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Sous-vide experiment 2: Lamb rack January 18, 2011

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Lamb.

A while back, I attempted an experiment using the principles of sous-vide, or using a water bath to cook meat under vacuum. My experiment involved cooking chicken in my largest (and heaviest) pot, over a low burner, constantly monitoring the temperature over the few hours it took to cook. Which is do-able for the 1.5 hours it takes to cook chicken using this method, if one has the time on a weekend afternoon. However, for most sous-vide recipes, a longer cooking time is required – and temperature fluctuations over a longer period of time may be problematic.

The solution, as proposed on the Food Lab, is to use a beer cooler (ie esky) to maintain the water temperature over the time required to properly cook different types of meat. Having acquired an esky, I thought I’d try this method by cooking a rack of lamb.

To start with, I prepared the pieces of lamb rack. I split my rack into two sections, and put each one in a ziplock bag along with rosemary and thyme.

Next, I filled the esky with warm water. I was looking for a temperature of around 55°C but wasn’t that fussed if I got it a bit higher than that. I used the thermometer from my BBQ set to monitor the temperature – it has prongs in it so you can stick it into meat but at least it has a digital output! And yes, I will invest in a proper digital thermometer… Here’s the setup with the lamb in the esky.

I sealed the bags almost all the way and then put them in the water, letting the pressure from the water push out as much air as possible. It wasn’t as good as a proper vacuum seal of course, but I did succeed in getting most of the air out.

Once I’d got the water to the correct temperature and the lamb pieces sealed in their bags, I wrapped the esky in towels to help insulate it, and left it to cook. I tested the temperature every 20 minutes or so, as it was the first time I’d used the esky and I wasn’t sure if it would hold the water’s temperature or not. Luckily, it only lost a couple of degrees after an hour, and I was able to top it up with warm water to bring it back up to the correct temperature.

The recipe stated that the lamb must be left in the water for a minimum of 45 minutes and a maximum of 3 hours. To be safe, I left the lamb for 2 hours. Here’s what it looked like after it came out of the water.

I took them out of the bags and dried them off. They still felt a bit soft to the touch, but not to the point of rawness. I cooked them quickly in a pan on the stove, to brown the outside and add a bit of crust, and served them with a mixture of onions, squash and carrots.

Now, you might be saying, that’s all very well and good, but how can the effectiveness of this method be judged without seeing a photo of the inside too?

As you can see, it was evenly cooked all the way through. I used a temperature which was on the medium-rare side; to get a proper medium piece, the temperature of the water just needs to be increased a little. And as for the taste: the texture was fantastic – soft and melting while still retaining shape and body. For some reason the lamb flavour seemed more concentrated or rich as well.

I would highly recommend this method of DIY sous-vide for anyone who wants to see what sous-vide can do for meat. It won’t work for some of the super long cooking times (24 or 48 hours) but smaller pieces of lamb, chicken and fish can be cooked in a few hours. I feel that Nero Wolfe would approve!


1. Teena - January 20, 2011

the pic of the inside just made my mout water.
I have been curious ever since your first sv experiment but so far haven’t got round to trying it myself. Methinks I should.

inspiredbywolfe - January 20, 2011

Sous vide is definitely worth the effort if you have access to an esky/ beer cooler. It’s a lot easier than monitoring the temperature constantly with a pot on the stove, and produces better, more consistent results. Let me know how you go if you try it!

2. David - February 5, 2012

Many home ovens have a dehydration option which allows the oven temperature to be set from anywhere from 38 deg. C to 75 deg. C which more than covers the range of most sous vide cooking. I use a large soup pot filled with water adjusted to the proper temp and leave it unattended for hours at a time, so far with great results. I have found the investment in a $100 vacuum sealer well worth it as it assures an even cooking surface, no worries about the seal leaking over time and no fighting with the bag to get the air out. I made lamb rack the other night and it came out much like yours, picture perfect and tasted great. Great job and beautiful pics. Thanks.

inspiredbywolfe - February 5, 2012

Hi David,
I’m glad the oven worked for you! Mine doesn’t have a dehydrate option, but it makes sense that you can use this instead of the water bath option. The only thing is that I’ve read that ovens don’t usually keep to the specified temperature, but rather fluctuate higher and lower to create an ‘average’ of the temperature set. But maybe it is more reliable on the dehdrate setting?

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