Sous Vide Burgers: Why It’s Worth It
Is sous vide worth it?
How about sous vide burger?
In J. Kenji López-Alt’s new cookbook, The Food Lab, he asks the question “Can a burger really benefit from sous-vide cooking?” The answer, he concludes, is that it can; but it takes a lot of consideration about how to vacuum seal it and sear it post-cooking. Indeed, vacuum sealing a raw burger patty can render your burger dense and tough due to compression.
While he suggests that you use the Archimedes principle to avoid compression while sealing it, I choose to protect the meat by wrapping it in a layer of plastic wrap before using my vacuum sealer. Whatever you do, just take precautions not to compress it.
As for the question of how to sear post-cooking, the options are either to pan-sear (with an extremely hot heavy-bottomed pan), to deep-fry a la French Culinary Institute style, or via Bernzomatic Torch–my preferred style. If I didn’t have a torch, however, I’d pick to pan-sear over deep frying. Why? Well, as Mr. López-Alt explains, “deep-frying oil maxes out at 400°F…by the time a decent crust has formed, a good 1/8 to 1/4 inch of meat has overcooked and turned leathery.” To pan-sear, just heat your pan in the oven at about 500°F before moving it to a hot stove burner for a quick char. Warning–you better open ALL your windows and turn on some fans (perhaps disable your smoke alarms, if yours are as sensitive as mine) before you begin.
Aside from that, the steps to delicious sous vide burger are simple. Using your favorite recipe to season ground beef, create patties–approx. 4-inch diameter and 3/4 inch thick is how I portion mine. Seal. Preheat your sous-vide to 133°F for medium-rare (123°F for rare and 143°F for medium. For well-done? Don’t bother with sous-vide; you can burn a burger to disgusting toughness another method much easier). You can cook it for 30 minutes to an hour (The Food Lab says it can be cooked up to 3 hours. I’m skeptical, but considering López-Alt’s careful testing it’s probably just fine). After which, sear and plate.
The main question, then, is: is it worth it?
I’d say the method is worth it. The resulting sous vide burger was tender, juicy, and evenly cooked. If you’re doing a big, pub-style burger with better beef cuts, it especially makes sense. I like to grind my own beef–a mixture of chuck and sirloin, and season with just a bit of garlic salt. You can also request your local butcher to grind your choice cuts for you; Kobe burger, anyone?
All photos by Chava Mazal photography.
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