Sometimes a picture says more than a thousand words, but in this case the picture above doesn’t completely convey the difference between the two pieces of roast beef. Both are cooked to a core temperature of 55C/131F. The one on the left was cooked the traditional way in the oven, the one on the right was cooked sous-vide. What you can see is that the oven-cooked beef leaks a lot of juices, is well done near the edge and only truly medium-rare in the center, whereas the sous-vide cooked beef hardly leaks juices and is perfectly medium-rare from edge to edge. What you can’t see is that the sous-vide beef is so much more tender and therefore tastes so much better. The visible difference would have been more dramatic if I had used a larger roast, but as I had predicted the outcome I didn’t want to ‘ruin’ a larger piece of beef by cooking it in the oven.
This post is mostly aimed at those of you out there that love to cook but still do not own sous-vide equipment. The price of a sous-vide ‘stick’ has come down to around 100 euros or dollars now, and considering the amount of money you can save by buying cheaper cuts or by a lower risk of overcooking expensive cuts, the price shouldn’t really be a big concern anymore. Neither should be the space, because such as sous-vide ‘stick’ (more formally called an immersion circulator) is about the size of a large immersion blender and can be stored away easily if you’re not using it. And you can use ziplock bags if you don’t own a vacuum sealer. So there is really no reason why you should not get a sous-vide 🙂
This is the piece of beef that I used for this experiment. It is about 800 grams (1.8 lbs) from the rump or top round, and called “rosbief” in Dutch because it is suitable to make roast beef. In the Netherlands rosbief is served hot or cold and thinly sliced on a sandwich.
I cut the roast into two pieces lengthwise for this experiment.
The pieces were about the same size to make it a fair comparison.
I seasoned each piece on all sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
And then I browned them in hot clarified butter…
…until they were nicely browned on all sides.
I allowed the piece to be cooked sous-vide to cool to room temperature…
…and then covered it with plastic wrap and refrigerated it to cool completely. It is important to allow the beef to cool before vacuum sealing, as otherwise the vacuum sealing will bring the juices to a boil and draw a lot of them out (this is because at low pressure, the boiling point drops).
I filled up my sous-vide with hot tap water, because that saves time as compared to filling it with cold water.
The water was already about 45C/83F…
…so it would take less time to warm up to the cooking temperature of 55C/131F.
I use a chamber vacuum sealer to vacuum seal the beef, but you can also use a ‘clamp’ vacuum sealer or a ziplock bag and the water displacement method to vacuum seal.
A true vacuum isn’t absolutely necessary, but there shouldn’t be large pockets of air in the bag as that will make the beef float or cook unevenly.
I put the vacuum sealed beef in the sous-vide once the water had reached the correct temperature of 55C/131F.
Then I put the lid on the sous-vide and allowed the beef to cook for about 2 hours. The cooking time depends on the thickness of the beef; in this case it was about 5 cm (2 inches) thick.
One handy thing about sous-vide is that the cooking time is pretty flexible: if you leave it in longer, the beef will very very slowly become more tender, but you could easily leave it in for 6 hours. If you leave it in for 4.5 hours, a piece of beef of this size cooked at 55C/131F would even be pasteurized and so you can have the best of both worlds: medium rare without the (small) risk of eating beef that has not been pasteurized.
To cook the beef in the oven, I inserted the probe of an instant-read thermometer into the center of the beef, and cooked it in the oven, which I had preheated to 180C/350F.
As you can see the beef had a core temperature of only 12C/54F at this point. My instant-read thermometer has a very handy function in that you can set a target temperature (in this case 55C/131F) and it will beep when that temperature has been reached.
It took about half an hour for the core of the beef to reach 55C/131F in the oven at 180C/350F. After the thermometer had beeped, I removed the beef and wrapped it in aluminum foil to rest.
I timed it such that when the oven-cooked beef had rested the beef cooked sous-vide was also ready, so I took it out of the water bath. As you can see the beef had leaked some juices. I cut open the bag and in this case discarded the juices, as it was just a little and not enough to bother making a sauce.
I sliced the beef across the grain. Even though I had allowed the oven-cooked beef to rest for 10 minutes, it still lost quite a bit of juices. As already mentioned in the introduction, the roast beef cooked sous-vide was much more tender and juicy than the oven-cooked beef.
If you are already familiar with sous-vide cooking, you may be wondering why I chose to sear the beef before cooking it sous-vide. The drawback is that it takes a bit more time (as the beef has to cool after searing before it can be vacuum sealed), but the advantage is that there is no risk of overcooking the beef during the sear (which is a risk if you sear it after cooking sous-vide) and that there is no need to rest it before slicing. For a steak another drawback would be that the crust will lose its crispiness if you sear before cooking sous-vide, but with a roast like this that is not a concern.
Pasta with roasted cauliflower, ham, and cumin is not a traditional Italian dish, but it sure is delicious.