Friday, 24 August 2012

Sous vide steak

In the past couple of weeks my post-olympics / pre-paralympics TV void has been nicely filled by the return of Great British Bake Off and Celebrity MasterChef. The kitchen skills employed by the celebrities currently embroiled within the latest series of MC have yet to reach the level of molecular gastronomy but if like me you are a regular viewer of anything that features Gregg Wallace, Michel Roux Jnr or Heston Blumenthal I’m sure you will be familiar with the concepts of making ice cream with liquid nitrogen or the creation of foams with CO2 loaded canisters.

Another technique that seems to have been adopted on TV cookery programmes in the last few years is sous vide cookery. If you don’t know what sous vide cookery is it basically involves cooking food in sealed plastic bags which are placed in a water bath at a specifically set temperature, which allows the food to be cooked for long periods of time without overheating and overcooking. By cooking for a longer period of time at a lower temperature than in an oven or under a grill the core of the food reaches the desired temperature without overcooking the outside and this is meant to help food retain its juices and flavours. Since the rise in popularity of this cooking method (despite it being first described in 1799 by Sir Benjamin Thompson…so Wikipedia informs me!!!) sous-vide machines for the domestic kitchen are now available but with a price tag in excess of £200 they probably aren’t classed as an essential kitchen gadget by the majority of people no matter how foodie obsessed they may be!

There are however numerous examples on-line of DIY versions of sous-vide cookery, often involving cool boxes or slow cookers. And so I was inspired to embark on the world of sous-vide cookery without the aid of fancy gadgets or machines but simply a slow cooker, some sandwich bags and a digital thermometer!

I think the obvious choice for sous vide cookery is steak and so after a quick trip to my local butchers I returned with a couple of sirloin steaks all ready to go!


Slow cooker
Digital kitchen thermometer
Large sealable sandwich bags


Begin by choosing the temperature at wish you would like to cook your steak, which will of course depend on how you like to eat steak! The following table should give an indication of the temperature you should be aiming at;

Medium-well done

Now you need to fill the slow cooker with water at the appropriate temperature. I did this by boiling a kettle and half filling the slow cooker with the hot water before adding cold water to achieve the desired temperature using the digital thermometer. Then I set the slow cooker to the ‘Warm’ setting to try and maintain the temperature of the water.

I found that during the cooking process the water temperature in the slow cooker did slowly creep up so I began by setting the temperature of the water at the lower end of the temperature range I required (e.g. for a medium-rare steak begin by getting the water to 55°C).

Next place the steak into a sandwich bag. I cooked 2 steaks at once in my slow cooker but placed each in a separate bag. To expel all of the excess air from the bag take a large bowl filled with cold water and slowly lower the sandwich bag containing the steak into the water until the opening of the bag is just above the water level. This should force the air out of the bag so that the bag can then be sealed up.

Then take the sealed up steak and lower into the slow cooker before placing the temperature probe part of the thermometer into the water and placing on the lid and leaving to cook for 2 hours.

As I explained I did find that the temperature of the water slowly crept up over the cooking period and didn’t remain constant as it would do in a real sous vide machine. So I kept checking the thermometer reading throughout the cooking process and as it began to near the upper limit of the medium-rare cooking range (60°C) I would add a little more cold water to reduce the temperature back down to 55°C. Handily my digital thermometer has an alarm that sounds when the desired temperature is reached so I was quickly alerted to an undesired rise in temperature and was able to adjust the water temperature when needed.

But apart from the odd addition of a cup of cold water you do just leave the steak cooking away for a couple of hours which left me with plenty of time to get on with preparing the all important accompaniment of chunky chips!!!

After 2 hours turn off the slow cooker and remove the steak containing sandwich bags. Take a large frying pan and place over an incredibly high heat and leave until the surface of the pan is volcanically hot. Then remove the steaks from the sandwich bags and place in the pan searing the steaks on each side to produce a nice brown and caramelised finish. This last cooking stage should really only take a matter of seconds on each side and just provides a little extra colour as the steaks are perfectly cooked on removal from the makeshift water bath.

And there you are…a sous vide style steak ready to serve up alongside those chunky chips and perhaps a good dollop of English mustard!!  


  1. Heya, saw your blog on the the Irishfoodbloggers site. Thought you might be interested in a way to do proper sous vide on the cheap. You can get a PID controller which you plug your rice cooker into and it comes with a thermometer that you stick into the water and it maintains the temperature by turning the cooker on and off in pulses. You get temperature stability of 0.1C. This is the one I have:

    Works out at about £95stg with free shipping. Have mine about a year although I don't use an immersion heater and a stockpot rather than a rice cooker. Here's my set up:

    1. Don't think I do enough 'sous vide' cookery to justify the £95 but it is a good isea...thanks for the tip!