For those of you wishing to test the sous vide method before committing to the purchase of a professional waterbath or circulator, there are plenty of resources online that illustrate how simple sous vide cooking can be. Wherever the term “ghetto sous vide” originated, it’s always been used to describe a hacked or DIY waterbath without expensive equipment or exact temperature control. That might sound a little silly considering the precise nature of commercial sous vide equipment but it needn’t be the case to get great results at home.
Honestly, there’s barely a difference between steak cooked sous vide at 55°C and 60°C, and I doubt anyone is that finicky, especially compared to the alternative methods with even wider margins for error.
The general principle is the same – seal the food as best possible, immerse in the bath and maintain the water temperature as best possible. There are dozens of methods to achieve this, but here’s the very simplest way I know, illustrated. I used a ~300gm scotch fillet that’s been aging in my fridge for about a month and a half, and I know it’s already very tender and ready to go.
My equipment was simple: A 10 litre stock pot, electric kettle to boil water, and a digital thermometer. I fashioned a small clip to hold the thermometer onto the side of the pot so I wouldn’t even have to hold it and could see the reading clearly.
My aim was to cook it Rare (50-54°C) to Medium Rare (55-59°C), knowing that I wouldn’t be able to control the temperature enough to make it perfectly rare. I filled the pot initially with hot tap water, which sat comfortably at 55°C. Once I added the steak it started to drop fairly quickly, which is unsurprising considering it isn’t at all insulated. Other ghetto sous vide rigs usually involve an insulated cooler.
The steak stayed on the bench for about 70 minutes in total, while I checked the temperature and adjusted it every ten minutes. Each time I simply took a few scoops of water out, and added boiling water to bring it back up to the correct temperature. Doing this allowed me to keep it inside a pretty tight window, always between 52°C and 58.5°C. When I took it from the pot the internal temperature of the steak was 53.1°C, which is a good rare temperature. It certainly didn’t need to be in the waterbath for so long, as I imagine it would have reached a suitable internal temperature within 30 minutes.
At this stage the scotch had a texture like jelly, barely firm and soft to touch. I seared it in a hot pan with a good dose of salt and pepper till I had a great crust, which is essential to me when cooking a steak.
Excuse the dirty stovetop…
It was very easy at this stage to feel the difference in texture on the crusted sides compared to the edges where it was still soft. You can see the ring of seared crust (and overcooked edge) of the steak once it’s cut:
So in the end it came out as a very acceptable Rare steak, deliciously seasoned and incredibly tender. In this case I didn’t bother using any fats, marinades or aromatics in the bag, but obviously you can improve on this basic method once you’re comfortable with the method.