If you're looking to wow your sweetie on Valentine's Day without hassling to make reservations at busy restaurants, Aaron Miller has your back. The Ranch Foods Direct chef in December introduced his "Sous Vide 1.0" uniquely spiced top sirloin steaks just in time for holiday entertaining. Now he has created "Sous Vide 2.0," a different set of spices on those top sirloins that again brings a restaurant-quality dish into your home.
But there's more to this than special spices and a nice cut of meat. Miller vacuum-packs the spiced meat and partially cooks it to 131 to 133 degrees in a circulating warm water bath - the technique called sous vide. Then the steaks are chilled and put in the cooler for sale. All you do is remove the steak from the bag and sear it in a screaming-hot skillet or outdoor grill. I've done it and was amazed by the quality of the meat, the perfect seasoning and the just-right medium-rare doneness.
Never heard of sous vide? Here's a primer. Sous vide ("soo-veed") means "under vacuum," a reference to how the food is packed before you cook it using a method that's also called sous vide. The equipment used to cook the food is either an immersion circulator or a sous vide oven.
The concept is simple. In traditional dry heat cooking (baking, roasting, broiling, frying, searing) or moist heat cooking (boiling, braising, poaching, simmering), the end game is to get the center of the food cooked to the temperature you want.
For sous vide, the food is seasoned and placed in the bag it will cook in. The bag is vacuumed-sealed. Water in the pot with the circulator is brought to the temperature you want the food temperature to reach. The food bag is placed in the water bath with the immersion circulator. The circulating water prevents hot and cool spots and ensures even temperature in the food.
The food never overcooks. The low, slow cooking keeps the meat moist. The vacuum sealing forces seasoning into the food, intensifying the flavors. Vegetables cooked this way will retain more water-soluble vitamins and nutrients, since they're not exposed to boiling water or steam. And because of the low heat, the veggies' nutrients are not destroyed as they would be by high heat.
Most people don't have the seasoning know-how or kitchen equipment to pull off sous vide cooking. This is where Miller comes to the rescue with his sous vide pre-cooked steaks. And all you need to do is remove the meat from the refrigerator 30 to 45 minutes before cooking to allow the center of the meat to warm slightly. Then remove the steak from the bag, pat it dry with paper towels, coat with a thin layer of oil, season with pepper if desired and quickly sear each side and the edges. Done!
His Sous Vide 2.0 steaks are seasoned with sea salt, garlic powder and Vietnamese fish sauce. But why fish sauce?
"Because of the science," he said. "I have the etymology behind the process on the refrigerator for customers to see. However, the science is that nucleotides found in fermented products like fish sauce, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce interact with glutamates that exist naturally in meat. This magical consequence mimics the effects of the dry-aging process commonly used today, but with no shrinkage."
You might turn up your nose at the idea of fish sauce on a fine steak. You won't taste it, Miller says, "but you'd miss it if it wasn't there."
In contrast, the Sous Vide 1.0 steak, which Miller still offers, is seasoned with sea salt and garlic powder. It sells for $4 over the regular retail price of top sirloin. Sous Vide 2.0 sells for $4.49 above retail. A good supply of sous vide steaks usually is available at Ranch Foods Direct. But if you don't want to risk missing out on this special Valentine's Day dinner, you can place your order seven days in advance. Details: 1228 E. Fillmore St., 473-2306.