Introduction: Sous Vide, the Maillard Reaction, and the Quest for the Perfect Steak
Enjoy this step by step walk-through of creating the perfect steak. By utilizing sous vide cooking you can not only lock in great steak flavor, but also add flavors of your own. The Maillard Reaction creates the brown crust of outer deliciousness that every great steak is known for. Enjoy, and thanks for reading, but beware... you will leave hungry!
Step 1: Season Your Meat
Pat your steaks dry and apply the seasonings of your choosing. The only MUST is salt. The salt applied here will soak into the steak, enhance flavor, and reduce moisture, making a beautifully brown, seared crust possible (we'll see this later on). The salt also creates a brine within the steak, allowing for the breakdown of muscle fiber as it cooks. This creates a moist, tender piece of meat. For this cook I used a grass fed boneless rib eye, seasoned with a mixture of kosher salt, garlic powder, dried rosemary, and a little sugar. The beauty of this method is that you can pick any piece of meat you want, even cheap/tough pieces of meat fall to the mercy of Sous Vide.
Step 2: Life (and Cooking) in a Vacuum
Sous Vide - Literally French for "under vacuum".
Here we place the seasoned morsels of meaty deliciousness into a vacuum sealer bag and seal in all of that delicious flavor that usually gets cooked out. Anyone who has ever attempted to grill or pan sear a steak knows exactly what I am talking about... The second that steak hits the grill or that smoking hot pan, all of the liquid (and flavor) releases from the steak, leaving you with a pale brown, tough, and flavorless piece of meat. Because the contents is under a vacuum, excess liquid gets removed, and all of the flavor gets locked in. And that's not all folks...you can add flavor too. Throwing in a few sprigs of fresh herbs, garlic cloves, butter (oh sweet heavenly butter), shallots, or any other flavorful fantasies of yours just adds to the already delicious piece of protein candy in that bag. Here we used 2 smashed garlic cloves per steak, one on each side of the steak and a tablespoon of butter in each bag.
Step 3: Magic (Science) at Work...
The vacuum bagged flavor pouches are then placed in.... wait for it... warm water. Thanks to a Sous Vide circulator, a technology previously only available for the finest of restaurants, a consistent temperature can be kept and used to heat the steaks at a slow pace all the way to their desired doneness. Like it rare? Set it for one hour to 130. Med Rare? 135 Medium? 140. Med Rare? 145. Well Done? You're an animal, who does that to their food? But I digress... The beauty of the Sous Vide cooking style is that since the food is cooked under vacuum, all that flavor is locked in. Also, since the cooking is done slowly, over a long period of time, the meat is allowed to become ultra tender and achieves a level of decadence reserved normally for braised meats. Admittedly although technically cooked, the steaks look awful after this stage, until...
Step 4: The Maillard Reaction
No, not the duck, that's a mallard. The Maillard Reaction is the browning of meat, bread, etc due to an expulsion of sugars exposed to high levels of heat. Remove the steaks from their heavenly flavor pouches and pat dry. I like to add a little extra salt at this step (see step 1 for reasoning) Place a pan (preferably a well seasoned cast iron) over high heat. Allow the pan to heat up until it smokes. Add 1 Tbsp of Vegetable or Canola oil and sear your steaks. Disclaimer - this will cause smoke. Open a window, door, vent fan, whatever you've got, and allow the magic to happen. As the meat touches the extremely hot pan, the salty brine we created by seasoning the steak in step 1, along with the internal sugars and proteins of the meat begin a chemical reaction known as the Maillard Reaction. This chemical change creates that deliciously perfect sear on the outside of your favorite steak, adding flavor, texture, and striking beauty to the meat. Adding butter to the pan during this stage is highly (very highly) recommended as it also contains browning substances that aid the meat in achieving maximum coloration and is just downright delicious. Sear the steak on all sides, 15-30 secs at a time including the outer edges. Spoon butter over the steak to give it shine.
Step 5: Steak Perfection
Once you have finished the sear, you are officially ready for steak euphoria. As an added benefit, because of the slow cook, no rest is needed before enjoying your deliciously perfect steak. Enjoy!