It was December of 2008 and renowned chef Thomas Keller was on the “CBS Morning Show” demonstrating a seemingly arcane cooking method he used at his restaurants called sous vide (pronounced soo veed). Slicing a piece of beef cooked under vacuum at low temperature revealed meat that was medium-rare from edge to edge as opposed to the well-done-on-the-outside result you would expect from grilling. Harry Smith, then the show’s anchor, ventured that “sous vide may be too complex for the home chef, but it’s hard to argue with the results.”
Fast forward a decade of technological advances, and sous vide is most definitely something you can do at home. You want to cook a perfect steak? Give it a bath. Actually, a hot bath. Sous vide, mistakenly likened to the old “boil in a bag” way to cook frozen vegetables, is actually steeping with precision. The “bathtub” can be a stockpot or a beer cooler or something in between. The bath water is heated by a now less-clunky immersion circulator to a precise temperature. (Clip it on and plug it in.) The science is that the temperature of the water never rises above (for the purposes of this recipe) 129° F, and neither does that rib eye you want medium-rare.
We tested two of the leading, compact and reasonably priced immersion circulators, Joule and Anova (about $200 each). Both have smartphone apps and online support with recipes, but the Anova also sports controls on the 2.2-lb. unit and seems more suitable for the home cook. The Joule works only from the app, weighs about half as much and is more powerful, heating up the water about 10 minutes faster than the Anova. Both accomplish the same goal: a steak that is evenly cooked from “edge to edge.”
Start with a high-quality steak. Chill it to below 41°F (the safe zone). Vacuum seal it with seasonings in food-safe plastic. Place your steak in the sous vide bath at the desired temperature you’d like the finished steak. Cook time depends mainly on the thickness of the steak, but two hours for up to a two-inch-thick cut worked well in our tests. Don’t worry if you go a little or a lot over, the temperature of the steak will never rise above what you originally set, but it will get more tender.
When you take the steak out of the plastic, sear the outside in a super-hot cast iron skillet. Sear each side, flipping after 30 seconds (twice on each side in our tests), until you get the char you want. Searing this way will preserve the precise edge-to-edge doneness. A perfect steak.