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NomNomNom – Experiment 3: Beefy Goodness

The title of this post is a little misleading and chosen because I like consistency. This should really be “Experiments that I would have done if a) the simple version hadn’t worked so well and b) I was sure of the likelihood of a blowtorch and temperature regulated waterbath system being available at the Cookery School”.

The centrepiece of our meal was quickly decided to be a joint of beef that we would cook and surround with seasonal trimmings. However, being me I started looking ways that I could try and show-off with some outlandish cooking method that would mark me out as The New Saviour Of Amateur Cooks. Luckily the 2.5hour limit to our cooking time meant that St Heston’s low temperature/long time cooking methods were out of my clammy reach, but I did look towards my favourite piece of “scientific” preperation that I’ve dabbled with – cooking sous-vide.

Isn’t it great how using french when talking about cooking makes things sounds posher and more impressive?

Sous-vide cooking is all about cooking an item to a specific temperature under vacuum, generally achieved by sealing the item in vac-bag and placing it in a waterbath that is then kept at the correct temperature. However, for those of us without the space/inclination/etc to obtain such a spangly piece of kit (although I’m tempted to find one having read this week’s Alinea at Home post…) the low tech version is a ziploc bag with the air squeezed out and a pan of water at the correct temperature in an oven at the correct temperature. If done correctly you will end up with a piece of food cooked perfectly all the way through at the temperature you have selected (and not riddled with deadly botulism). In the case of meat this helps reduce the temperature gradient issue whereby you can have a perfectly done steak right in the middle with a fantastically browned outside, but will also have a transition between the two through the rest of the meat – if done correctly you can have a steak done perfectly all the way through that is just seared on the outside.

So, I planned to expand my experiments of cooking steaks sous-vide to encompass a whole joint. It was here I hit on my first problem – I didn’t have a pan at home deep enough to fully submerse a large enough joint. There was also the small issue of not knowing how long it would take to warm up the whole piece of meat to an appropriate temperature – medium rare is about 55degC and while a steak doesn’t take long to heat, up a 6inch cube of beefy goodness is going to take a bit longer. I suspected that it would take most of, if not more than, our 2.5 hours which would somewhat scupper the whole deal. However, here was the nascent plan:


  • Beef roast (probably a rump roast of some kind)
  • Seasoning
  • Zip loc bag
  • Blow torch

How: Season beef, although not with salt (I don’t want to extract moisture from the meat at this stage, although what the effect of salting before cooking is something I need to look into more), and stick it in the zip loc bag. Squeeze out the air and submerse in a heavy pan of water at about 65degC. Measure temperature and add hot water until the temperature is about 55degC (as it will drop in temperature when you stick in the cool beef). Place in and oven set to 55degC for as long as you can (I need to read some more, but the amount of change in the meat due to staying at 55degC over a period of time seems to be a bit contested – Heston Blumenthal likes to cook things for a very long time, other people don’t see it as making much difference). Remove from the oven, water and bag, and pat dry. Season and then blowtorch the outside until nice and crispy and brown. Slice, serve. I don’t think resting it should have any effect after the blowtorching, but if I had the gear I would have happily experimented – I like eating roast beef.

In the end we just went for a “normal” roast beef, a decision which I think was very wise. The meat came from the rather excellent Ginger Pig and the butchers advised me to go for some topside rather than the rump roasts I had used to practise. We got a 1.2kg piece of meat which was then seasoned with salt and pepper and put in a hot oven (the dial said 250degC, the lovely Marcella at the Cookery School reckoned it was probably closer to 230) for 25 minutes, at which time we turned it down to 150ish (170 in the dial, so maybe as low as 140) for a further 30 minutes. This is based on the cooking times from the most well thumbed page in my copy of the River Cottage Meat Book – based on the evidence of that book, Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall certainly knows how to roast an animal: 25 minute hot ‘sizzle’ then 10-12 minutes per pound (I went for the higher end as the joint was quite thick and even). The meat was taken out 15 minutes before carving and left to rest under some foil. Unfortunately my ability at carving meat is fairly minimal, especially when under pressure to deliver a plate of food to a group of judges, one of whom you have just discovered is Tom Aikens, and presentation left something to be desired. However, the rest of the joint disappeared rather quickly when we contestants sat down to tuck-in and, to blow my own trumpet a bit, it was pretty special.

Picture by Kang from his post about NomNomNom.