My next foray into Food52’s Genius Recipes was to take a look at Perfect Pan-seared Steaks from J. Kenji López-Alt. This is really less a recipe than a different method of cooking steak and it caught my eye because it flies in the face of a lot of the conventional words of steak-cooking wisdom floating around.

What does López-Alt recommend that is so different?

The Reader’s Digest Condensed version is this: Pan sear the steak by flipping it every 15-30 seconds in and oiled and screaming hot pan.

The longer version: Season liberally with salt & pepper and let rest in the fridge for at least 45 minutes. Sear in hot oil in a cast iron, flipping every 15-30 seconds and stopping a little shy of how done you want the steak. It will take 4 to 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the steak and the level of doneness you want. Add a few tablepoons of butter and aromatics like thyme and shallots. Keep flipping and basting for another 2 minutes. Rest for around 10 minutes, carve, dig in.

It works and it works beautifully! I cooked it a little more done than I was aiming for… but, wow, the crust on it was fantastic and absolutely delicious.

Steaks: Sous Vide vs. Pan-Seared

Steaks: Sous Vide vs. Pan-Seared?
Top Image: Pan Seared with J. Kenji López-Alt’s flip technique.
Bottom Image: Sous vide to medium-rare and finished with a culinary torch.

The second steak I decided to cook in a sous vide bath and then finish off with a culinary torch. If you’re not familiar with sous vide, think Boil-In-A-Bag but much more controlled and concise. You seal the food to be cooked into a vacuum-sealed bag (a Food Saver works perfect for this) and then drop it into a water bath that is heated to an exact temperature by a device immersed in the bath. Your medium-rare steak will be perfectly medium-rare from edge to edge and that soft-boiled egg will be exactly how you want it.

As an example, take a look a the photo below. I borrowed it from Sansaire, the company from whom I bought my circulator. Both steaks were cooked to the same internal temperature of 52°C/126°F. The steak on the left was cooked sous vide, then seared using a blowtorch. The steak on the right was cooked on a cast iron skillet.

Pan Sear vs. Sous Vide

Pan Sear vs. Sous Vide

With sous vide cooking, you don’t get the lovely crust that you get from a pan sear or a session on a hot grill. If you’re looking for your finished item to be browned, you’ll need to finish it another way. Most commonly, you can use a quick sear in a hot pan or a culinary torch. (Check out this page on Sansaire’s website for some interesting videos.)

And so I cooked my second steak in a sous vide bath at 130 degrees for around 2 hours & finished it off with a culinary torch.It was also excellent. It was a perfectly cooked and wonderfully tender. The culinary torch gave it a nice crisp finish but the crust wasn’t nearly as tasty as the crust from the pan seared steak above.

The lesson learned? When I’m feeling fussy and have a little extra time, I’ll sous vide the steaks for the perfect mediuim-rare, chill them for an hour to keep it from cooking any further in the pan and then finish in cast iron with a butter baste. It would be the best of both worlds… a perfectly cooked steak with a delicious crust.