I enjoy the cringe of the double contraction more than is strictly proper. Makes me feel like I’m unraveling the universe just a little more every time.
ANYway. I’m done! It’s happened! So far, I’ve even lived through it.
As I mentioned a few times, I bought an Anova “Precision Cooker” as an experiment. It’s a delightful little thing for cooking sous vide. You vacuum pack something, then toss it in a water bath with a precision controlled temperature for some number of hours and you can’t overcook it. As someone who is pathologically incapable of cooking beef correctly in any form (even ground I manage to screw up. Burgers are right out. Steaks…well…best not to talk about what I do to a steak) this thing was a godsend.
Sure enough, for months I’d cook steaks to absolute perfection every time. The first few I’d then sear on a cast iron pan, which would inevitably set off my smoke alarm. So I stopped searing it. Small price to pay for the quality of steak I was able to enjoy.
But it got me wondering, after a couple months. Since you couldn’t burn it, and it was vacuum sealed so you couldn’t dry it out, what would happen if you kept it in too long? What would happen if you cooked a filet mignon for…well…
Well…I mean, that’s just crazy. What’s the duty cycle of the Anova? Would it even LAST that long? What would happen to the meat? Remember, the temperature we’re talking about for a medium rare steak is 125. That’s…I think 40 degrees shy of health department minimum acceptable steam table temperature.
But how tender would it GET? What would it taste like?
In the name of science I decided I had to know. But cooking a steak for a week is a pretty shitty test. I’d need to do a side-by-side test.
So off we go.
Last Friday (3/17) I went to Fresh Market in Hendersonville TN, on my way home from work (they have a great meat counter) and I bought 3 filets, explaining to the guy that I was doing a side-by-side sous vide time test (I left out the soul crushingly stupid scale of the experiment) and I got 2 almost identical pieces and one that was a bit larger.
– Friday 3/17: Vacuum seal all 3 steaks, numbering the bags 1-3 and stick them all in the freezer (this way they all start from the same state.)
– Saturday 3/18: Once fully frozen, set the Anova to 125 degrees and put steak #1 in.
– Wednesday 3/22: Add the largest of the steaks.
– Saturday 3/25, Noon: Add the 3rd.
– Wait 4-5 hours (the normal cooking time of a steak from frozen, maybe plus an hour for good measure.)
– Pull ’em and see what I’ve got. (NOT searing them. Just not worth the trouble of explaining to the neighbors what was up.)
So here’s (some of) the pics I took of the process and result. Thoughts and conclusions at the bottom.
All 3 steaks vacuum sealed. The sequence is out of order. The big one should be in the middle.
Putting in the first steak. You can see on the Anova the set temperature is 125, but it’s only at 89.2. So it’s JUST starting to come up to temperature. Yeah, the bin I use is a bit too large. But I didn’t quite realize what I was doing when I bought the damn thing. The lighting makes the steak look awful in a lot of these pics. I’m no photographer.
You can’t really see them all in here. But this is the state at about 6:00 tonight, as I was about to take them all out.
Here they are, in the order they went in (left to right.) Yeah that steak on the left is looking a little dark and, now that I’m looking at it and being even marginally honest with myself, perhaps a bit green. But it didn’t seem that way to me at the time.
Here are all 3 taken out and cut in half:
So. What happened when I put this stuff in my mouth? (’cause yeah. I ate almost all of this.)
1 week: I started with this, figuring if I was gonna kill myself for science, I’d better start quick. I wouldn’t have eaten it if it smelled off. I mean I’m crazy, not stupid. But the steak was far more aromatic than I’m used to a filet being. (I confirmed this by giving it a good sniff before I opened the other from their vacuum bags at all as well.) But it didn’t smell BAD. It just smelled like… like a grilled skirt steak with nothing on it. Meaty and tough. My thought was that the process had brought out some character that I wouldn’t have ordinarily gotten from the meat.
Notice the way it looks cut. I’ve got a real sharp chef’s knife. And the meat was disintegrating right out from under it. I cut a small piece and put it in my mouth. I am here to say, dear reader, that this piece of meat was only slightly more easy to chew than…say…mashed potatoes. It was without a doubt the most succulent, tender piece of land animal I’ve ever had (unless you want to count a German girl I used to know.) The flavor had that aromatic character to it as well. It tasted like a steak. But the mouth feel was too tender to believe that could possibly be what it was. I ate a few pieces of it before moving on.
On to the 3 day piece. Yes, it had the same smell, in a bit less strength. It was noticeably less tender. But it was still lovely. There’s not really much to say about it since it was the same as the 1 week cooked piece in every way, just in lesser degree.
Finally I took a big chunk of the 5 hour old filet. This was a known quantity so I had no hesitation. It didn’t have any noticeable odor other than I would expect from a filet. I’ve done these before so the tenderness, while lovely, wasn’t unexpected.
After fiddling around for a few minutes with the camera and drinking a bunch of water to wipe my palate out a bit.
I went back to the week old steak, cut another piece off and put some salt on it before bringing it to my mouth. Now I wouldn’t be quite so play by play normally. But when I got the fork to my face, that “smells like a skirt steak” smell got to my nose and my brain, this time, fired the “NOPE” circuits. Because I’m a moron I ate the piece, my thought being “I’d better try it just to be sure.” And sure enough, it wasn’t okay. Sure it tasted the same. But it seems that, when compared with the normally cooked steak, the week old one was suddenly able to be reevaluated as just not food. But ohmygod it was so tender.
Back to the 3 day old one I figured “maybe 3 days is the sweet spot.” No. This one is bad as well (I thought to myself as my eyes rolled back in my head, barely having to chew.)
All in all I ate half of each of the long-cooked steaks and the whole of the young one.
That was all… 5 hours ago and I’m waiting to see if I suffer any ill effects of any kind.
– The Anova will run for a week no problem.
– Don’t cook a steak for a week in an Anova
There’s something to this. There’s going to be a way to make this work. But just taking a piece of meat from the butcher and putting it in a vacuum bag then dropping it in a water bath for a week isn’t sufficient. Would using a dry aged steak work? What was actually the problem? Was it bacterial? That’s all beyond my ken. But the experiment was definitely worth doing.