Cooler under pressure

This post easily qualifies as the ultimate kitchen experiment…  using a cooler to cook sous vide.

For the non scientists in the kitchen, sous vide translates from French as cooking in a vacuum. Basically you put food in a plastic bag, vacuum pack it and cook it by plunging it into a water bath at a specific temperature for an extended period of time. Uncle Ben’s boil-in-a-bag it is not.

It’s definitely an interesting technique and living in NYC, I’ve had the privilege to enjoy many delectable bites as sous vide opens up a whole new world of taste and texture. Meats become soft and juicy since they lose much less of their juices in cooking, vegetables explode in color and flavor for much the same reason and since the technique is also great for infusing, it is not unheard of for chefs to get inventive and make watermelon taste like apple.

However, since the least expensive home cook machines start at about $500 for just the bath, I’d always put it in the “unlikely to try at home” category.

I would just have to enjoy sous vide only when dining out. That was until this week when while perusing the culinary arts section of my favorite “learn from other aficionados website” Skillshare, I found a sous vide class.

The class description promised that we’d
“learn how to seal your food in vacuum bags, create a temperature controlled water bath to cook the food in, and ultimately whip up an out-of-this-world meal of perfectly cooked edge-to-edge medium rare steak. Though you will not walk away with your own sous vide set-up, but you will get a shopping list and instructions for building your own for about $100.” 
Cost of the class: $35. Sign. Me. Up.

So late Saturday morning, I found myself in an apartment in Cobble Hill with six other people listening to how our teacher, Andrew, a self-described software engineer & tinkerer,  had rigged a cooler into a sous vide machine.

He then invited us to season our own hanger steaks with whatever we chose (rosemary, thyme and cayenne pepper for me), seal our own baggies (aka slowly plunge Ziploc bags in water to push out the air), put them in the cooler and walk away for a good 45 minute or so while it cooked.
Though we could have been gone for alot more time without having to worry about over cooking. Why? Because in cooking sous vide you bring the product to the same temperature as the water. The group had decided we wanted medium rare steak so the water was set to 135ºF, so once the meat came up to the same temperature as the water it was considered cooked and from then on it just hangs out never going above, suspended in cooking time – not that you should leave it for days.

In the downtime, we learnt about the different electrical components needed to make our own sous vide unit, Andrew covered everything from the temperature gauges to the water circulating pump and the heating elements. We also got a tutorial on soldering so I am now the proud owner of a soldering kit.

After an hour or so we went back into the kitchen lifted the lid and there was our meat. Cooked to perfection. Since it doesn’t get seared it wasn’t browned like you’d expect a steak cooked over high heat on a grill or a pan to be but rather looked like the inside of your steak. We did throw it in a pan for 30 seconds to give it a little color then we cut it up and tasted it.

Verdict: Perfection. juicy, flavorful. Damn good.

Andrew is planning another class where we’ll actually get to build our own unit.  I am left to ponder do I want to commit to building my own sous vide cooler?

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One thought on “Cooler under pressure

  1. Pingback: Pleat night or the art of making dumplings « Life Until Done

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