only post sear. It works well, and I'm too lazy to pre- and post-sear. There have been a few interesting tests of pre-searing vs post-searing vs both for sous vide meats. Here is one example:
        http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/03/ho...
        Generally speaking, pre-searing alone comes in last in these tests for flavor and appearance. OTOH, the biggest disadvantage of post-searing is the possibility of cooking the meat past bath's temperature, so make sure you rest meat for a little bit before searing it and use a pan that's hot enough.

        2) No. Dude in the video is plain incorrect. I could see an argument for letting the steak cool enough that it's not making steam before bagging it... maybe. Anything beyond that doesn't make any sense, and should be technically a tiny bit riskier if anything.

        3) Yes, I blot dry. Generally, dry meat browns faster. OTOH, a certain marinades - especially those that contain sugar - can sometimes be left on deliberately if you're grilling, and these can caramelize and form a glaze.

        6 Replies
          1. re: cowboyardee

            "pre-searing alone comes in last in these tests for flavor and appearance. "

            That isn't what the article you linked to said; it said testers were evenly split about which they preferred. Even so, they weren't able to guess which was which.

            The advantage to pre-searing is that you can sear the steak right out of the refrigerator, which will cook the meat below the surface less than one right out of the bath or even at room temperature. You can give it an additional very quick post-sear if you want to crisp up the exterior.

            1. re: tgrayson

              "That isn't what the article you linked to said; it said testers were evenly split about which they preferred. Even so, they weren't able to guess which was which."
              ________
              Not exactly. I was writing above about pre-searing without post-searing as well. The tasters in the above article were unable to tell the difference between a steak that had been pre- AND post-seared vs one that had been post-seared only. A quote from said article:
              "Conclusion: Don't bother with the pre-sear—you develop plenty of flavor with just the single, post-water bath sear."

              Here is another article (from a very excellent website) where different searing techniques are ranked in terms of preference:
              http://www.cookingissues.com/uploads/...

              "The advantage to pre-searing is that you can sear the steak right out of the refrigerator, which will cook the meat below the surface less than one right out of the bath or even at room temperature."
              ________
              Pre-searing does have some advantages:
              - Some prefer the flavor and appearance of a steak that's seared both before AND after a sous vide bath. I don't personally find the difference between this and a post-sear-only to be significant enough to be worth the extra effort, but YMMV.
              - Also, scubadoo97 informed me below of the potential to use a pre-sear to kill the microbes on beef before a very long sous vide bath in order to avoid the off-flavors that sometimes develop on long-cooked sous vide beef. I've normally used a quick dunk in near-boiling water to accomplish the same thing, but if a pre-sear works, it might be easier and better flavor-wise.

              That said, you seem to be recommending that people pre-sear only, and I just can't agree with you on that one. You get better, tastier results with when you post-sear (pre-sear or not). It is important that you let the meat rest a short while after its bath and before post-searing it to avoid over-cooking. And for the same reason, it's also important that you ensure you're getting a very good quick sear. I recommend using a generous amount of oil with a very high smoke point to accomplish this. Using these techniques you can post-sear and still achieve a very even gradient of doneness on all but the thinnest of steaks - there are pictures on both links I've pasted to prove it.

              1. re: cowboyardee

                "That said, you seem to be recommending that people pre-sear only, and I just can't agree with you on that one."

                No, I pointed out in my last sentence the advantage of a final sear.

                Overall, I think the best approach is to

                1) get the meat really cold
                2) blow torch the exterior to dry it
                3) sear it in a very hot pan, lots of oil
                4) cook it
                5) let it rest
                6) sear it again

                1. re: tgrayson

                  My bad. Though my main point was that you don't need to pre-sear in order to avoid over-cooking the meat as you seemed to imply. If you just prefer the crust or flavor on meat that's been seared both before and after SV, by all means suit yourself. A pre-sear certainly doesn't hurt anything in any case.

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    "avoid over-cooking the meat as you seemed to imply"

                    We're talking degrees of perfection. The gray band is smaller when the meat is cold. There are some photos on the net that show the gray bands of a pre-sear-post vs post-sear, and the pre-sear-post is visibly smaller.

                    For all of these steaks, however, the gray band is much, much smaller than with traditional cooking techniques.

                    I'd actually trade a bit more gray band for a better sear, and the photos I've seen aren't very impressive for either searing method. The torch + sear produces an impressive crust.

          2. On the contrary, presearing will disinfect the surface of the meat which can be a source of some funky flavors and aromas when you open a bag after a longish cook. Beef is considered to be sterile on the inside. If you don't want to presearing you can drop the bag in boiling water for a brief disinfection before continuing with the SV bath

            2 Replies
            1. re: scubadoo97

              True. I do a brief submersion in near-boiling water for longer cooking times with beef, as you said, to limit those off flavors and improve the margin of safety. I haven't tried pre-searing instead for this purpose, as it seems to me that the quick dunk in very hot water would kill surface microbes more thoroughly, or at least with less chance of recontamination. But if you've tried pre-searing alone with good results, I'll take your word for it that it works well enough.

              But I think it's important to emphasize that this is mainly for medium and long cooking times. Off-flavors are not something I would worry about when simply cooking a steak until evenly heated through and then searing to finish.

              1. re: cowboyardee

                True CBAD. for a steak it's not really an issue. For the record I've done post sear most often. For tougher cuts that I expect to cook for several hours I've done a quick pre sear with a torch. Just took lest time than boiling water

            2. I'm generally not a fan of cooking tender beef steaks sous vide vs grilling them or cooking stovetop in a cast iron pan. The exception are steaks I've frozen that I cook un-defrosted and sear afterwards.