Last night, our neighbor, Dr. Vince, invited us down for dinner. “We’re doing a competition,” Dr. Vince told Mike. “Sous vide steak vs. grilled.”
For those unfamiliar, sous vide grew from the cannon of techniques developed as part of molecular or modernist cuisine. In a nutshell: food goes into a sealed plastic bag and is then cooked in a water bath at a precise temperature, generally one much lower than used in traditional cooking and for a longer period of time. In French, sous vide means “under vacuum” or “without air.”
This is the kind of thing that Dr. Vince does when he’s not working as a medical doctor. For instance, he once invited us over to test two versions of ramen made from different flours. (Ramen made with 00 flour won out.)
How each one was cooked
We treated both steaks with a homemade dried porcini rub, plenty of sea salt and pepper. Per ChefSteps, Dr. Vince placed the sous vide steak into a plastic bag and cooked at 140F/60C for about 50 minutes. He and I cooked the grilled steak on a hot charcoal grilled, first on direct heat, then finished off the heat with the lid on. Total cooking time, about 12 minutes. Dr. Vince seared the cooked sous vide steak in a pan with some butter to brown and slightly caramelize the outside.
As sides, Mike made this potato gratin from my site, although he substituted in prosciutto for pancetta. The four of us ate nearly the entire pan. Dr. Vince’s wife, Dr. Susan, made a homemade apple pie and a side salad.
The sous vide steak had the classic even cooking throughout that the method is known for. It lost no juice in the cooking process, while the other grilled steak displayed the traditional trickles of reddish brown liquid seeping from underneath following cooking. Dr. Vince decided earlier in the day to cook the sous vide steak to just a touch medium. We aimed for the same with the grilled steak, but it turned out medium-rare.
The conclusion in sous vide steak vs. grilled? Generally inconclusive, but in this test, at least, the conventional grilled steak received slightly better marks. This might be because the sous vide version was cooked a bit past medium rare. We could taste the subtle umami of the porcini rub more clearly on the sous vide steak. We all agreed the texture was better on the sous vide steak, softer and with the solid, evenly cooked texture that you find in slow-cooked meats, such as smoked brisket or barbecued pork. The conventional steak had a bit more flavor on the exterior imparted from the caramelizing factor from the fire.
If the sous vide steak had been cooked medium rare? Or finished on the grill, instead of a crazy-hot iron skillet? I could see it beating the conventionally grilled steak. Ah, another test, another time.
This post was originally published in 2013. It has been updated.