DIY sous-vide
March 10, 2013 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Serious Eat's The Food Lab cooks The Perfect Rack Of Lamb. "You don't have a $450 low-temperature water oven"? Good thing it isn't necessary...
posted by the man of twists and turns (35 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
A bunch of my friends have been experimenting with sous vide recently, using the Serious Eats guide and this Make plan as guides. I'm not sure I have the DIY chops/balls for it, but some of the recipes, like pork belly sliders with cabbage and perfect egg yolks do tempt me.
posted by knile at 1:46 PM on March 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I own one of them fancy water baths and you have reminded me that this would be the perfect meal for my husband's birthday. It helps that I have a rack of lamb in the freezer from when I bought it on sale a month or so ago. Thanks!

I am not using my sous vide as much as I thought I would, but I must admit it's been handy to have when I do want to slow and low my food.
posted by offalark at 2:00 PM on March 10, 2013

It's okay. I heard that you can hold food at that temperature for two hours, plus or minus a week.

On a side note, I think I may be turning into Ray Smuckles. Last week I caught myself yelling at my mom over the phone while holding a martini.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:13 PM on March 10, 2013 [14 favorites]

DIY chops/balls

That's going on my next BBQ apron.
posted by hal9k at 2:24 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm sure the meat is delicious, but all that white fat looks kind of off-putting: one of the nice things about the old oven method (however not-nice it is in other respects!) is that the fat on the outside becomes more melty and appetizing.

I guess more vigorous frenching would offset that, though, and it's barely possible that it's not entirely bad if you aren't tempted to eat pure fat.
posted by kenko at 2:28 PM on March 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

more vigorous frenching

My new sock puppet name.
posted by arcticseal at 2:32 PM on March 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

You can definitely apply sous vide cooking principles without any fancy equipment. The first time I did it was based on a recipe I saw in the New York Times Magazine, and it must have been more than 15 years ago. I think it was a recipe for guinea hen, and if I recall correctly I did it using copious quantities of plastic wrap (for some reason using ziplock bags and a little liquid fat hadn't occurred to me). A reasonably large and well-insulated container of water, a thermometer and patience are all that is required. In fact, Modernist Cuisine at Home has procedures for sous vide steaks using a cooler.

That said, DIY sous vide really only works for applications of up to a few hours. This unfortunately leaves out some of the more interesting possibilities. Still, it's cool to do.

For layers of un-rendered fat, this is where a MAPP gas torch really comes in handy. Of you can do what I did when preparing racks of lamb sous vide for Christmas dinner: after you pull the racks out of the water bath and de-bag them, let them rest for a few minutes, pat them dry and chuck them into a pot of 205C rice bran oil for 30 seconds.
posted by slkinsey at 2:39 PM on March 10, 2013

I've had decent luck with a dead ghetto setup; big thick styrofoam box, fill with hot tap water (mine goes to 58'C), top with enough boiling water from an electric kettle to raise the temperature to 62'C (64 or 65 for the initial temperature to account for the energy transfer to get the meat up to 60'C) and close the close lid. Dump a little water every 2 hours, top with new boiling water.

Takes a bit more work and time to know how much water to add and when, but the results are perfectly satisfactory.
posted by porpoise at 2:42 PM on March 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding (or thirding?) the suggestion of throwing together a homebrew rig with a PID controller. It's not expensive, it takes a lot of the manularity out of the "hot water plus insulation plus a thermometer" processes, and it opens up some interesting stuff you can do with longer cooking times.

Mostly-non-gratuitous self-link: My rig.
posted by sourcequench at 3:49 PM on March 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

sourcequench: bang-bang (hysteresis) is a great band name.
posted by Leon at 4:06 PM on March 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have the fancy Sous Vide Supreme and it does indeed work remarkably well. But we almost never use it, and it takes up a lot of space, and all told that $450 would probably have been better spent on knives or pans. But it sure is a wonder for turning out meat to a particular temperature. Nothing wrong with the DIY solutions, although I'm skeptical about a simple ice chest holding water at 130°F for 24 hours.

But the "submerge the ziploc bag in water" thing does not work for removing the air from a bag. Particularly something as crooked as a rack of lamb. I tried that for awhile and all my little packages of meat were floating. I finally gave up and bought a proper vacuum sealer, which sits unused next to the water oven. In for a penny ...
posted by Nelson at 4:09 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bah. Full rack, untrimmed. Remove fat cap(repels seasoning). Do not french. Oil, season(not generously!), wait for rise to room temperature. Coals on 1/3 of Weber, lid vent opposite. Rack goes directly over the fire for a couple of turns to dress it with the crust, then place meat portion of rack at opposite end of grill, lid vent half shut, remote temp probe inserted in center of meat, rib bone ends pointed at fire to have fun with bone induction heating. Skinny racks go to 122, bigger racks to as high as 128(incipient mutton texture different from lamb). Pull it, table it, wait until the remote thermo probe says that the temperature has started to decline(done cooking, now resting), slice, serve, recognize deliciousness of lamb rib meat, regret not getting more, toss bones in trash outside so not tempted to pull bones from inside trash and suck more flavor from them.
posted by dglynn at 4:21 PM on March 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

I think I need to try the results of sous vide from someone else before I spend $$$ and TIMETIMETIME on building a cooker. Because I haven't noticed a problem with my food that "less cooking" would fix.
posted by DU at 4:41 PM on March 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm skeptical about a simple ice chest holding water at 130°F for 24 hours.

If it was just water, maybe. I've used precisely this method to cook chicken and fish, and you're necessarily losing water heat to the meat. With 3 chicken breasts in a regular sized cooler, I had to regulate with boiling water every half hour or so.
posted by cmoj at 4:53 PM on March 10, 2013

For people not quite willing to drop that much cash on a sous-vide unit, but still wanting something that's not entirely homebrew, the Wirecutter did a piece on budget sous-vide gear.
posted by themadthinker at 4:56 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Color me skeptical of the actual safety of holding food in plastic at moderately high temperatures - all plastics out-gas, and what they out-gas are not-so-nice compounds.
posted by dbmcd at 5:30 PM on March 10, 2013

Everyone always goes on about the TASTE of sous vide - and yes, it's good (unless you mess it up (which you can and is very disappointing)) - but I love mine because of the CONVENIENCE. Set it and forget it and 48 hours later you have a pile of perfect duck confit/corned beef/tri-tip/short ribs/etc, most of which goes into the freezer for later. (There's no way I could do that if I had to refill a cooler every hour).

I did an experiment once, though, with a sirloin cooked for 7 days straight at 135F. I did not bother tasting it. It kind of melted into a dry meat and juice slushy.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 6:18 PM on March 10, 2013

yay, another post where i can show off my homemade sous vide machine. was just vacuum sealing meat for it this morning, on the left is flank steak with salt, pepper, and bacon, and on the right is short ribs with olive oil and salt.
posted by Mach5 at 6:59 PM on March 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

72 hour 130°F sous vide short ribs is my religion.
posted by rainbowbullet at 9:02 PM on March 10, 2013

rainbowbullet: "72 hour 130°F sous vide short ribs is my religion."

So, hey, your church looking for new recruits?

Feed me some of that sacrament and I will be your obedient drone. I will make Scientologists look fickle.
posted by Samizdata at 12:23 AM on March 11, 2013

Just over a week ago I bought a DorkFood DSV temperature controller, an 18qt Nesco countertop roaster, and an Iwatani torch. (I already had a FoodSaver.) Now they sit on my counter, mocking my uncharacteristic timidity. I'm not sure why I have trepidations, although I have the vague awareness of being worried about wasting food/ruining meals figuring out WTF I'm doing, or screwing up temps and times and making myself or others ill.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:29 AM on March 11, 2013

And yes, I'm more in pursuit of the convenience (for starters, we'll see where it takes me). My mom has high-end sous vide equipment, and so far I think I prefer traditional methods, at least for more premium cuts of meat, because the perfectly uniform texture produced by the sous vide doesn't feel quite right to me. (I can totally appreciate they way it elevates more humble cuts, though.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:32 AM on March 11, 2013

But all that white fat looks kind of off-putting

I am sure it is.
I am of the "eat the fat, it's delicious and natural" but if I have rare steak with fat or pork belly I am on the porcelin bus to Puketown.

I have not had Sous Vide ever, it seems like a trend and a gadget I can live without until the price point hits $50 for a cooker. This thread has me curious.
posted by Mezentian at 8:49 AM on March 11, 2013

Generally speaking, SV is better suited to leaner cuts or at least very well trimmed ones. This is assuming lower temperatures. For certain things done at higher temperatures (duck confit, for example), the fat melts more effectively.
posted by Bovine Love at 10:09 AM on March 11, 2013

kenko: "I'm sure the meat is delicious, but all that white fat looks kind of off-putting"

I know what you mean but you can off course cut it off/eat around it. Using a Jaccard knife (see below) and extended cooking times seems to help melt it out more. The rest is taken care of when you crust it in a super hot pan.

Mezentian: "I have not had Sous Vide ever, it seems like a trend and a gadget I can live without until the price point hits $50 for a cooker. This thread has me curious."
Nelson: "But we almost never use it, and it takes up a lot of space"

It's awesome. Feels like cheating but it's awesome. There's nothing quite like sous vide steak. So delicious. I own a Sous Vide Supreme plus vacuum sealer and initially I wasn't using it as much either. I make dinner decisions rather spontaneously so the long cook times didn't really work that well for me. However, once I realized that I can just throw stuff into the cooker in the morning and it doesn't matter if we eat it that night or next I've used it more often. We only do steaks for more special occasions so usually it's chicken or, one of my favorites to cook this way, pork loin. Lovely, lovely pork loin. Can't get it as juicy and tender any other way.

I've since acquired a Jaccard knife like this one which makes things even better. When I do pork loin I'll use the knife on it, salt and pepper it, then stick it in the bag with a tbsp of (frozen, for easier vacuum sealing) olive oil and a little baggie (so the herbs aren't pressed into the meat by the sealer) of herbs, usually fresh thyme, rosemary, sage, a bay leaf, some lovage and maybe a couple of Juniper berries. Heaven on earth!
posted by Hairy Lobster at 10:19 AM on March 11, 2013

Sous vide is good and all, but in most cases it's also kind of just crockpot-for-nerds-with-too-much-disposable-income.

I mean, rack of lamb is almost impossible to fuck up without resorting to such cookwankery. And in about 15 minutes of actual active time. Hell, it even comes with its own roasting rack built in.

Preheat oven to 425 F.Season with salt and pepper, let rest at room temp for 30 - 60 min. Sear on all sides in cast iron skillet. If you feel like it, take out of skillet, smear with mixture of minced garlic, fresh rosemary, olive oil, salt, pepper (and maybe some breadcrumbs if that's how you roll), then put back in skillet, bone-side down. Put pan in oven for 12 - 15 minutes or until probe thermometer reads 122 - 127 ish. Let rest 5 - 10 min. Eat.
posted by dersins at 10:23 AM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bovine Love: "Generally speaking, SV is better suited to leaner cuts or at least very well trimmed ones. This is assuming lower temperatures."

Not sure what you mean by low temp but this amazingly delicious Porcetta from serious eats is
cooked at 155ºF for thirty six hours... the for extra deliciousity, it is deep fried.

I cooked it for 48 hours at 143º F, plus wrap the belly around a pork loin...... also ribs (SLYT) at 143º F 48 hours are about as good as it gets. Douglas Baldwin's online book A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking is a very handy guide with recipes and charts.
posted by snaparapans at 11:11 AM on March 11, 2013

The procetta is >68 degrees, which I would consider a quite high temp, and should render quite a bit of fat.

Your ribs are low temp, but typically ribs are relatively lean (compared to certain steak cuts) and work well; what fat there is seems to be mostly on the surface, so finish helps a lot. How they are finished matters a lot to.

I do fattier cuts SV (such as rib steak) at lower temps (well below fat rendering of any kind, well a few kinds render at 54 apparently), but usually trim well and also hit really hard with heat.

Last night I did veal chops SV @ 55, then hit with a very very hot BBQ with the grate close to the coals. This rendered lots of the surrounding fat and still didn't over cook the meat (which ended up medium rare or so). A good compromise for that kind of cut. I've also done it under the broiler, but the broiler needs to be very very hot. The presence of the bone makes it a little harder to finish well in a pan. They were quite thick and the SV-for-insurance worked well (they definitely didn't need long cooking for additional tenderizing).

I've tried untrimmed rib steak SV and only finished in the pan, and found you wanted to trim the fat on the plate; it just wasn't that appetizing. Trimming helps, but rib steak has pretty big chunks internally. However, I've hit the chunks with a torch while in the pan, and that helped out quite a lot and made it "go".

Of course, YMMV.
posted by Bovine Love at 11:32 AM on March 11, 2013

The procetta is >68 degrees..

I cook it at 61C 48 hours.. (extra 12 hours and lower temp than the recipe).. and then the deep fry in the end makes the skin amazing.. way too good to make more than once in a while, considering the fat..

Your ribs are low temp... I brine them first, then dry rub along the lines of Baldwin's
suggestion with some variation of spices... then wet sauce before serving and blowtorch for crisping.
Mapp gas is best, but Iwatani (butane) does the job too..

Last night I did veal chops SV @ 55 sounds yummy!! Nice to have coals.. one day I will rig that up in my apt... serious venting problem... lol...
posted by snaparapans at 11:51 AM on March 11, 2013

I've cooked tri-tip, pork roasts, chicken breasts, salmon filets sous vide in an ice chest several times. Generally I finish the meats on the grill with a quick sear. It is so easy to cook so much. A full-size cooler (mine is advertized as keeping ice solid for 5 days) only needs temperature adjustment once an hour at most (for four tri-tips).

I'd like to get a real rig, though, as the ice chest isn't rated for the temperatures that vegetables would require.
posted by Prince_of_Cups at 2:16 PM on March 11, 2013

However, once I realized that I can just throw stuff into the cooker in the morning and it doesn't matter if we eat it that night or next I've used it more often. We only do steaks for more special occasions so usually it's chicken or, one of my favorites to cook this way, pork loin.

There are a lot of threads on egullet that suggest that this is waaaaaay too long in the "danger zone," unless you have a high enough target temperature for sterilization and/or pasteurization. And not knowing what to make of statements like those makes me wary of SV steaks and other cuts that I'd want to eat rare/medium rare. Although I guess that the response there is that you can use short times for those cuts and not have to plan ahead.
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:36 PM on March 11, 2013

Target temps of 55 are generally considered pasteurization if held long enough. Baldwin has lots of tables.
posted by Bovine Love at 3:48 PM on March 11, 2013

and on the coolers---are there particular materials or kind of constuction to look for? Are people here using immersible aquarium heaters? Do you take measures to keep the bags away from the heater? And what about the heater cabinet contacting the plastic cooler walls? Or the bags? I take it the cabinet is designed not to get that hot (as vs the element?)

I also have an old electric wok/saucepan that belonged to my grandparents. It's nonstick (70s or 80s vintage). it's fully immersible for cleaning. I'm curious about people's thoughts on using it with the Dorkfood, and whether you'd set another (Pyrex? Corningware?) vessel inside it (directly on the bottom? Water in both parts?).

I'm also curious about what people like in thermometers. Both probe and infrared.
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:54 PM on March 11, 2013

Target temps of 55 are generally considered pasteurization if held long enough. Baldwin has lots of tables

OK. I'm going to have to spend more time trying to grok those tables.
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:56 PM on March 11, 2013

I've had a Sous Vide Supreme for almost 3 years now, and I use it often, at least 3-4 times a week and sometimes more. I leave it on at a temp between 132F and 140F (I've measured with a kill-a-watt, and it draws very little power to maintain temp once it's heated), and just drop stuff in when I want to cook it. The main advantage to getting the machine vs. building your own is convenience - with an active heating element and good insulation, you can put food into it straight from the freezer. Many meats now come in cryopacks anyway, so I can just plop those in in the morning, cook them at low temp during the day, and then season and sear them when we're ready to eat dinner. If we change our plans, it's easy to back out - just chill the cooked bag, put it in the fridge, and use it the next day.

Also, a pork shoulder cooked at 132F for 3-4 days and then browned at 425F for 20 minutes makes great pulled pork.
posted by Caviar at 10:48 AM on March 14, 2013

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