sous vide flank steak tacos
Sous vide strikes again! This time, we’re exploiting science for perfectly medium-rare, ultra-tender flank steak.  And, since we’re throwing ethnic authenticity to the wind, why be predictable with our condiments?  Salsa and Monterey Jack are out, red onion compote and chèvre (goat’s cheese) are in.  If you’re not a sous vider (yet), you can cook your flank steak however you like: broiled, grilled, smoked, or fried.

Makes: 4 Tacos Scientificos
Total kitchen time: 30 minutes (+12 hours cooking time)
Special equipment: Vacuum sealer, sous vide water oven

Shopping list:

  • 1 lb. flank steak
  • 1 tsp. Mexican seasoning blend
  • 2 tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 large red onion, diced
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. sherry vinegar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 4 four tortillas
  • 1 cup crumbled goat’s cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 bunch cilantro

  1. Pat the steak dry and coat all sides with Mexican seasoning blend and lime juice.  Vacuum seal the steak in a bag large enough that the meat lays flat (but still fits in your water oven).  Cut the meat into two pieces and seal separately, if needed.  (If you’re not cooking your steak sous vide, place it in a zip-top bag or a covered shallow dish and let it marinate overnight). Note: although it might be tempting to add aromatics like garlic to the marinade, don’t! Your kitchen will smell like ass by the time the meat is done.
  2. Set your sous vide water oven to 56°C.  Add the vacuum sealed steak, making sure the meat stays submerged.  Cook for a minimum of 1 hour, up to 48 hours.  The picture above shows the meat after cooking for 12 hours, which was perfectly tender.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp. olive oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat.  Add the red onion and reduce the heat to low.  Let the onion sweat 5 minutes, until it is slightly translucent, but not browned.  Add the dark brown sugar, sherry vinegar and salt and stir to combine. Simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, and making sure the mixture doesn’t boil or burn. 
  4. Remove the bag from the water bath and let the meat rest, still in the bag, for 10 minutes before searing.  Remove the meat from the bag and pat dry on all sides.  Sear with a blow torch, under the broiler, or in a smoking-hot pan.
  5. Slice the meat perpendicular to the direction of the muscle fibers, and on a sharp bias. 
  6. Assemble the tacos: tortilla, sour cream, steak, cheese, onion compote, cilantro.  Enjoy!

Cooking the steak sous vide rather than just grilling it may sound like a pain in the ass since you have to plan 12 hours ahead.  However, the hardest part of cooking flank steak is getting your timing right. Leave it on the grill 1 minute too long and it’s overcooked and tough; take it off too early and it’s raw.  And, if you’re entertaining company, you may be more focused on your margarita than your steak.  Cooking your meat sous vide lets you be laissez-faire with your timing – sometimes I even sear my steak before company arrives and return it to the water bath to keep it warm until we’re ready to eat.

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Before I begin this story, I should let you know that it doesn’t contain any references to sous vide or molecular gastronomy or any other geeky cooking technique.  It is simply a story about a great meal that I will never forget.

Rachel and I just returned from a week in New Orleans.  In my humble opinion, New Orleans has the best regional cuisine of any city in America – the heavily French- and African-influenced flavors of Creole food are simply unmatched by any other American ethnic cooking style.  So, needless to say, I was quite pleased to eat my way through the city.  We made sure to hit most of the predictably great spots – Galatoires, Brennan’s, Felix’s Oyster Bar – but it was our meal at Irene’s, a quaint Italian restaurant off the beaten path, that we will remember most fondly.

It was our last night in town and Rachel had chosen Irene’s based on the suggestion of a local couple we had met (and with whom we subsequently shared take-out gumbo on the roof of their 1790’s apartment building).  After the long walk from our hotel to the restaurant, we were greeted with the same hospitality shown to us by every place we had eaten, and to which we were becoming pleasantly accustomed.  We were seated in the corner of one of three intimate dining rooms, surrounded by wall-mounted photos of past patrons, who we assumed were of some significance.  Rachel and I ordered Gin Mojitos and split a crabmeat gratin appetizer, which, as with much of the cuisine in New Orleans, was an unabashedly indulgent combination of seafood and dairy. 

We continued on with a steak and a Pompano Meunière Amandine, the latter of which is a local classic: a pompano fillet broiled and topped with browned butter, crabmeat and toasted slivered almonds.  The food was all excellent, and armed with the knowledge of our immanent return to Seattle and the requisite post-vacation diet that would follow, we savored every bite until our clothes no longer fit correctly. 

And it was right then, at the end of the meal, that our dinner really became spectacular.  During the step of the waiter-patron protocol at which your server normally delivers the check to the table, our waiter instead informed us that our meal would be free.  We were puzzled.  He explained that another couple had been in the restaurant just slightly earlier that evening to celebrate their wedding anniversary.  Apparently, this couple had adopted the custom of anonymously paying for the dinner a random pair of diners who appeared to be out of town.  As luck would have it, we ended up being that pair for the evening.  I asked if we could meet our benefactors or at least send them a bottle of champagne in return, but alas, it was against the rules of their charity. 

Rachel and I were stunned by their generosity and we were at once giddy and deeply touched.  Unable to identify and thank the couple personally, we decided that the best thing we could do is to pay forward this incredible gesture.  It is an all-to-rare occurrence these days to witness a truly altruistic act, particularly one as substantial as buying an upscale dinner for strangers.  However, I knew that the only thing that matched our joy was the contentment of the generous couple who had made our night so special.  Personally, I look forward to being on the other end of the transaction now and then.  If we can provide to another couple the happiness and lasting memory of a meal paid for by anonymous strangers, it will be well worth the cost of dinner. 

And for that reason, I probably shouldn’t tell you where we’re planning to eat on our anniversary 🙂


Irene's Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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It’s been a little while since I checked in, but I thought I’d give a quick update.  I’m hard at work getting production versions of my sous vide heating immersion circulators ready for sale.  The picture above is of my current prototype, based largely off of the DIY design I published a few months ago.  As you can see, I’ve got a custom-made heating coil and a slightly prettier enclosure.  The controller I’ve selected is also far more user-friendly, and I’ve upgraded other components after months of intense testing (and a handful of literal meltdowns). 

Anyhow, I’m still working as hard as I can to bring you all a sub-$200 sous vide heating immersion circulator accurate to .1C!  If you’d like to be on the email list when the first units are ready for sale, please leave a comment below.

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