Reverse sear — courtesy of the barbecue community

Sous-vide is unbeatable for bringing meat and fish up to the perfect core temperature. Unfortunately, that usually does nothing for the outside of the food. If you want a crisp crust, or grilled entrée, then you need to combine it with some type of grilling or searing. The big question is whether to create the crust (with searing or grilling) first, and then sous-vide, or do it the other way around.

Fortunately for all of us, barbecue gurus and food scientists Meathead & Dr. Blonder at have helped us solve this riddle. Since BBQ fanatics have a similar quandary (sear or smoke first), they did the science and came up with a hard-to-question conclusion that searing second (aka “reverse sear”) is the indisputable winner.

Since reading that, I’ve adopted the reverse sear for my sous-vide dishes (short ribs, steaks, chicken, and fish) and have never looked back. There is one wrinkle to the process that is unique to sous-vide. Because dishes cooked with s.v. are by definition moist, and sears work best on a dry surface, it is a good idea for fish or chicken to pat the surface dry after the food comes out of the thermal bath, to help the sear work better.

Let me know your results, or if you’ve found a different solution for combining sous-vide with searing & grilling!

February 8, 2015. Tags: , . Education & Resources, Technique. Leave a comment.

Cheeseburgers ala Modernist Cuisine

I was already grinding my own meat, and mixing and matching different cuts to make “custom” burgers, but Modernist Cuisine contributed some specific timings for pre-salting (an hour before cooking) and for sous-vide (45 minutes to warm us the insides). Their recommended finish is a deep fry, but so far I’ve found a sear on a grill or in an iron skillet to be more to my taste.

I also liked their suggestion to use the broiler to melt the cheese on the burger (I’ve always had trouble melting the cheese on a grill — even with a cover — without steaming the burger too much).

December 30, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , , . Technique. 1 comment.

Modernist Cuisine, sous-vide bible, finally available for the home chef

Modernist Cuisine, By Nathan Myhrvold and Maxime Bilet, is without a doubt the single best resource out there for aspiring sous-vide cooks and really any geeky foodies. Now it is (finally) available in a semi-reasonble offering, at under $100 for one huge volume with great pix and one cool spiral-bound, waterproof, volume for kitchen use — that includes all the recipes. It’s too tall to fit on my cookbook bookshelf, but fortunately comes in a nice box, so it looks good even on the counter.

Nathan’s team did seemingly endless research on cooking times, methods, and equipment — much of it very suitable for home use. Not all of it will be of interest to any single person, but there is enough in there to justify the price many times over even if you only count the savings in food from not running all the experiments yourself. I particularly like the burger reinvention chapter. It’s now a relative bargain at $94 from Amazon.


November 16, 2012. Kitchen Equipment, Recipes, Technique. Leave a comment.

Sous-vide pork belly

Ever since I had the luxury of lunch at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, where we enjoyed a sous-vide version of pork belly, I’ve wanted to try it for myself.

Last week I got the chance, and it was well worth the effort. Frankly, as long as you have a thermal bath and some time, it is a cinch. There are various suggestions for time, temp, and spices, so you can experiment, but roughly:

* Season the pork belly with your personal selection from salt, pepper, red pepper, coriander, cumin, fennel, sugar (rub on all sides)

* Vac seal & sous-vide for 72 hours at 140 or as high as 149 if you prefer

* Pat dry & sear on all sides.

Serve! You don’t even need to remove the skin as it will turn soft during the cook.

We had it with friends and everyone loved it. A full pork belly seems to run about 8 pounds, but our butcher was happy to cut one in half. I paid a little over $4/pound.


September 8, 2012. Technique. 1 comment.

Short Ribs sous-vide

Along with King Salmon, Beef short ribs is one of my “go-to” recipes for my thermal bath.

I’ve experimented a bit with time and temp and seasonings, but in general what I do is:

* Get a package of beef short ribs, from Safeway if I’m there and lazy, from the butcher if I have time

* Trim some of the most dense fat, as it just plain won’t render in the cooker

* Cover with Lemon seasoning from Peak (or whatever you enjoy, I like lemon & pepper). Be careful of too much salt given the long cooking time. I use Worcestershire sauce as a binder, and sometimes add a bay leaf or other spicing

* Vacuum seal as best you can

* 133-135F for 2-3 days

* Saute mushrooms in the juice to make a sauce

* Optionally brush the ribs with a grilling sauce (we like cherry, for example) and then sear on each side on a hot grill

* Serve covered with sauce



May 10, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Recipes, Technique. Leave a comment.

New sous-vide equipment options

It looks like there are now a host of DIY water batch controllers on the market (one was demoed at Maker Faire in New York) for $80-$100, and even some pre-assembled ones for $120. If anyone has any experience with these and wants to post a review, that’d be great!

October 23, 2011. Technique. 13 comments.

Sous-vide Pork Shoulder, e.g. Pulled Pork

Building on the technique I’ve used for ribs (posted previously) I did the same thing with a pork shoulder. Rub & rest overnight, smoke (2 hours, low temp, to get a smoke ring & flavor), sous-vide (48 hours at 146 degrees in this case) and then pull & shred.

Unlike a traditional pulled pork, it didn’t fall off the bone (expected since the final temp never got anywhere close to the 200 degrees or so of typical pulled pork) but the taste was amazing and the bite a little toothy.

Then I used the result as meat I could either shred & serve with sauce, fry up in a wok, or turn into a Carnitas or just about anything that tasty pork is good for.

So this technique is a keeper but I’ll keep experimenting with variations to see how to create the best “traditional” pulled pork using it.

Please experiment and let us know your results! Since my thermal bath is only 5 quarts I can only do one experiment at a time with pork shoulders, even though I can fit 6-8 in my smoker.

October 8, 2011. Recipes, Technique. 9 comments.

Spare Ribs Sous-vide

I’ve been experimenting a lot with mixing and matching smoking and sous-vide. My most recent experiment has been with ribs. I was already doing short ribs per Thomas Keller using several days in the cooker but for some reason started with comparatively short times (24 hours ) for my spare ribs and finishing them in the oven (seem my 2006 post for my results). Then I happened to hear Nathan Myhrvold mention 48 hours on The Daily Show and gave it a try (of course given the 48-72 hour time for short ribs this makes a lot of sense!). I also smoked them a little first and finished them on the grill at the end. The results have been stunning.

My preparation is basically as follows:

* Pull the membrane off the back (same as for any smoker recipe)

* Rub the night before & wrap in plastic (I use some mustard to help hold the rub and have the vinegar break down the tissue a little)

* Smoke for 1-2 hours with whatever wood you like

* Seal & cook for 48 hours (148 seems to work pretty well for pork spare ribs, I’ve used some lower temps for beef ribs)

* Mop with BBQ sauce or Grilling Sauce

* Grill just enough to get some “bite” on the outside

* Serve “dry” or “wet” as you desire.

Enjoy and as always I’d love to hear your ideas, comments & recipes.–David

September 19, 2011. Recipes, Technique. 6 comments.

The Importance of Temperature

An easy mistake to make when first cooking sous-vide is to under-estimate the importance of temperature. Since sous-vide lets us be so much more flexible with time it extracts a price in temperature.

The reason for this is simple. Unlike with traditional cooking where a too hot or too cold oven or grill can be compensated for by careful monitoring of the food temperature with sous-vide our meat or fish will never become hotter than the temperature of the water bath–no matter how long we leave it in.

And complicating that is how difficult it is to actively monitor the temperature of the food–even with careful application of weatherstripping it is hard to use a temperature probe on meat in a sous-vide pouch without destroying the waterproof seal.

A final issue is the long cooking times. Too low a temperature is difficult to compensate for by simply “cranking it up” (although for meals which get a final searing you can of course fudge things a little by doing a little cooking during your searing).

And if your temperature was too high your meal might well be ruined long before you notice.

All that said, the choice of temperature is often–literally–a matter of taste. Whether you like your salmon rare (maybe 108) or a little more cooked (maybe 112) is up to you. Similarly you can have your steaks range from very rare to medium rare by fiddling with the temperature on your bath.

You can even experiment by cooking short ribs, for example, at a steak temperature to make them taste more like a chop.

So take notes, learn from others and share your findings on temperature, the secret ingredient of sous-vide cooking!–David

January 22, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Technique. 3 comments.

Sous-vide Tri-tip

We have a local favorite steak here in the bay area called “Fred’s Steak” which is a secret marinate on a tri-tip sold by a local family run butcher shop. Traditional preparation is either grilling or baking. But sure enough, a sous-vide treatment (45 to 60 minutes at 128-135 depending on taste) followed by searing in an iron skillet (or with a torch) worked out great and has won hands down in blind taste tests we’ve run here.

I’ve done the same thing with tri-tips prepared several different ways. Another winner for the sous-vide cooker!

January 16, 2010. Recipes, Technique. 3 comments.

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