Sous-vide (pronounced /suːˈviːd/), French for "under vacuum", is a method of cooking that is intended to maintain the integrity of ingredients by heating them for an extended period at relatively low temperatures. Food is cooked for a long time, sometimes well over 24 hours. Unlike cooking in a slow cooker, sous-vide cooking uses airtight plastic bags placed in hot water well below boiling point (usually around 60°C or 140°F).
Having heard about this while perusing the finer points of scientific cooking, I of course delved into my research. Most chefs who use this technique do so with a litany of expensive machinery, including high tech water pressure cookers that run around $600, and vacuum sealers for their meat.
Further research revealed the poor-man's equivalent. An ice chest & zip-lock baggies.
Let me back up a step. Why would one even go through this whole process to cook a piece of meat? Serious Eats does a really good job of summing it up with pictures & technological descriptions of the process, but the basic reasoning is that it's more flavorful, tender & cooked to the exactly right temperature.
How do you achieve this poor man's sous vide?
First, I marinated my steaks a few days ahead of time with a mixture of lemon, garlic, olive oil, salt & pepper. I then placed each piece of steak in it's own separate baggie in preparation.
Then I filled a water cooler 1/2 way with extremely warm water. Reading it's temperature, it rested around 120 degrees. I then topped it off with boiling water until the thermometer read out 150.
Using the idea that the steak baggies dipped into water slowly works the same way as a vacuum seal, I slowly sucked 90% of the air out and locked the bags. The idea is that no part of the meat is left floating out of the water, so as long as it sinks at least halfway into the cooler you're fine.
I let those things "cook" for about 4 hours, and when we were ready to eat, I tossed them into a hot pan of oil to sear (the first time... I also splashed my hand with hot oil & now have a scar) or a BBQ for about 30-45 seconds on each side.
The result? A gorgeous, perfectly cooked steak. Delicious.