High-end steakhouses in particular have embraced sous vide as a way to cook steaks to the ideal level of tenderness, juiciness and doneness.
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Benefits of Sous Vide Cooking for Steakhouses
There are several key benefits that make sous vide an appealing cooking technique for high-end steakhouses focused on serving perfect steaks:
- Precision – Sous vide allows steaks to be cooked at an exact temperature, down to the degree. This level of precision ensures the steaks reach the ideal level of doneness requested by the customer. Steakhouses can achieve perfect medium-rare or rare steaks every time using sous vide.
- Consistency – With traditional cooking methods, there can be variation between steaks in terms of doneness and moisture level. Sous vide eliminates this inconsistency and allows every steak to be cooked exactly the same way. This is extremely important for restaurants striving for quality control.
- Tenderness – Cooking steak at a lower temperature for a longer time breaks down connective tissue and results in very tender meat. The low-temp sous vide method makes even the chewiest cuts melt-in-your-mouth tender.
- Flavor – Cooking steaks sous vide locks in moisture and flavorful juices within the vacuum sealed bag. This results in a more intensely flavorful and succulent steak.
- Convenience – Steaks can be seasoned, bagged and cooked sous vide ahead of time. This allows the steakhouse kitchen to manage high volumes of steaks without sacrificing quality. The steaks only need a quick sear before serving.
Examples of High-End Steakhouses Using Sous Vide
Many of the world’s top steakhouses have adopted sous vide cooking for at least some menu items. Here are a few examples:
- Wolfgang’s Steakhouse – This famous New York steakhouse uses sous vide to cook many of its premium cuts like porterhouse, ribeye and filet mignon. They sear the steaks over a broiler before serving.
- Hawksmoor – This popular UK-based steakhouse chain cooks its thick-cut steaks sous vide for 2-3 hours before finishing them on a charcoal grill. Their thick ribeyes are famously tender and juicy.
- Gibsons Italia – The Chicago outpost of Gibsons Steakhouse uses sous vide cooking for complex dishes like the prime beef short rib entree. The sous vide process allows them to deliver fork-tender ribs in a refined steakhouse setting.
- CUT – Wolfgang Puck’s Beverly Hills steak restaurant utilizes sous vide for precise control over meat like Wagyu tri-tip and prime New York strip. They use a water bath immersion circulator to cook the vacuum-sealed steaks.
- Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse – This upscale steakhouse in Los Angeles cooks its signature steaks sous vide before searing them in a broiler. This enhances tenderness and locks in juiciness.
Controversies and Criticisms of Sous Vide in Steakhouses
While many high-end steakhouses have embraced sous vide cooking, some traditionalists argue against using this new-school technique in classic steakhouses. Some of the controversies and criticisms surrounding sous vide in steakhouses include:
- Loss of “steakhouse flavor” – Some argue that searing over an open flame is essential to get the characteristic charred flavor expected in top steakhouses. Sous vide can produce a steak that is juicy yet has a more subtle flavor profile.
- Lack of crust – It can be challenging to get a perfect dark brown sear on a sous vide steak, compared to a bold sear from a hot grill or broiler. The exterior browning contributes to taste and texture.
- Too tender – For some steak purists, the extremely tender and almost “buttery” texture of sous vide steak is not desirable. They prefer the slight chew of classically grilled steakhouse beef.
- Unnatural technique – There is a sense that sous vide over-manipulates the cooking process compared to time-honored simple grilling methods. Relying on technology does not fit steakhouse tradition for some.
- Inconsistent results – While sous vide can cook steak precisely, the finishing/searing process can lead to uneven results. Human grilling skill is still essential for great steakhouse-style beef.
Alternative Cooking Techniques Used in High-End Steakhouses
While trendy high-end steakhouses may incorporate sous vide, traditional cooking techniques remain essential to great steakhouse steak. Some of the fundamental methods used include:
- Broiling – Simple overhead high-heat broiling is a classic steakhouse technique. It can create a flavorful brown crust and cook steaks consistently. Many top steakhouses use broilers for finishing.
- Grilling – Cooking steaks over open flames or hot coals is considered the ideal by steak purists. The smoky char and bold grilled flavor is part of the steakhouse experience.
- Pan searing – Cooking in a cast iron skillet or on a flat top griddle are common steakhouse techniques. Pan-frying in clarified butter bastes the meat for full-bodied flavor.
- Charcoal grilling – High-heat live-fire charcoal grilling is making a comeback in cutting-edge steakhouses. This can create deep char while imparting a subtle smoky taste.
- Wood-fired grilling – Grilling over real hardwood coals, like oak, achieves optimal sear and texture. The natural wood smoke penetrates the meat, enhancing flavor.
How Sous Vide Complements Traditional Steakhouse Cooking Methods
Rather than replacing traditional techniques, sous vide can actually complement and enhance classic steakhouse cooking for improved quality and consistency. Here are some of the ways sous vide augments other techniques:
- Low-temp sous vide cooking tenderizes and marinates steak internally before finishing over flame or under a broiler. This enhances both texture and flavor.
- Vacuum sealing during sous vide retains all the natural juices and prevents moisture loss during cooking. This helps keep steaks succulent.
- Sous vide allows very precise time and temperature control compared to purely instinctual grilling. Steakhouses can fine-tune doneness.
- Pre-searing steaks before sous vide can impart initial browning and crust formation. The sous vide and second sear further develops and perfects this.
- Sous vide allows seasoning and ingredients to fully penetrate steaks. Bold rubs and marinades can deeply flavor the meat.
- For very thick cuts, sous vide partially cooks through the steak before a quick charring/searing at the end. This increases consistency in doneness.
The Future of Sous Vide in High-End Steakhouses
Sous vide’s popularity in high-end steakhouses has steadily grown over the past decade and will likely only continue rising in the future. Some reasons this modernist cooking technique will keep making inroads include:
- Increased focus on culinary science and precision cooking techniques in restaurants rather than just traditional methods.
- Ability to cook steak at lower temperatures for improved tenderness and moisture retention.
- Demand for consistency and quality control as customers become more discerning.
- Labor savings benefits in a kitchen compared to old-school methods requiring highly skilled grilling technique.
- Enhanced ability to infuse complex flavors into steak with integrated sous vide marinades.
- Continuing education of chefs and customers on the benefits of sous vide and how it enhances other techniques.
While sous vide may never fully replace the theater and artistry of proper grilling and broiling, its precision and reliability make it an essential tool for chefs striving for steak perfection. Quality-obsessed high-end steakhouses can leverage sous vide cooking to complement traditional techniques and provide customers an unforgettable steak experience.
So in summary, sous vide has absolutely found its place in many high-end steakhouse kitchens, though traditional cooking methods still remain essential to achieving the perfect steakhouse steak. When used together, these techniques can enable both precision consistency and classically delicious, craveable results. This modernist technology assists – but does not replace – the chef’s skill and passion.CopyRetry
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