How to Make Flawless Sous Vide Beef

How to transform an average chuck roast into succulent prime rib

Margo True
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Beef Bourguignon “Steaks”

Of all the eye-popping, science-based techniques that modernist cuisine has given the world—the gels, the foams, the pea juice “caviars”—sous vide, or temperature-controlled cooking in water, is the one that’s truly useful for home cooks. “Sous vide is about making familiar foods more convenient to cook,” says Grant Crilly, cofounder and head chef of ChefSteps, a free online cooking school. “Because it holds meat at a precise temperature, it won’t get overdone.” During the hectic holidays, that means you can get distracted by guests, seriously overshoot your timer, and you still won’t ruin dinner.

While the technique requires buying a special device, it’s worth it. That’s because sous vide has an unparalleled ability to transform cheap, tough cuts of meat, as Crilly recently demonstrated in his West Seattle kitchen. His chuck roast, cooked for 24 hours in a water bath held at 133 degrees, emerged tasting like prime rib. “You get that tenderness and flavor, but for half the price,” he says. With the beef done, and ready to serve whenever, he could focus on making a rich wine sauce and sweet vegetables. And before long, a grand holiday roast was on the table.

Use the technique below for a succulent roast or to make Beef Bourguignon "Steaks".

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Step 1: Season Chuck Roast

Pat dry, then season generously with salt and pepper. “The bigger the piece of meat, the harder it is to overseason, so go crazy on the salt and pepper.”

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Step 2: Brown Roast

Heat a large cast-iron skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Swirl in oil and sear roast, turning every few minutes, until evenly browned all over, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add thyme, garlic, and butter to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until butter foams up and garlic is lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Pour seasonings over roast. “This gives the butter a chance to cool before it goes with the roast into the bag. Otherwise it’ll melt the bag.”

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Step 3: Bag Roast

Add meat and seasonings to a 2-gallon resealable plastic freezer bag. “Use a brand name like Ziploc or Glad, and use the heavy-duty freezer type. They’re 100 percent polyethelene and totally inert—no funny chemicals.” Fold top into a cuff—“it keeps the seal cleaner.” Lower the bag into water, opened, just until meat is submerged but opening is above water. If the bag floats, drizzle in a few tablespoons of olive oil. “It’ll expel the air trapped in the herbs, and that helps the meat sink.” Seal the bag and clip it to side of pot with a clothespin.

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Step 4: Set The Water Temperature

Using a sous vide circulator and following its instructions, heat a large pot of water to 133° for medium-rare with a tender, steaklike texture. Set the time for anywhere from 18 to 24 hours. “Once the meat is done, it holds for a remarkable length of time without compromising the results.”

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Step 5: Cook Sous Vide 18 to 24 Hours

Cook the meat sous vide overnight at your chosen temperature and time. If cooking at the higher temperature, loosely cover pot with plastic wrap to keep water from evaporating.

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Step 6: Roll Roast in Herbs

Remove chuck roast from bag, set on a cutting board, and snip off twine with scissors. Sprinkle half of minced herbs on board and roll roast in herbs to cover evenly. Cut roast into ½-in.-thick “steaks.”