Many of you will read this and think “Does he live fifty five kilometres from a steak restaurant?” Others of you, on the far side of the Atlantic may think “Does he live 55 miles from a steak house?” And some of you might even, quite cruelly in my opinion, think “Is the old fool trying to lie about his age while overcooking a bit of meat?” No, this is a pretty pathetic introduction to a post about cooking a great quality rib eye steak for myself and the Wife using the sous vide.
I am a member of a number of sous vide cooking groups on social media. It depresses me to see some of the dire quality meat that gets thrown into the water bath. There is absolutely no doubt that sous vide cooking, when done by somebody (anybody) who knows what they are doing, can produce pretty excellent results. But, dire meat, will be dire meat no matter what you do to it. Boil it for three days and take a weed burner to it, it will still be dire meat. It might taste a bit better than if it were fried or grilled, but, it won’t be any better than the process of growing the meat allows. There are a number of important elements, that are often ignored by home cooks like me, that make a significant contribution to the quality of the beef one enjoys.
The first (if the wine buffs will pardon my borrowing the term) is terroir. If the animal gets to live a free enough life, eating rich, green, lush grass, grown on a naturally nutrient rich soil, in temperate climes, then the resulting meat will be better than some poor unfortunate animal grown in a confined pen in a hot climate and fed only processed feed laced with hormones and whatnot.
Secondly, comes Husbandry or more simply put Animal Management. If the animal has a good life, being well cared for by a professional farmer, this will go a long way to working with terroir to produce some fantastic meat. This doesn’t happen in many parts of the world.
The Grizzly Bit
Thirdly comes the blunt bit, slaughter. If this is not done right, the animal suffers and the resulting meat will reflect that. It will be tough, can be acidic and the flavour takes a hit too. There is lots of peer reviewed research (not Internet bull) on this subject. Look it up.
The butchery process thereafter is also very important. Dry or wet ageing must be considered and the supply with the right amount of fat for the cut of meat must also have a role to play. It makes me shudder when I hear a butcher refer to “a nice lean steak”. Reserve this for the fillet please.
Then it comes down to the guy or gal who decides to cook it. Imagine you have got a piece of meat that fails on all or most of the above. I recommend not cooking it at all. It will only be awful. But, it’s your choice.
For me, this prime Irish Angus steak that comes from a farmer, known to the butcher, known to me, who maintains the highest standards is just about as good as it gets. It was dry aged by the butcher for 37 days before he presented it to me.
I seasoned it with black pepper and smoked sea salt and gave it an hour at 55ºC.(131º Biden) in the water bath.
I then seared it on a hot cast iron pan (skillet) and carved it. It really doesn’t get any better.
In short, choose your butcher wisely and be prepared to pay a bit over the odds. You won’t get the kind of quality to which I allude out of the freezer section in a budget supermarket. Not even the water bath and weed torch can save that sort of stuff.