To pre-sear or not pre-sear? That is the question.
Traduction en francais arrive dans un instant
A couple of days a go, I had a discussion with somebody on eGullet.com, about Searing meat before versus after sous vide cooking. I was mentioning Bruno Goussault, who recommends to sear before placing the meat in the pouch and after cooking to -a) kill some of the bacteria at the surface of the food and -b) to infuse the meat with the flavors created by the Maillard reaction. Both very good reasons. This person though was saying that he tried both ways, pre-searing the meat then Post-searing it and just cook it then sear it, and in both instances he didn’t notice a difference in the taste. OK why not let’s leave it at that……
Actually. No! Bruno Goussault is one of founding father of Sous vide cookery and if he says that it’s better to pre and post-sear the meat, there must be a reason. So once again, this question will have to be answered in the kitchen and I set out to try.
I bought two chicken breast – There’s a reason for the choice of the chicken instead of a piece of beef or lamb. Beef and lamb have quite strong flavors and the chicken, let’s be honest is quite bland. I thought that if the theory of Mr Goussault was right (And I’m sure it is) the taste of the pre-seared chicken would be stronger than the non seared version. – But let’s go back to my breasts.
I had two, I seared one in a smoking hot cast iron skilet and I left the other one raw.
I didn’t go to far in the marking of the second piece I didn’t want the core temperature to rise to high and Pre-searing always scares me a little bit. I seasoned both pieces and vacuum packed them individually with a bit of good old butter. I didn’t want any other taste than that, after all the goal was to see if their intrinsic taste will change according to the different treatment they had received.
I set my circulator to 63.5°C for 40 minutes and prepared the creamed shitake mushrooms I would eat as a garnish/sauce. Very simple. Removed the stems from the mushrooms, which are very woody and not so good to eat and slice the heads, half a centimeter thick. In a pan melt an equal amount of butter and grape seed oil (Whatever oil you happen to have) and throw a smashed clove of garlic to infuse the fat. when the kitchen smells of butter and garlic, remove the garlic and add the mushrooms to the foaming butter.
Leave it alone for a couple of minutes, don’t toss, don’t stir. let the mushrooms take some colours. Then add one shallot finely chopped. and cook a bit more, until the shallots are soft and translucent. Reduce the heat and stir in two tablespoons of Crème Fraiche. Et voilà!
After forty minutes, the chicken was ready.
There was two test I wanted to do. First I cut a piece off each breast and tasted them. The pre-seared breast had without a shadow of a doubt the flavors of the sear, you could taste the caramelised outside, even though it wasn’t very crispy (Obviously). But weirdly I didn’t enjoy the texture. the non-seared breast was like it always is when you cooking chicken sous vide, soft and moist. but admittedly didn’t have much flavor other than plain chicken. The texture though was as expected exceptional.
Then, I post-seared both pieces to see if the pre-seared one would have an amplified flavor for having been seared beforehand but sadly I wouldn’t be saying that it made a big difference.
Once the non pre-seared meat spent some time getting some Maillard treatment it was as flavourfull as the other one, but still had a better texture.
The picture above shows the post-seared-only chicken breast. Because searing is faster when the meat is already cooked, I obtained a very nice crust, very quickly.
I actually ate both pieces, but I have to say that I enjoyed the non-pre-seared better. The texture was nicer and I didn’t have this outer ring of overcooked flesh. Look at the magnificent flesh on the picture, muscle fibers barely noticable. Imagine biting into this.
Conclusion? I will stick to searing the meat after cooking. I did not notice a difference so massive in the taste that would warrant that extra step in the process and I didn’t really enjoy the texture of the meat.
I’m pretty sure that I did something wrong though, maybe it doesn’t work with Chicken, maybe it’s more noticable with longer cooking meat that have time to really infuse with the seared flavors, maybe, maybe…. Later I will try again with brisket or another tough cut. I don’t regret doing this experiment though the chicken was really good and went very well with the creamed mushrooms.