For the life of her, my grandmother could never understand why I wasn’t head over heels in love with steak when she, and so many of her generation, came to embrace it as the official dish of the American dream. The daughter of Italian immigrants and the first woman in her family to attend college, beef was more than sustenance for her; it was a luxury. And the fact that she could supply it on her dinner table nearly every night of the week was proof of her success.
This conviction prevailed throughout my childhood, when our dinner table featured a steady rotation of meatloaf, peppers stuffed with ground beef, spaghetti and meatballs, and tough cuts of steak. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful — because we certainly never went hungry. But I always dreaded the steak: large, grayish-brown slabs that took more than a little bit of elbow grease to slog your knife through. (Grandma feared food poisoning more than anything, so every meal she served was treated to a rigorous blast under the broiler.) “Why haven’t you touched your steak?” No one at the table was ever moved by my reasoning.
“Raising cattle takes a big toll on the environment.”
“Red meat is bad for your heart.”
“I don’t like the taste.”
Surrounded by carnivores, I longed to be left in peace with my starchy rice, soft dinner rolls and steamed broccoli.
But palates change over time; mine certainly did. And as it turns out, few meals stimulate the reward center of my brain like a thick, rare New York strip served with a buttered baked potato and a glass of cabernet sauvignon. A new set of circumstances — my first job out of school, an apartment away from home and a busy schedule that leaves little time for meal prep — forced me to reconsider my previous ban on red meat. Anything that can be prepped quickly and left unattended long enough to finish a load of laundry ranks high on my must-cook list. Think slow-cooker soups and stews, chili, sous-vide steak.
That’s right: sous-vide steak.
A few months ago, I received a Joule for my birthday, and ever since, it’s been transforming my relationship with steak in ways I never knew were possible. Haven’t heard of Joule? It’s basically the kitchen essential I never knew I needed. Bluetooth activated, the sleek, white sous-vide immersion circulator is designed to heat water to a controlled temperature. You simply:
1. Open the Joule app on your phone — and make sure Bluetooth is turned on.
2. Select a food type.
3. Find the item you intend to cook.
4. Select your desired level of doneness.
Once reserved for experienced chefs at high-end gourmet restaurants, sous vide is more accessible now than ever before.
Not familiar with the term? You’re not alone. It was a mystery to me until a few months ago.
French for “under vacuum,” sous vide is a method of cooking in which food is vacuum-sealed in a plastic pouch, then placed in a water bath for longer than usual (usually one to seven hours, and up to 48 or more in some select cases) at a regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking — typically around 126 to 140 degrees F for meat, and higher for vegetables. Because the food can never get hotter than the water, under- or overcooking is almost impossible.
Until recently, cooking sous vide at home required a vacuum-sealing device and a pricey immersion circulator. (PolyScience makes a reputable circulator, but you’ll have to fork out $799 for it.) Joule costs just $199, and all you need to use it is a pot about the height and width of a Dutch oven, a plastic freezer bag and access to tap water.
Since receiving my Joule, I’ve tried cooking pork tenderloin, chicken breasts, ramen eggs and steak. All have been superb, but I find that steak always turns out the best.
Here’s what I used for this 2-inch-thick New York strip:
2 tablespoons butter, for searing
3 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
Before doing anything, I set up my Joule on the stovetop by filling an 8-quart stainless steel pan about halfway with water, then standing the Joule upright — it does so easily, thanks to a magnetic strip on the bottom — pressing the On button, and selecting my desired temperature using the app. For a fresh, 2-inch New York strip, Joule recommends 2 hours at 129 degrees F.
To start, I got rid of the gristle by removing the white edge of fat — the part that tormented me as a child — and slicing off the clear connective tissue beneath. Then I seasoned the steak on each side with some of the garlic salt and black pepper.
After, I seared the steak in butter for 1 minute on each side; the Joule app recommends waiting until the pan is “rippin’-hot” to really lock in flavor.
Next, I dropped my steak into a zip-top plastic freezer bag with my bay leaves, the browned garlic and a drizzle of olive oil. You could even add fresh thyme or rosemary.
Finally, I lowered the plastic bag into the regulated water bath, which created a vacuum seal, as the water forces air out of the bag. In the meantime, I took a shower, paid some bills, called my mom and watched an old episode of The Office.
Before I cut into the steak, I gave it another quick sear in butter, which the app recommends for a “crispy-crusted, super-savory steak.” Then I let it rest for 5 agonizingly long minutes to allow the juices to lock in.
Voila! Thick, buttery, crisp on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth tender on the inside sous-vide New York strip steak.
It might be a bit too rare for her taste, but Grandma would be impressed.
Photography by Isaac Napell