The Sous Vide Cheeseburger Project


So, as many of you know, I was the co-Founder of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters.

In the last 10 years, the phenomenon of Sous Vide, or thermostatically controlled water bath cooking, has caught on like wildfire, much of it due to the popularity of a massive set of discussions on eGullet about it.

Despite this massive amount of discussion about Sous Vide, I had no interest in the subject for the longest time.

In fact, I felt it was so geeky and so elitist and pretentious that the only way I was really interested in enjoying food cooked using this method was in fine restaurants, which could afford the expensive thermostatically controlled water circulators ($1000+) and had the need to utilize it for large-scale cooking efforts, for which the technique and the technology was originally designed.

But as with any technology, price does come down. And in the 10 years since the original eGullet threads started, microprocessor-controlled Sous Vide cooking systems have dropped down in price dramatically.

How cheap? How about $99 for the Dorkfood Sous Vide controller now sold on Amazon, combined with a cheap hot plate/cheap rice cooker or an electric crockpot and a package of Zip-Lok bags?

I was sent the Dorkfood controller to review by the manufacturer — I’ll have a more technical write up on ZDNet about it shortly.

But let’s get to the meat of the matter: Anyone with the willingness to do so can now cook Sous Vide, with minimal skill, budget and debugging required.

First of all, why would you want to Sous Vide anything? Well, the advantage is that you can cook a vegetable or a protein to its finished cooking temperature. Once it reaches that temperature, it is perfectly cooked. Because you are cooking it in a sealed bag in a water bath controlled by a computer, you have no loss of juices and the meat does not dry out.

The flavors using this process are absolutely intensified because you are cooking the meat in its own juices.

While Sous Vide is often used for extremely expensive cuts of beef, fish, seafood and poultry to cook right “on point” like the guys on Top Chef do, you can also use it to make the juiciest rare cheeseburger known to man.

And if that isn’t worth forgiving me for using a fancy French technique on the 4th of July to cook an All-American Cheeseburger, I don’t know what is.

You want to make one of these? Follow my lead, young Sous Vide padawans. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

First, you’re going to need a Sous Vide controller. Today, the cheapest solution on the market is the Dorkfood. There is another product under development in the UK known as the Codlo, which should reach the US within the next six months. I don’t know how much the Codlo will retail for, but I suspect it will be in the $150 to $200 range.

Here’s how I have the Dorkfood set up in our kitchen. I have a cheap hot plate we bought for about $20 plugged into the Dorkfood, and the Dorkfood is plugged into the wall socket.

A pot with water is on top of the hot plate with a probe sensor coming out of the Dorkfood and is submerged in the water. We have a little metal strainer attached to the sensor cord to weigh it down a little so it stays submerged and a metal clip attached to the pot to fasten the thermocouple sensor cord.

This is about as Ghetto as Sous Vide gets, folks.

Okay, so you got your Sous Vide controller all set up. Now, I’m going to ask you to do something which flies so wrong in the face of cooking burgers the traditional way that you’re gonna think I’m nuts, but bear with me.

I want you to go out and buy as much LEAN COARSE GROUND BEEF as you need to cook 8oz burgers.

Yes. I said it. Lean. Heck, get Bison meat if you can get it, that’s even leaner. But do not get Wagyu or some really expensive marbled Prime here.

The reason is that with Sous Vide, we can seal all of those juices in during the cooking process, and even lean beef is going to produce a lot of juices and the flavor is going to be intensified using this method, so we don’t want fatty meat.

I have supermarket fresh ground 93 percent lean stuff here. This is fine. Don’t get 70 percent chuck or something like that, I would say 85 percent lean and up or 90 percent is fine for this application.

Next, we take our burger meat and season it with ground black pepper. Do not, I repeat, do NOT salt the meat. I know this makes no sense, but we’re turning burger cooking upside down here. Salting will draw the juices out, which we do not want.

Next form nice big 8oz patties, ones which will fit on your burger buns. I have onion rolls here. Do not overly knead the meat, just pack them into roundish patties.

At this point you can do one of two things. You can take the formed patties and freeze them, and then vacuum seal them. At which point these will stay good this way for a very long time and you can cook them in Sous Vide bath directly from frozen.

However, if you do not own a vacuum sealer, and you just want to cook them for immediate use, put the burgers in Zip-Lok bags and use a straw to suck out as much of the air you can and seal them shut. It will not be a perfect vacuum seal, but it will do the job.

Next, cook all your burgers in the Sous Vide bath per your controller’s directions at 126 degrees F for one hour. If you go longer than an hour, it doesn’t matter, because the computer is holding the temperature and the burgers will not cook anymore, they will simply remain warm.

This is good if you have a party and need to batch cook a whole bunch of burgers or you know you’re going to have a meal in a few hours and you need to go out for a while while the burgers cook. No problem.

If your burger party is tomorrow, that’s no problem either. Cook the burgers until they reach the target temperature for one hour, remove them from the bath, and put them all in the fridge. If you’ve vac sealed the burgers, you could store these in the fridge for quite a while.

You’re now starting to understand why this tech is cool, right?

Here are two Sous Vide burgers. The one on the left was cooked in a Zip-Lok bag and the one on the right was vacuum sealed. The vac-sealed one was a bit more uniformly cooked, but we did not taste a significant difference in the end product.

You’re probably wondering what to do with the juices in the bag. Well, we waste nothing here. Cook up some nice portobello mushrooms in a pan, add the burger juices, and deglaze with some red or white wine. Set aside.

If you are cooking the burgers post-Sous Vide a day or so later, don’t remove the juices from the bag. Just let them rest in the fridge for as long as they need to sit, they should suck up all the juices until you need to sear them.

Here is the magical ingredient: A vegetable or nut oil with a high smoke point, like peanut oil or soybean oil.

Get your frying pan smoking fires of hell hot. Brush it with the vegetable oil. Before throwing the burgers in, season them with some kosher salt.

Cook each burger for one minute on each side before removing them from the pan. We’ve thrown the sliced portobello mushrooms in here as well to give them a nice quick sear and to catch any escaping juices.

Prepare your Cheeseburger Mise En Place. I’ve got some nice red onion here, and a garden grown ripe tomato, and sharp cheddar cheese.

Next, toast your buns. In our first attempt we lightly toasted the buns and then used the broiler function on the toaster oven to melt the shredded cheddar cheese on each side of the bun, and then hit it with some more black pepper.

In our second attempt we put a larger mound of shredded cheese just on the top part of the bun. I’m not sure it made a huge difference here.

Begin burger construction.

Exhibit A. Sous Vide Cheeseburger with Portobello Mushrooms Au Jus, Garden Tomato, Red Onion, Melted Sharp Cheddar. No condiments were used.

The completed burger.

This one has bread and butter pickle slices and corn relish on it.

One Response to The Sous Vide Cheeseburger Project

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