I won't belabor the details of Sous Vide cooking as the web, and even Instructables, abounds with discussion, definition, tutorials and what not. Typically, sous vide requires somewhat expensive equipment because a water bath has to be held at a particular temperature. There are somewhat inexpensive immersion heaters available, but I have not seen spectacular reviews on them. Lastly, one way to get into sous vide is to buy an electronic thermostat and put it on a non-digital crockpot. This Instructable follows the latter, but with much less expense and complicity.
After a great deal of thought and research, I concluded that to be successful in cooking sous vide you needed to understand temperature and how it changes in your cooking vessel when it is full of water and secondly, you need to put your food in a sealed vacuum (or near vacuum) bag.
If you want to have some fun and watch some fireworks, tell a sous vide snob who prefers a "water oven" that an immersion heater is just as good if not better. Or, tell them that a Ziploc ® bag is just as good as a vacuum sealed one. At the end of the day, the food does not care what it is cooked in as long as the basic principles are adhered to.
For this Instructable you will need to start with a Crockpot (slow cooker) of some sort and a digital kitchen thermometer. I use a Rival mini-crock for single-serving lamb (my wife won't eat lamb) and a Cuisinart Digital Meat Thermometer that you can find for about $10 almost anywhere.
Fill the crockpot with water and take a temperature reading. Write down the reading and the time. Wait a bit, at least 15 minutes, 30 is fine, and take another reading. Keep doing this until your crockpot stabilizes at its maximum temperature.
I did this for two crockpots, the small one I use for the Morroccan Lamb recipe and a large, digital one. BTW, you can use a digital slow cooker with this technique. What you are wanting to do is determine the rate of temperature rise of the pot based on what setting it is on. My small one is a half degree (ºF) per minute and my large one is one degree per minute. The small one is particularly easy since it only has one setting—on or off!
Now on to the recipe...
Step 1: Moroccan Lamb Recipe
This recipe comes from one published by Chef Nicole Poirier in San Francisco. Browse here for her version.
You will need:
Lamb chops or steak
Ras El Hanout spice blend
The last item can be found in high-end grocery stores, middle-eastern stores and for sure Whole Foods Market. It is just a mix of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg and recipes for it can be found on the web.
Dry your lamb and rub it with salt and pepper. I prefer Hawaiian Red Alaea Sea Salt and very coarse fresh ground black pepper.
Now rub the meat with a nice coat of Ras El Hanout.
Stick the meat carefully into a Ziploc® freezer bag (the kind with a double seal and not with the plastic sealing clip) with the prunes and some honey taking care not to foul the seal with anything. Now close the bag over a small straw. I use a cocktail straw, but a soda straw will work. Suck the air out of the bag and then quickly pull the straw out while snapping the bag shut. You may have to do this a few times until you can get a good seal with as little air in the bag as possible. Of course, if you have a vacuum sealer use it.
Step 2: Cook the Bag
Put the bag into your crockpot and fill with hot water from the tap. I put a ceramic ramekin over the bag to keep it down in the water. Plug in and turn on the crockpot.
Take the temperature of the water and then decide how well-cooked you want the lamb to be. I decided to go to 180ºF which is very well-done. If cooked to 145°F it will be medium rare, at 160 °F it will be medium and at 170 °F well done.
All you need do is reach the safe INTERNAL minimum temperature of 145°F. I emphasized internal because the surface might be at a different temp than the inside. Since the meat is in a sealed bag in close contact with the water bath, over the course of a few hours you can feel somewhat confident that the meat will be at or very close to the temp of the water. I elected to err heavy on the side of caution.
If you do go rare, pulling it at 150ºF should give you more than enough margin while staying rare.
So, calculate from your start temp to your done temp, divide by your temperature rise value and that will be your cook time. Remember that a crockpot is also called a slow cooker. Abrupt changes are not what it does and you can use that to your advantage. Also, the crock is extremely energy efficient and will not heat your kitchen up.
Lastly, since you are cooking in a sealed bag, you will not have any moisture loss so even a well-done piece of meat will be succulent and juicy.
Step 3: Finish Up and Enjoy!
As you can see I went to 183ºF and still had juicy and delicious lamb. It goes great with cous cous cooked in chicken stock with pine nuts. A Pinot Noir is also a good pairing.
You may have noted that I did not list amounts in the ingredients list and that is one of the great things about this recipe. The amount that you can cook is dependent on the size of your slow cooker and the plastic bag you use. I figure on one prune and about a half-teaspoon of honey per quarter pound of lamb—your tastes may vary. The prunes add a fruity lusciousness that along with the honey balances out the bitter cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg of the Ras El Hanout.