Sous vide steak tips: an experiment

I have not been blogging as much in the last few weeks, owing to a software release that was coming up and has now finally happened. New lesson learned: Never, ever release software two days before a three-day weekend. Also, I was enjoying the Great New York State Fair.

Last year I discovered the awesomeness of Pickle Barrel Steak Tips at the Fair. I am pleased to report they were every bit as awesome this year, both for their steak and for their mushrooms. This year I discovered I could stretch out the Fair experience by ordering a half-order of tips and mushrooms to go, which gave me a bowl full of awesome to devour the following day.

For the last day, though, I opted to stay home. Although the Fair had one-dollar admission all day, it was warm and humid and I had a little work to do anyway. But as evening came on, I decided I wanted to try to give steak tips a try on my own—mostly so I would know how to handle them in the winter. Naturally, I made a few mistakes, but it came out relatively decent for a first try.

First off, steak selection: I bought a half sirloin, about ¾ lb., because my options were relatively limited. Apparently a gang of determined sale shoppers hit Wegmans like a friggin’ tornado this weekend and cleaned them out of most of the steaks, all of the good butter, and various other sundries. In addition they seem to be shrinking the bulk food section, which if true upsets me greatly. But anyway, I got sirloin for the sirloin tips, instead of the more common top round or some other cut. This resulted in some of the pieces being chewier than I wanted, though maybe that was unavoidable.

For the cooking method, I went with a short sous vide treatment to start. My goal was to get all the tips in a plastic bag and in hot water, and keep it around 130° the whole time. It ended up probably closer to 125°. Without a proper sous vide setup it’s really hard to maintain temperature. I would have preferred to do this for an hour, but time was running short (I was hungry) and I decided on half an hour instead. The short time and lower temp led to a bloodier flavor, I think, so next time I’ll know to start early.

After that, I made my biggest mistake: I put a little vegetable oil into a frying pan before adding the mostly-cooked tips, planning to add butter later and sear them the rest of the way in that. If I had a brain in my head I would have realized the vegetable oil wouldn’t taste all that good, and just stuck with butter. The result gave the tips a bit of an “off” taste that, though I quickly got used to it, was nowhere near the buttery goodness of the tips I get from the Fair.

I also underseasoned the steak dramatically. I needed way more salt and way more pepper than I used. I can’t give a good estimate of how much salt I used, except that I took a container of kosher salt and gave it a good sprinkle all over the pan—three times overall—and for pepper I gave it about ten grinds when it probably needed more like twenty. Also, and I should have realized this too, seasoning them before putting them in the bag and doing the sous vide was probably a better option. No garlic was involved; I wasn’t going for a garlicky flavor.

I made mushrooms alongside the tips; they didn’t come out all that terrific either, but that’s how I’ve been batting lately. Still, I know how to do better mushrooms in general and consider that a one-off failure. For the steak, this is what I learned:

  1. Use a fattier or more tender cut.
  2. Stick with about the same size—it fills my 10″ pan well and served a good amount for me and my wife together.
  3. Season before sous vide, and generously. Use a crapload of salt and much more pepper.
  4. Do the sous vide for a full hour and do a better job keeping the temperature up at 130°.
  5. Don’t screw around with oil; go straight to the butter.

As for what worked in this experiment, the size was just right—of the cut of meat, and also of the tips I cut off it. In spite of several missteps the flavor wasn’t bad; the steak was fairly tasty. The tips did not smoke up the kitchen like I would normally get from pan-frying meat, which I think I can credit to pre-cooking them in the water bath. (Would this work out if I decided to marinate the meat in teriyaki during the sous vide? I suspect not. The flavor would be fine but I’d expect a lot of burning.)

The upshot is I think I can do better when I make this again as the weather gets colder. But for now, my grill has been getting sad and there isn’t a lot of good weather left to use it in.

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About Lummox JR

Aspiring to be a beloved supervillain
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One Response to Sous vide steak tips: an experiment

  1. Shannon Reed says:

    I inquired once what cut of meat they used. They said it’s a special cut they get just for them but it’s similar to a beef brisket. I go to the fair every year JUST for the beef tips from pickle barrel.

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