On Sunday when the wife calls out to me asking when dinner will be ready, ‘Wednesday’ seems like joke answer. Seriously? There’s people out there who would wait THREE DAYS for dinner? No… Wait… I’m not even giving it the emphasis it deserves. There are people out there who SERIOUSLY get excited about waiting THREE DAYS for ONE SINGLE MEAL???
Yeah! Me! I’m often mocked by my friends for loving my sloooooow cooking. It was even joked on Sunday night ‘what did I do wrong to have friends who wait 72 hours for food?!?’ Because let’s be fair – it does seem a ridiculous amount of time to spend on a single meal. And I love it.
Right this second I have a 72 hour beef brisket cooking. It’s 2 days in, 1 more day to go. It is going to be FANTASTIC when it’s done. Next up? I plan on outdoing myself… 100 hour beef short ribs. Hell. Yeah.
So what makes me such a fool for what seems like the longest food tease in history? Well, there’s a number of things at play here (there always is with me…) Here’s my 5 reasons why it is OK to wait 72 hours for dinner to cook.
It’s not really waiting, is it. Ok, it is waiting. But I’m not starving myself to the bone staring at the sous vide machine, am I. It just sits in the corner of my kitchen, quietly doing what it does best for three days, while I potter about my business. In fact it’s such a long time, I often forget about it – if I wasn’t such a stickler for a food diary (I plan every dinner about 1 1/2 weeks in advance), I’d probably find myself cooking something else by accident. It’s like the long wait every week till Walking Dead comes on Sunday night, or waiting for my wife to do her hair and makeup before we go out. It takes so long, you do other stuff to while the time away.
Never get your cooking times wrong again. This is something folk often don’t realise. With sous vide cooking, you have TONS of leeway in your timings. Not ‘tons’, like the 20-30 minute window you have when baking potatoes. ‘Tons’, like 5 hours either way if you needed. The 72 hour benchmark is there mainly for convenience. You start your meat cooking at around dinner time, three days later you’re ready for dinner. It may be that 77 hours is optimum, or that everything is done by 68 1/2 hours. But that just makes everything awkward. When we’re cooking this low and slow, the additional or missed time makes minimal difference in the grand scheme of things. You certainly won’t be able to tell the difference between 70 hour beef over 72 or 74 hour beef.
It’s actually a FAST way of cooking. Whoa! Controversial (or stupid?) alert! Ok, I know that 72 hours isn’t fast. But this very much ties into point #2. Setting my beef brisket off on Sunday took me about 5 minutes. Season beef > vacuum seal with rosemary > set machine running. Then I don’t touch it again until Wednesday night. I get to pick my dinner time: 6pm straight after work? 8pm after a 7km jog? Go to the cinema and have dinner after at 9:30pm? I get the beef out the machine, give it a nice browning in a hot pan, and we’re done. Total time physically doing something: 8 minutes. It actually takes longer to do my accompanying 5 minute wedges than it does to prepare the beef on dinner night. How is that not the fastest cooking time ever?
It is the most delicious way of cooking. Getting a little sciencey. Different cuts of meat require different cooking times based on how the muscle is formed. The general rule is: if the muscle was used a lot on the animal, it’ll be tough; if it was rarely used, it’ll be tender. Tender meats can be flashed in the pan, much like a good steak. Tough cuts, however, need all the time in the world to soften up. It’s the same quality of meat as the steak, and in fact often has more delicious fats and proteins in them that tender cuts don’t have. But tough cuts are full of collagens tightly wrapped around small muscle fibres, and these collagens need a lot of time and heat to break down. Without the heat and time, the beef will be as tough as old boots. Cooking in a slow cooker for 4-8 hours really helps, but it also cooks the beef at far too high a temperature to leave it juicy and unctuous. Sous vide cooking allows us to dictate the exact temperature we want the beef to be cooked to, and it can happily sit at that temperature for days on end, slowly breaking down them collagens and melting them into gelatine, slowly making that beef more and more tender and delicious.
It’s cheap. Tough cuts are notoriously cheaper than tender cuts. You can get half a kilo of quality stewing beef for the price of a small steak in the supermarkets. The numbers speak for themselves, as does the deliciousness. What about the machine, you might ask? The days of a sous vide machine being exclusive to top end restaurants, huge food manufacturers, and the rich are long gone. Sous vide water baths are now at the price of a rice cooker (not affiliated link), and circulators are soon to follow them (or already have if you live in the US). Vacuum sealers are fairly cheap as well, or zip lock bags can be used for some applications. Vacuum sealing food is a good option for all purposes, forgetting just sous vide.
So before you think I’m crazy, there is some method to my madness!