Is It Worth Using A Butter Baste With The Sous Vide Method?

The sous vide method of cooking steak provides a foolproof, perfectly cooked result without the tragedy of overcooking. But, when removed from its cooking pouch, sous vide steak will be grey-brown and soft textured from low and slow heating, missing the flavor and eye-appeal of the brown and crusty sear from a hot grill. You might be tempted to achieve that caramelized exterior, but we have to caution against one popular method of browning, the butter baste.

Butter basting is a popular cooking technique for steaks using a hot cast iron pan, butter, aromatic herbs, and a spoon. The baste provides even browning from the hot butter constantly spooned over the top, and the additional flavor from the butter and herbs, but the steak lingers in the pan during the process. Try this with sous vide steak, and the perfect doneness you've waited for will be destroyed. You'll end up with a thick stripe of overdone meat along the edge.

Other flavorful options

Any form of browning the exterior on sous vide steak will risk overcooking the edge. The key is to reduce the amount of time your cooked steak is exposed to heat. Some cooks choose to use a torch on the meat surface to create color, which is quick and effective but requires yet another kitchen tool. Plus, butane from the torch adds an off-flavor. 

A quick sizzle in a ripping hot cast iron pan is the method used for another slow and low technique, the reverse sear. If you choose to sear your sous vide steaks, chilling the meat will help to avoid accidentally overcooking. It can be done right in the sous vide cooking bag and ice water. You'll also want to pat them very dry to avoid steam creation in the pan; dry meat browns quicker. To get the rich flavor that butter basting provides, you can melt butter with herbs in the searing pan to pour over the steak. 

Another trick for adding flavor and color to the outside of sous vide steak is to add an herb crust. Finely chop bright green parsley with a little rosemary and lemon zest, and pat the mixture on the steak. Top with a pat of warm cowboy butter, and enjoy the perfect doneness you've worked for!