The Quest For The Perfect Steak
How did I get into sous vide? The answer is easy. Three words: Medium rare ribeye.
I love steak. I mean I reaaaally love steak. Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved steak. I think one of the reasons that contributed to this passion for steak was that growing up, my family wasn’t that well off and so being able to eat steak was a real luxury. Maybe once a month, I’d get to eat a cheap $5 steak which was basically a thin cut of minute steak. It was far from the best cut but I loved it anyway. It was such a treat. My parents weren’t into beef at all. Looking back I’m not sure why they didn’t like it but we just never had beef at home. Well I’m grateful they never stopped me from having beef. Cos I love it!
One day around the time I was about 14, a family friend invited us for dinner at a nice steakhouse and that was the day my eyes were opened to just how mind-blowing a good steak was. I mean this was a $40 steak. It was thick, it was perfectly grilled with all the beautiful grill marks and it didn’t come drenched in sauce! The first piece I put in my mouth was just WOW… AMAZEBALLS! The sheer juiciness, the flavor spectrum, the texture of each bite. It was pure heaven.
When I was in college, that was when I finally learnt how to cook and from that point on, I’ve been on a quest to cook the perfect steak. That scene in the movie Ratatouille really resonated with me. The one when the food critic Anton Ego took a bite of the ratatouille and it was like a time machine transported him back in time to when he was a child and had his first taste of gastronomic perfection. Like Anton Ego, I too have been on a quest to be taken back to that moment in the steakhouse when I was 14.
My quest for steak perfection was painful and arduous. Sometimes I manage to pull it off but most times it was more miss than hit. I made all the rookie mistakes that there were to make:
- Didn’t take the steak out of the fridge early enough. Number one rookie mistake. All the scary stuff I read on food safety and pathogens led me to believe that steak was meant to be cooked right from when you take it out of the fridge. That resulted in a cold core and so the steak was just way too rare in the middle.
- Over- cooking it. This was of course due to overcompensation for my number one rookie mistake. There’s another level of doneness that’s beyond well done. Didn’t know about it? Well, they might as well name it the Khim cos I think I might be the one who discovered it, The Khim is a level of doneness when absolutely all moisture has been taken out of the steak and it’s as chewy as a saddle. In fact, the saddle will probably taste better than the Khim. Unfortunately, the Khim would come to haunt me many a time.
- Cutting into the steak to check it. Yup, you guessed it. This was overcompensation for the Khim. Being petrified of the Khim, I made the next big rookie mistake. Cutting into the steak regularly to check if I was cooking it right. I thought, if I just made a tiny slit and checked on the steak every now and then while it was cooking, I’d be sure to attain steak nirvana. Of course, what happened was that these cuts I made caused all the juices to run out of the steak and made it to dry out. Dumb…
- Looking for love in all the wrong gagdets. Since the perfect steak was becoming more elusive than Halley’s Comet, I did what any man would do. Yup, I blamed it on my kitchen equipment! I went through a whole gamut of kitchen gear. I need to get a better non-stick pan. Then no, I need to get a good grill-pan so that it can sear beautifully like how those good steakhouses do it. Of course, none of these gadgets could consistently deliver my perfect steak.
- Wrong cuts. Since the kitchen gear wasn’t delivering, of course the next thing to blame was the cut of beef. I thought if I can get a good cut, then I’m sure I can get it perfect. NOPE. Thicker cut? Still no success. Aged beef? Angus beef? Grain-fed? Grass-fed? Wagyu beef, for sure that’s how the good steakhouses do it. Still no success. While i learnt that the right cut at the right thickness was certainly important, it won’t guarantee steak perfection. The only thing it guarantees is a big dent in your wallet.
And still I was befuddled. Just how did these restaurants manage to pull it off time after time. Do the chefs have some sort of Zen like spiritual connection with the steak to know exactly how high heat to have, and to know when to flip the steak and when to take it off the grill? My befuddlement reached its zenith when I attended a wedding dinner where a few hundred guests were served perfectly cooked medium rare steaks, all at the same time. I was thinking to myself, they can’t possibly have a hundred grillers in their kitchen?! They’d need a hundred chefs in there to pull this off!
And then, one day while watching Iron Chef America on the telly I saw Chef Masaharu Morimoto use a kitchen gadget I had never seen before. A contraption with a trough filled with water that cooked food in a plastic bag. What the blazes was this?! Later on I discovered that this was a cooking technique that originated from France and that this was a gadget used by fine restaurants all over the world. After more research into this, I realised this was the missing piece of the puzzle. I have found the holy grail at last. Sous vide was how my favourite steak restaurant manage to pull off perfect medium rare every time. It was also how at that wedding, the chef managed to serve so many perfect medium rare steaks all at once! This time I felt like Neo from the Matrix. I had just taken the red pill and now I see everything!
So now I knew how they did it, the question was how was I going to do it. Just like Neo, knowing the truth doesn’t always lead to happiness. Sous vide devices were just waaaaaaay too expensive. These were kitchen devices that cost more than a thousand dollars! I mean I love my steaks but gosh, that’s a phenomenally high price to pay for the perfect steak. Deflated, I went back to trying to cook the perfect steak the regular way. Once again, more miss than hit…
And then in 2013, came a new wave of sous vide devices. These cost a fraction of the price! Woohoo! At less than $200, this was a much more palatable (pun intended) hit to the financials. Nirvana was now within reach!
And from my first sous vide steak I am happy to tell you that the perfect medium rare ribeye is now attainable, EVERY SINGLE TIME! Woohoo! I tell you my brothers and sisters, steak nirvana is pure bliss…