Sous-vide (= ‘under vacuum’) is easy.
There are some very expensive systems for sale, but you really don’t have to spend that much money. You may already have everything you need: a./ a deep fryer or table oven with adjustable thermostat, the larger the better b./ a food thermometer and optionally c./ a vacuum-sealing machine.
- Find the cooking temperature and time for your thickness of steak and desired doneness on the internet, e.g. on THIS PAGE. I like a rare to medium-rare roast = lower temperature.
- After submerging the food, the temperature will dip and then gradually rise again. Start counting your time only when you reach the target temperature again. Larger or frozen roasts will require longer warming-up times. If possible, get food to room temperature before starting sous-vide. It will reduce the initial warming-up time.
- If you’re a sous vide beginner attempting to cook roast beef for the first time, stick to 135 degrees. It’s a good starting point, and you can adjust later attempts based on your experience.
- At the low temperature range, it is possible to cook 12, 24 and even 30 hrs. without getting past the rare stage or overcooking the meat.
I cooked this small roast for 90 minutes at 132 ºF, with the roast starting at room temperature.
The sous-vide method produces a very juicy roast that is evenly cooked throughout like no traditional cooking method can. You can cook a roast in the entire range from super-rare to way overdone by using progressively higher temperatures and / or longer cooking times.
The bright red color of the meat is typical for low-temperature cooking. Don’t worry about it not being cooked. The roast is thoroughly cooked through and steaming.
Deep-fryer / table oven method
A table grill with adjustable thermostat and a small cooking pot that fits on top may work as well.
Optional but highly recommended:
- Apply S&P, your favorite spices sparingly to the roast.
Go especially easy on the salt, or you might get a roast with the looks and texture of corned beef.
- Sear the roast on all sides.
- Allow the roast to cool enough that it won't melt the plastic bag.
- Apply S&P, your favorite spices sparingly to the roast.
- Fill the deep fryer with water.
- Set the temperature on the thermostat and allow to heat.
- Insert a food thermometer near the handle. (Pic2) Adjust the thermostat to obtain the correct temperature..If you use a lid, you may need to adjust again.
- Transfer the roast to the cooking bag with any seasonings / condiments you want to include.
Vacuum-seal the roast. Try to remove all air bubbles from the bag.
When the bag heats up, the bubble will get bigger and will prevent proper heat transfer.
A good alternative to vacuum sealing is a freezer Ziploc bag without vacuum seal.
- Remove the air by slowly immersing the bag with food in water.
- Gently shake or squeeze the content to remove air bubbles.
- Seal the zipper when the water reaches the zipper.
- Place the bag with the roast and perhaps another bag with vegetables in the basket.
The basket keeps the meat at a distance from the heating element so the water can circulate freely around the roast. If that is possible without lifting the roast out of the water, raise the basket to first position.
- Cover the deep fryer with a lid or a cutting board.
- Occasionally check to make sure the correct temperature is maintained.
- Keep the bag away from the thermometer, that you get an accurate water temperature.
- After 90 minutes, remove the roast from the bag.
- If you have not used S&P or spices before cooking, do it now.
- Sear in some very hot oil.
Beware of oil spattering. Because the roast is already warm, the searing will go very quickly.
- Use the juices from the cooking bag to reduce the searing drippings and to make gravy.
- Carve the roast (Pic3+4) and serve with potatoes and vegetables. (Pic1+5)
Resting the roast before carving is not necessary with sous-vide.
The stovetop method:
You can even do sous-vide even without the deep-fryer and vacuum-sealer, but I do consider a reliable food thermometer essential to maintain the correct temperature.
- Fill a cooking pot 3/4 with water.
If you have a pot with a deep steaming basket, use that one.
- Place the pot on the smallest burner, start heating until you reach the desired temperature.
- If the lowest heat setting is too high to keep the intended temperature, move the pot partway off the burner. Don't burn those pot handles if you use gas.
- Proceed when you can maintain the correct temperature for 15 minutes without adjustments.
- Place the food in a freezer Ziploc bag and remove air bubbles before closing.
- If you have a strainer or steam basket that fits in the pot with the bag fully submerged, use that to keep the bag away from the bottom.
If not, put enough teaspoons a.o. utensils in the pot to allow water to circulate underneath the bag and avoid direct contact of the bag with the bottom.
- Cook for the desired time at the desired temperature.
- Remove the food from the bag.
- Adjust seasoning. Sear again.
- Serve and enjoy.
Faking sous-vide with Mexican Chocolate Mole Sauce is one of my experiments that worked out very well. Instead of sous-vide, you can use a mole marinade (Pic2+3) au bain-marie = ‘in a water bath.’ This is a less technological method than Sous-vide Cooking, but it works just as good.
The mole sauce covers and seals the meat just like the plastic bag does and also qualizes heat distribution during the cooking. Unlike sous-vide, you can check the internal temperature of the meat.
You could also do this stovetop (Pic4) over lowest heat as long as the roast doesn't touch the bottom of the cooking pot. A few spoons underneath the roast should do the trick.
Take note that the finished roast has the same bright red color throughout. Unlike an oven roast, this roast has no dry or overcooked edges. The bright red color is normal for low-temperature cooking, but rest assured that the meat is fully cooked.
Chocolate mole has the advantages that it has the correct brown color for a roast; and that it does not overpower the meat flavor. I assume you can do the same with other sauces, but I have not tried any specifically for this purpose.
- Sear the roast on all sides in a hot pan.
Sous-vide: no mole necessary, see Sous-vide Cooking
- You can add some mole in the cooking bag.
- Marinate the roast in a mole solution overnight. (pic3)
The marinade will not penetrate the inside of the roast, but it flavors and colors the outside.
A spice rub will just dissolve away in the sauce. This doesn't.
- Make enough to cover the entire roast in the inner au bain-marie pot.
- To make the mole sauce: heat some water, add scoops of mole paste and use a spoon to dissolve the pieces. The mole sauce will thicken when it boils.
- Place the cooking bag or pot on a grill inside the slow-cooker. (Pic4)
- Fill the slow-cooker with water. Be careful not swamp the au bain-marie pot.
- Place a lid on the au bain-marie pot to lock in the heat.
- Heat the water in the slow-cooker to 132 ºF.
Use a food thermometer to check occasionally because the actual water temperature may differ from the thermostat indicator.
- When the target temperature has been reached, cook for 3 to 4 hours.
Au bain-marie takes longer because the inner pot with the mole needs to be warmed up as well.
- Low-temperature cooking timing does not have to be very precise for larger pieces. As long as the water bath is kept at the correct temperature, you won’t overcook the meat.
- Remove the roast and rest it for 10 minutes before slicing. (Pic5)
- The mole sauce can still be used as a sauce in this or another recipe.
- Briefly sear the roast in a hot pan again for added crispness.
- Slice, serve and enjoy. (Pic1)
- Serving suggestion:
- Thin-sliced roast beef sandwiches are delicious.
- In an oven-proof baking tray, mix the oil and spices. Rub the mix into all sides of the roast.
- Preheat the oven at 300 ºF.
- Bake for 15 minutes at 300 ºF.
That will heat up the dish quickly and will begin to sear the roast, give it flavor and color without charring the outer crust.
- Reduce the oven thermostat to 170 ºF, open the oven door for a few minutes to let some heat out.
- Preheat the oven at 170 ºF.
- Bake at 170 ºF for about 3 hours. (50 minutes per pound)
- After 2.5 hrs, check internal temperature at least every 20 minutes.
- When internal temperature reaches 135 ºF, set the oven thermostat to 400 ºF.
- Bake at 450 ºF or under the broiler for 5-10 minutes to sear and crisp the crust.
Remove from the oven and rest 5 minutes before carving.
170 ºF—the lowest my oven will go—is still too high to forget a roast in the oven. It will be shoe leather if you do not monitor internal temperature and remove it from the heat in time.
Use Sous-vide Cooking at 132ºF to go overnight and even longer without ever overcooking the meat.