Tenderizing with salt? Really? Perfection at last!

After some more googling (how did people ever find out anything before google?) I came over an interesting article about marinating with salt. Yes, salt. I thought salt was bad for meat because it extracts moisture, and so, I am sure, do you. Read the article yourself here, don’t take my word for it. According to the article, the salt is “pulled” into the meat due to reverse osmosis, and once inside, it breaks down the muscle fibers.  Sounds reasonable. A little moisture is lost, but very little, and it doesn’t affect the overall juiciness. So I thought, why not do a comparison, one with salt, and one with some popular ordinary marinade? As seen on the picture above, the one on the left was covered with large flakes of sea salt, and the one on the right was marinated in a bag filled with a popular marinade found here. The left one was covered in salt on all sides, and I applied generous amounts of minced garlic as well. They were both left for 2 hours in room temperature before they were sous vide’ed for two hours at 136 deg fahrenheit (58 degrees celsius). Before cooking, it was clear that the tenderizing action had kicked in on both steaks. The result, after searing in a very hot pan, is seen on the right. Yummy! But do you notice the color difference? For some reason, the marinated one got a darker color, although they were seared at the same time in the same pan. Interesting. So, how was the end result?

Two fantastic, juicy, tender, mouth-watering steaks!

What a great result! I was hoping maybe one of them would be great, but these were both spectacular in their own ways. The one to the left, the salt marinated one, was extremely juicy, tender, and had a mouth-watering taste of mild salt and garlic all the way through the meat. If you like garlic like I do, this one will make you very happy indeed. The one to the right, the marinated one, was slightly less juicy (but still very juicy!), slightly more tender, and with a lovely taste of different spices and sauces part of the marinade. Actually, my fiancé preferred the marinated one, while I think I preferred the salt-treated one. But they were both great steaks! Finally, success at last. I couldn’t be more happy. I’d like to thank the authors of the two aforementioned articles, especially Jaden Hair for the tips on the salt-tenderizing thing. I would never had guessed that would work :)  I had made some nice Béarnaise sauce to go with the steaks, but we didn’t even touch it! The steaks actually had so much flavor and juiciness, none of us wanted to obscure it with sauce. Wow, that’s a first for myself.

An interesting note for the end: The salt-treated steak was actually marginally more juicy than the marinade treated one. How about that.

Happy sous vide’ing everyone!

Tenderizing with pineapple?

So, my cooking is improving, and swapping the cheap-o meat with some decent one was a good thing. Imagine that :P  But let’s face it, I didn’t get into sous vide to make decent steaks, I want to make PERFECT steaks! A little googling tells me what I’ve been suspecting all along, that some sort of tenderizing    is the way to go, even with sous vide. I found there’s quite a few techniques to choose from when tenderizing meat, like dry ageing, marinading, and mechanical tenderizing (bashing :) ). I’ve tried marinading a few times in the past, but I didn’t really know what I was doing (many would claim I still don’t..), and the result was mediocre. I googled the subject a bit, and found that one of the most potent tenderizing marinade ingredients are acids from fruits like pineapple and lime. Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, which breaks down muscle fibers and makes meat tender. I browsed a few marinade recipes, and made my own based on blended pineapple, some balsamic vinegar, and some ordinary vinegar. I poured it into a small plastic bag, added the steak, and made sure the was no air left in the bag before I sealed it. Then I left it in the refrigerator for about 24 hours before I sous vide’ed it.

When I took it out of the marinade, it was instantly clear that something had happened. The meat had clearly been tenderized, and it was barely holding together. I had to handle it with utmost care just not to have it fall into pieces. Hmm, could 24 hours have been too much? After a couple of hours in the sous vide at 136 deg fahrenheit (58 degrees celsius), it was tasting time. And the result? Very tender meat, but a little dry, and with a funny texture and taste. It had a distinctive taste of pineapple (imagine that), and to be honest, I don’t really care for pineapple, especially not mixed with meat (or pizza!). The texture was also a bit “grainy” in a funny way. Ok, so did I overdo it? Some more googling discovered some blog posts saying pineapple-based tenderizing shouldn’t last for more than a couple of hours (oops). Ok, so I redid the experiment, the same marinade but only for two hours. And the result was much better, the meat was tender, the texture was good, but the taste was still pineapple. Yuck.

With gravy it actually tasted very nice, but I don’t want to camouflage anything with gravy. I want the perfect steak. Luckily, my next experiment was an eye opener. So read on! :)

Poll

If first you don’t succeed…

So, my first sous vide session was something of a disappointment, and what should have been a perfect steak turned out juicy but chewy. Something was wrong. Could my cheap-o meat be to blame? I went to my local store and opted for some Entrecote steaks which was label as having a tenderness of 5 on a scale from 1 to 6. The price was higher than for my last batch, but not frighteningly higher, and the meat looked good. So, I invited a good friend over, and cooked the meat for 2 hours (these were quite a bit thinner than the last one, around 1 inch) at 58 degrees. Yes, that’s one degree hotter than the previous attempt, I thought the last one was a bit to much on the red side perhaps. This time, the result was much better. Clearly, the cheap-o meat was to blame, but I still wasn’t happy. This steak was fine, but far from perfect. It should still be more tender. Maybe, in spite of the fancy cooking method, it needed some tenderizing? Some marinade perhaps?

This needs more experimentation. Check out the next post! :-)

 

My first attempt!

Finally, I’d gone to my local store and bought a big, good looking piece of sirloin meat. It was from a cheap brand, but I reckoned that wouldn’t matter as I was going to sous vide cook it anyway. Any meat gets perfect with sous vide right? Because of the thickness of it (probably a good two inches) it was supposed to cook for 4 hours at 134 fahrenheit (57 degrees celcius).  So, after 4 hours I took it out, and noticed that it hadn’t changed color at all from the cooking. This is to be expected, and is why you’re supposed to sear it briefly on all sides at high temperaturs in your frying pan. I did (be careful

 to dry off any water or moist with a paper towl first), and the end result looked beautiful! Wow, I could hardly wait to sink my teeth into this one :)

Great was my horror therefore to discover that my beef was chewy! How could this happen? The temperature was right, the time was right, and it looked great, both on the outside and on the inside. Sure it was juicy, but it took too much force to cut it, and it was chewy in the mouth. This was definately not right. Could my cheap meat be to blame? Was it simply not tender enough, simply so low quality that any amount of clever sous vide’ing wouldn’t help? Or was my 

timing wrong? 

The only way forward was to try agin. Check out my next post! :)

 

My sous vide setup

You don’t have to buy a professional sous vide apparatus setting you back 500-1000 dollars to create your perfect sous vide setup at home. I bought a dirt-cheap rice cooker from my local web store, and the SousVideMagic from a Us web site. I live abroad (Norway), and luckily they offered international shipping. While cheaper than a professional apparatus or an immersion heater, it still put me back 150 dollars, but I reckoned it was worth it (In retrospect, it was definitely worth it). If you’re a technical tinkerer, you would instead want to buy a PID controller and a solid state relay off of ebay or something for even a lot less money. The key to sous vide cooking is to maintain a precice temperature throughout the cooking, so some sort of PID temperature controller is needed. The nice thing about the sous vide magic is that it lets me plug my rice cooker directly to it, with no need to solder or hack anything. The rice cooker is basically “always on” throughout cooking, but the sous vide magic switches the current on and off, so that the water is heatet just enough. A wire extends from the sous vide magic to my rice cooker, measuring the water temperature at all times.

For vacuuming, I went with the cheap choice, and simply suck out the air from the bags with my mouth. It’s not very high tech, and it probably doesn’t produce the best vacuum, but it does the job. The reason you want a vacuum in the first place is because you want the plastic bag to cling to the

meat, for maximum transfer of heat. If you have large air pockets, it will insulate the meat, and transfer the heat poorly. I go with ordinary small household plastic bags used for deepfreezing food. As you can see from the picture, the plastic bag is hugging the meat pretty nicely. So, we’re all ready to start cooking, stay tuned for the next post!

 

 

What is sous vide?

Sous Vide (proncounced “soo vid”) is bascially about vacuum-sealing your meat (it doesn’t have to be a perfect vacuum), and heating it in a water bath sufficiently long for the meat to be heated to the perfect temperature all the way through. So what’s wrong with frying your steaks in the pan? Well, if your really good at it, you can produce greats steaks in the frying pan. However, the end result will always be a steak that’s more heavily fried on the outer parts than in the middle. There’s no way to avoid this when using a frying pan, because the heat is transferred from the pan to the middle through the outer parts of the steak. Thus, the outer parts will be overdone and less juicy than the perfect middle part. When using sous vide, the meat is vacuum-sealed in a plastic bag before going into the water bath, to avoid the meat getting into contact with the water directly. The water is then heated and precisely controlled to maintain a specific temperature (134 deg Fahrenheit or 57 deg Celcius for “medium-rare”), and the meat is left to cook for several hours (typically around two hours for sirloin, tenderloin).  Because the water temperature never exceeds this temperature, no part of the steak is overdone. The result is perfectly cooked meat, with the precisely right pink color all the way through.