January 24, 2011

Going Ghetto in the Jungle

 Ghetto sous-vide, that is! Louise and I have been talking a lot lately about this technique and how it can transform the texture of food. Being interested in the science behind all things, she was very curious about it after having tasted some venison cooked this way by a friend. First horrified to see the meat cooked in a water bath, she was delighted by the results. It got me thinking!
Sous-vide cooking is not a new technique, far from it since it was invented in the late 1800's (minus the elaborate apparatus and plastic bags, I suppose), but has become increasingly popular these days amongst chefs and molecular gastronomy gurus (you can read about the technique here).
Of course, it requires a rather expensive equipment but I thought that if it existed 200 years ago, there was a good chance it could be done in my small kitchen here in Bali without going "haute sous vide".
And that's when I remembered reading about ghetto sous-vide in the Momofuku Cookbook by David Chang!
All what was needed was a ziplock bag, a pot of water kept at the right temperature (130ºF) for the cooking, ice to cool down rapidly the meat afterwards and a grill to finish the meat. Then, after some research, I found this food lab entry and this one from Serious Eats. One was about guidelines for temperatures and safety, the other about using your cooler as a water bath for the cooking. Perfect!
I got a nice cut of local beef (tasty but tough), butterflied it and decided to marinate the meat with our favorite homemade barbecue sauce to which I added some pineapple and starfruit from the garden for the tenderizing effect as well as rice vinegar.

Rahasia Barbecue Sauce
make 1 cup

1 medium onion, chopped
4 shallots, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Tbs vegetable oil
1 lemongrass stick, sliced
1 Tbs palm sugar, chopped
2 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs kecap manis
2 Tbs rice vinegar
5 Tbs tomato ketchup
2 Tbs hoisin sauce
2 small slices of pineapple, chopped
1 small starfruit, chopped
2 long red chilies, chopped
4 bird's eye chilies
Juice of one lime
3 kaffir limes leaves finely sliced

Fry the onion in a pan with some olive oil, add the shallots and garlic and cook until soft. Put all the ingredients except the lime in a blender until almost smooth; it should retain some texture.

Cook gently and turn often with a spoon to prevent scorching, it should take about 10 minutes to reach a jammy consistency. Add the lime juice and the kaffir lime leaves. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed. It should be sweet, hot and a little sour. Let cool and store in the fridge.

Ghetto Sous-Vide Steak with Barbecue Sauce

1-1lb 1/2 of beef (sirloin, hanger, striploin and flank are good)
1 cup rahasia barbecue sauce (recipe above)

Coat the meat with about 1/2 cup of the sauce. Place in a ziplock bag, seal and marinate overnight in the fridge.
Three hours before you plan to grill the meat, pour enough water in a cooler (cool and hot) to reach a temperature of 135ºF or 58ºC (the meat will cool the water a few degrees). Lower the bag with the meat in it, 2/3 of the way closed, with the zipper part just above the water line and push the air out; this should approximate a sous-vide effect with the plastic tightening around the meat. Seal the bag, lock the cooler and let it cook for 1 hour to 1 hour 1/2.
Remove the bag from the cooler after that time, place it in a sink filled cold water and ice to cool it rapidly and place in the fridge.
Fire the grill. When it's ready, grill the meat until both sides are crusty (3/4 minutes on each side) and brush more barbecue sauce on it. Once done, the meat does not need to rest. Slice against the grain. Serve with a sauce made by whisking 1Tbs of the barbecue sauce in some melted butter until emulsified. Voila!

It was meltingly tender, delicious and if kind of labor intensive, worth it. 
Now, would I do this again? I am not sure I would cook this way with an aged Porterhouse steak; it seems to me that if you have a great cut of meat, aged properly, grilling it is just as good, if not better. Now, I have never tasted the sous-vide Wagyu beef at Grant Achatz' (and certainly never will, oh well...). Given the circumstances, it was fun and the results were great! The local meat, which is very  tasty but tough, was transformed into a tender, delicious, quality imported steak, so yes, I think I will definitely use my cooler again soon. If anyone has suggestions, I would be happy to know.

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