There is nothing more delicious than a perfectly cooked steak, but buying tender filet steaks every time you fancy one isn’t particularly budget-friendly. On the other hand, the cheaper cuts of meat cost less money for a reason. They have a reputation for being tough from undercooking or dry and bland from overcooking which puts many people off.
Cooking tougher meats can be a challenge, but the secret to getting the best out of cheaper and tough meat is to cook it slowly, and to the right temperature. Sous vide cooking lends itself perfectly to the task of making these cuts just as mouth-watering as any Chateaubriand.
If you’re wondering how to get the most out of these tougher meats, then read on for our guide to cooking them sous vide!
How to identify tough meats
As a rule of thumb, the more a muscle has been used, the tougher it will be. Essentially, the more work that part of the animal did, the more muscle it will contain, so typically shoulder and leg cuts will be tougher than the back. This explains why tenderloin is as buttery and delicious as it is, as it comes from a part of the animal that does not do a whole lot of work during its life.
For most four-legged animals such as cows, from the centre of the cow’s back, moving down and outward along its body, the muscles will roughly start from the most tender and gradually get tougher.
What makes these meats more tough than other cuts?
Collagen is the key here, a protein that connects the muscle fibres together and attached to the bones. The harder a muscle works, the more collagen it contains, and this connective tissue is much chewier than the muscle tissue itself.
The good news is that when you cook these cuts slowly, the collagen turns to gelatine, and the fat also melts, which turns your meat from tough to tender and adds plenty of flavour.
Why cook tough meats sous vide?
If you’ve ever enjoyed a nice, slow-cooked brisket, you’ll know that it melts in the mouth and is full of flavour. But try quickly pan-frying brisket and you’ll have a very chewy piece of meat on your plate.
This is because tough meats need to be cooked slowly, to allow the collagen to transform into gelatine and give them that succulence that brings out the best in them. The higher you the temperature you use to cook them at, the faster the collagen is converted, and the lower the temperature, the more time you need to cook for in order for this conversion to take place.
Sous vide cooking lends itself absolutely perfectly to this type of slow cooking and gives you all the control you need to make sure the time and temperature you cook at are both spot-on for the exact cut you are cooking, at your desired doneness.
You can select how well done you would like the meat to be, and then hold it at that temperature for long enough so that the collagen transforms without the meat overcooking, which is a game-changer.
The exact temperature and time you need to cook for will depend on several factors, including weight and the cut itself, but if you are at all unsure about this we have a calculator that can do all of the hard work for you, until you start to get more familiar with figuring it out yourself. Our iVide Cooker also comes with a smart interactive app, which can help you keep track of your cook that little bit easier.
We hope this has given you a little bit of inspiration to try out transforming a cheaper cut into something that melts in your mouth! Be sure to check out our recipe section if you need any further inspiration, as we have plenty to get your creative juices flowing in the kitchen.