Ever wonder what the absolute most perfect steak recipe is? Interested in creating for yourself the type of perfect steak that melts in your mouth, right in the comfort of your own home? Let me paint a picture for you:
You come home from work after a busy day, craving the ultimate man-meal of USDA Choice Top Sirloin, cooked to medium-rare perfection with the best steak recipe possible, served up with homemade mashed potatoes and corn-on-the-cob. The problem? You’re a bachelor, and there’s no one there to cater to your every whim. Maybe you have the time, but not the know-how. Maybe you’re a 5-star chef, but you live in an apartment, and your version of a grill is a George Foreman’s Lean, Mean, Fat-Grilling Machine.
Either way, now you can enjoy 5-star restaurant-quality steaks (and other meals) in the comfort of your own home, with nothing more than an oven, a dream, and a pot of water.
“The only time to eat diet food is while you are waiting for the steak to cook.”
Julia Child (1912-2004)
Well, it’s been through numerous incarnations and experimentation, and I’ve spent many hours concocting the perfect version of the best steak recipe, but I’ve finally done it: I have successfully recreated the Ruth’s Chris, Morton’s, and/or other world-famous steakhouse medium-rare perfect steak. My roommate and I both prefer medium-rare as our go-to doneness option, and I persuaded begged him to let me use one of his recent grocery purchases as an experiment: a 2-pound aged USDA Choice top sirloin, about 1.5 inches thick.
Did you say pot of water?
Yes, I did. I’ve been reading up on a cooking method called sous vide, French for “under vacuum” (basically). The idea is that water cooks the meat much more evenly than heat that’s dispersed through air or through metal (grills, pans, pots, ovens, and other traditional cooking methods commonly cook foods this way). By wrapping the meat in air-tight plastic (in this case a plastic Ziploc bag), you can cause the water to have close contact with the meat without causing the watery osmosis effect of boiling.
The main goal of sous vide is to heat the water to a level far below the boiling point (212° F), yet high enough that the meal can still cook to your desired doneness. The target temperature for my perfectly cooked steaks are 130°-140°, the proper temperature of a medium-rare center. You can actually buy a sous vide oven, and most operate like crock pots, in that the user can select a temperature and drop in the food, leave it for awhile, and take it out when ready. They’re pretty awesome, and they work beautifully. These guys are the ones they use in professional kitchens, and if you really want to make a mark and cook like you mean it, consider purchasing one!
Put simply though, I don’t have a sous vide cooker, nor do I have the money to go out and buy one. I’m sure there are some pretty nifty features included with the newer models (mp3 players on the LCD touch-screen, HDMI input so I can hook up my Sprint Evo 4G and watch my 8 megapixel home videos, a Garmin GPS, etc.), but I felt like if I could just recreate the same result in my own home, convince my wife of the benefits, and prove to the world it can be done, I’d be able to write a bestselling book about it (or at least a blog post that my mom will read)!
I got to work. It turns out there’s plenty of information about sous vide-style cooking (probably the best book on the topic, but definitely the best-looking one I’ve seen–seriously, it’s awesome.), but not a definitive resource for at-home sous vide cooking using common kitchen materials. This blog post will change that. Here’s the exact recipe I created for my perfect and absolute best steak recipe:
- 1 steak, 1-2 lbs. – aged is better, USDA is good. The thicker the better also, and ribeyes and sirloins work the best. You want one with great marbling–the little white lines of fat running up and down throughout the meat.
- 1 large plastic bag – don’t be cheap (you’re not buying a $400 sous vide cooker, get the Ziploc stuff already!)
- 1 large pot of water – the more water the better, it’s easier to maintain a consistent temperature with 1-3+ gallons of water
- kosher salt (or sea salt) – a lot; optional if you’re not salting beforehand.
- spices – I like Montreal Steak Seasoning; some purists say nothing more than some coriander, salt, and pepper
- I like to salt my steak; salting pulls moisture from the inside of the cut and doesn’t change the fat content at all. Instead, the salt and lack of water helps relax the protein, causing tenderness without sacrificing taste. Read this article for “proper” salting, and you’ll be fine: http://steamykitchen.com/163-how-to-turn-cheap-choice-steaks-into-gucci-prime-steaks.html
- Unwrap the meat from its packaging and place it on a thickly-salted plate. Salt the top and sides of the cut as well.
- Let the salt work for an hour. The meat won’t go bad, and you’ll start to see water droplets on it.
- Rinse the salt from the top and bottom of the meat and pat dry. VERY dry–if you don’t dry the meat, you’ll be effectively steaming it when you cook it (bad).
- Heat the oven to desired temperature and place the pot of water inside to begin heating.
- Rare: 125–130°F
- Medium-rare: 130–140°F
- Medium: 140–150°F
- Medium-well: 150–155°F
- Well-done: 160-212°F
- Bag it.
- Let your meat come to room temperature, and place it in the plastic bag.
- Add in the dry spices. Rub it down with the herbs and spices, and try adding a slab of butter or liquid smoke to the bag as well (if you decide to marinate, do it prior to placing it in the bag, and don’t let too much liquid into the bag either).
- Using a straw (or your lips, if you’re man enough), suck out as much air as possible. The bag should conform to the meat and look like a shrink-wrapped slab. Seal the bag shut. Hint: the zippered Ziploc bags are NOT airtight; use the old-school kind.
- Toss it in.
- Drop the bagged slab(s) of meat into the heated pot of water; cook for at least half an hour.
- Don’t let the bag touch the oven coils–plastic melts, causing holes.
- Sear the outside.
- Heat a skillet on the stove to medium-high, and let some olive oil or butter start to smoke (about 2-3 minutes for oil, about 30 seconds for butter).
- After at least half an hour, take the steak out of the oven. It will be a gross grayish color; this is normal.
- Throw onto a buttered frying pan, grill, or Foreman grill (heated to High) for 10 seconds on each side. This will sear the outsides of the meat, caramelize the outer edges, and give it that grilled-to-perfection look.
Umm, how long?
It will take half an hour or so for the inside of your steaks to reach the same temperature as the water. After that, don’t worry about over-cooking the food–it can’t get any hotter than the oven’s current setting, and the meat will only begin to dehydrate (noticeably) after 4+ hours in the oven. Seriously. Don’t worry about it–leave it in while you take a shower, walk the dog, work out, whatever!
I’ve cooked mine for 30 minutes, 2 hours, and over 3 hours, with the exact same effect. If you need to prepare a meal as well, this is the perfect steak recipe!
It turns out many top restaurants are using sous vide-style cooking methods for their busiest hours, because of the simple fact that they can throw in 20 proteins at the beginning of the evening, heat them to desired temperatures, and simply sear them for a few seconds when needed. Voila! Made-to-order top-notch steaks–they look and taste perfect, and their customers never know their meals were previously relaxing in a hot tub for four-and-a-half hours!
- Make sure you use good-quality meat. I’ve tried this recipe with less-than-stellar product, and the results aren’t bad, they just taste like less-than-stellar food cooked well. Again, the thicker the better. Look for great fat content (marbling, like on most ribeyes), and don’t trim the steaks of excess fat before the water bath.
- Don’t know if your oven is the right temperature? Grab a cheap thermometer, either a turkey-thermometer (one that sticks into the meat) or an in-oven thermometer. It may take at least 20 minutes for the water to reach the same temperature as the oven air. If you’re in more of a hurry, try microwaving batches of water incrementally and pouring it into the pot before you place it in the oven.
- Make sure it’s airtight. I can’t stress this enough. If your bags aren’t airtight (or have holes in them), your meat will be 1. squishy and chewy, 2. sloppy and slimy, and/or 3. not good in general. You might as well throw it in the bathtub and cook it there if your bags let water in.
- Don’t worry about timing. The timing is the least important thing to worry about–be sure the steak is prepared well and you sear it immediately after you bathe it, and you’ll be fine. This method allows for those last-minute trips to the grocery store, cooking the rest of the meal simultaneously, or simply running errands during the cooking process (provided there is someone at home to watch the oven!).
Happy cooking! Let me know what your results with this are–again, I’ve only tried steaks, but I believe this DIY at-home sous-vide hack is good for many other methods of cooking (cheesecake, anyone?)… I think that in this world of being too busy, not having enough time, and trying to do everything at once, having a recipe like this on hand will not only help boost our productivity inside and outside the kitchen, it will give us more time to do the things that really matter.
As an aside, I’ve had multiple people at work mention that they’ve tried this recipe, as well as my grandfather, who doesn’t cook at all! The results? All of them said it was either the absolute perfect recipe for the best steak they’ve tasted, the greatest and easiest way of cooking the most perfect steak they’d ever seen, or simply the tastiest way to prepare it.
Either way, all of them LOVED the recipe for the perfect steak, and said it’s so easy to do, they’ll not only be trying it again soon, they’ll be cooking ALL of their proteins in this style to achieve the “best steak” results for their food!
Thanks for visiting, God bless, and see you soon!