Cooking: Sous Vide Experiment 1

I wish I could say it was a success, but... alas.

We received the sous vide as a gift, and were really looking forward to using it. But our immediate problem was apparent: None of my soup pots were deep enough to safely use a sous vide. I figured it would require at least a 12-quart stockpot, preferably 16 quarts. So naturally I hunted about and searched for the best, shiniest stockpot because after all I'd like to do bigger batches of chili etc., and then settled for a $12 piece of hammered tinfoil from Walmart because we're poor and it's just holding water, see.

For those who don't know: Sous vide cooking is like slow cooking, but with the food sealed inside a bag and immersed in water that is constantly circulating. It is supposed to keep the juices fresh and avoid the mushy drying-out that often happens with slow cooking.

We picked a roast, and I rubbed it all over with a mixture of rosemary, marjoram, salt and white pepper. We had a heck of a time figuring out how to get the air out of the sous vide bag - that silly suction-cup thing that came with it did not seem to do the trick - but once we figured out the water compression trick, it went easier. The sous vide itself worked perfectly, and it was nifty to see it swirling like a miniature Jacuzzi.

I was cooking from frozen, and the recipes said to increase cook time by 1.5 times when it's frozen. The roast for medium rare was slated for 6 hours, so that meant 9 hours in the sous vide. I'm mentioning the numbers because it may be important later. Supposedly the longer it cooks, the more tender it is.

I left Jim observing the sous vide just to make sure it didn't burn down the house. When I got home that night, it was looking very nice indeed.

Jim MacGyvered the clips to keep it in place.

Following the recipe, we removed the roast, covered it with a garlic-olive oil paste and popped it into a roaster for 5-10 minutes to finish in the oven.

But when I pulled it out, it was still damn near raw in the center and the paste hadn't come close to forming a crust. I let it cook another 7 minutes until it stopped mooing at me, but still no maillard reaction for that yummy surface.

Next I had the brilliant idea to sear it on the stove. As I have many times before, I heated a cast iron skillet to piping hot, then added a tablespoon or two of olive oil.

Um, oops. The olive oil ignited. First time that ever happened. No damage, no problems, it flamed out fast, but I needed to cool down that skillet a bit. Then I seared the roast on its paste sides for sixty seconds each, and... Well, it worked. Sort of.

It was not the world's best roast. It was tough yet still too raw, and I'm not sure how that's chemically possible. Worse, the paste was the only flavorful thing about it.

Maybe the oven finishing and searing was too much for it. Maybe I should have tried a marinade instead of herb rub. Maybe I screwed up the sous vide process. Maybe I should try from raw instead of frozen next time. I'm sure I'll get plenty of comments letting me know my mistakes. Snicker.

We will definitely be trying the sous vide again, especially if I can figure out a good chicken recipe. With these 11-hour work days, I really appreciate the idea of tossing a bag in the sous vide and coming home to a fully-cooked entree.

Thank goodness I still have my crockpot...


  1. Thanks for your post! I'm considering a sous vide setup for my husband for birthday, and this is good feedback. Which cooking device did you get?


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