When Cooking Becomes Tenuous, in a Good Way

MCAH-Book-alone1My wife, Haley, surprised me in April with an item from my Amazon wish list, the Modernist Cuisine at Home cookbook, which is, from what I’ve heard, a great for-the-home reinterpretation of the original Modernist Cuisine tome.

Since, I’ve tried about ten recipes, some successful, others not. Modernist Cuisine demands not only new ways of cooking but new ways of thinking, where food preparation is defined to greater precision compared to the Betty Crocker-style recipes we’re all accustomed to. Grams matter, time matters, and degrees Fahrenheit matter, all with little tolerance.

Every failure of mine was due to an oversight of one or more of those principles.

One such example: Modernist Cuisine’s beef stock, via pressure cooker. I was able to find some beautiful oxtail for this recipe, and I was excited as ever to prepare it. After two hours at 15 PSI, opening the cooker was meant to yield beautiful, aromatic stock, destined to become Pho soup for our anniversary dinner. This is what it actually became, probably due to excessive heat:

Failed attempt at pressure-cooked beef stock. As one friend commented on Facebook, "... that looks like shit ran over it twice."

As one friend commented on Facebook, “… that looks like shit ran over it twice.”

Suffice it to say, I need some practice with these detail-oriented recipes and foreign cooking tools.

But there’s one recipe I’ve been able to revisit several times, sous-vide steak, and I’ve finally gotten it down right.

Haley has always enjoyed my iterations of steak, asparagus (or other veggie) and potatoes. My traditional prep was grilling the steak and asparagus with a pre-made blend of spicy steak seasoning and a bit of olive oil and quartering then baking the potatoes. Getting the steaks just right was always a challenge, often coming out over or under done.

That problem is solved with sous-vide.

This sous vide setup includes a basic crock pot and a temperature controller, which turns the crock pot on and off to maintain an exact temperature.

This sous-vide setup includes a basic crock pot and a Dorkfood temperature controller, which turns the crock pot on and off to maintain an exact temperature.

If you are unfamiliar with sous-vide, is is a cooking method which involves placing ingredients in air-tight(-ish) Ziploc bags in a precise-temp water bath until said ingredients reach the same temperature as the water bath, which should be at the target, core temperature you want your food to be.

For steak, this can take upwards of an hour depending on the thickness of the cuts, but the wait is worthwhile since the steaks tenderize as they cook. Meats can be seared before or after the sous-vide process (though I prefer after) using a grill, pan and oil, or even, as Modernist Cuisine suggests, deep fryer or blowtorch.

Sous-vide has also allowed me to ditch the pre-made spice mix in favor of fresh aromatics, added to the steaks prior to cooking. The result is, in a way, like marinating the steaks in the spices, resulting in amazingly strong flavor throughout the meat.

Tonight, using this method, I’ve successfully, pleasantly produced Ginger Garlic Steak, grill-seared. Here is the rough recipe:

Ginger Garlic Steak with Roasted Red Potatoes and Asparagus

The final dish, with asparagus substituted for frozen, pre-seasoned broccoli.

The final dish, with asparagus substituted for frozen, pre-seasoned broccoli.

  • 2 Steaks, roughly equal weight, any cut (though, as always, more fat = more flavor)
  • 1 lb / 500g Red Potatoes, quartered or otherwise cut to equal width
  • 1 lb / 500g asparagus
  • ~10 cloves garlic, diced
  • ~100g fresh ginger, peeled and microplaned
  • Soy sauce (low sodium is ideal), Olive Oil, salt, pepper as needed

Pre-heat a water bath to 136° F (58° C). (See below for temperature guide.) If you don’t have a sous-vide setup, a well-insulated cooler can be used; just start the bath a few degrees warmer to adjust for heat dissipation and the fact that the cooler steaks will bring the temp down once added.

Generously season the steaks with salt and pepper, then ginger and garlic. Place in quart-sized Ziploc bags. Add a few dashes of soy sauce. Remove air from Ziploc bags by submerging in cool water and forcing air bubbles out. Don’t let any water in the bags.

Place steaks in the water bath for 60-90 minutes. Since the bath is at the target temperature, they can be kept in for even longer and won’t overcook!

While steaks are cooking, parboil potatoes (until just fork tender), then mix in a bowl with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Remove tough ends from asparagus.

Pre-heat grill to highest setting, about 15 minutes before steaks are done. Transfer potatoes to some aluminum foil and roast on top rack of grill, starting at least 8 minutes before steaks are done.

Once steaks are done, remove them from the bags and scrape off any excess clumps of garlic and ginger. Sear them on each side (no longer than 90 seconds) along with the asparagus on the hot grill. Season asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper as they cook.

Steaks and potatoes on the grill. High heat is key, since the steaks are already cooked and the potatoes need that lovely, crispy layer.

Steaks and potatoes on the grill. High heat is key, since the steaks are already cooked and the potatoes need that lovely, crispy layer.

Experimentation with cooking is fantastic, despite failures, and I can only look forward to trying more great variations of this and other recipes and cooking techniques.

 


For reference, here is a visual guide to sous-vide temperatures for steak, courtesy of Serious Eats:

20100303-sous-vide-temps-500px

About The Author

Kyle Anderson
I'm a media and IT professional and JavaScript developer who worked most recently as an Associate Broadcast IT Engineer (Tier II) for CNN in Atlanta. One of my life-long goals is to help bridge data divides - missing connections between software systems and data stores - promoting inter-system communication and automation. Many of the projects described here reflect this goal in some way or another.