NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

September 11, 2013

For precision cooking, fire up the ... cooler?

When you head off to the shore, the woods or a tailgate party at the stadium, you don’t have to settle for preservative-filled hot dogs or overcooked burgers.

Live a little, and take along a few inch-thick strip steaks, or maybe some fresh salmon or chicken fillets. Rest easy, because cooking the meat to perfection will be a snap. And the best tool for the job is the very container you’ll use to carry the food: a big, insulated ice chest. You’ll also want to pack a digital thermometer — and a blowtorch, if you have one.

When relaxing outdoors, we’re in no hurry. But cooking over the intense heat of a fire or grill is unforgiving; Time things wrong by just a minute or two, and the window of opportunity for a perfectly medium-rare steak or a just-done salmon fillet will have closed.

As long as you have plenty of water and a way to heat it, however, you have a better alternative: Transform that insulated cooler from an improvised fridge into an improvised hot water bath for cooking your food. Then you can cook your meat the way high-end chefs do, or sous vide, as they say in the restaurant world.

I realize that this idea strikes some people as funky, but it’s simple. Here’s how it works. You fill the cooler with hot water. You place your meat in a sealed plastic bag. Add the bagged meat to the cooler, then walk away. The hot water slowly, evenly, perfectly cooks the meat to your desired doneness.

First, a few guidelines. The cooler and meat should be warmed to room temperature before you start. To maintain the temperature during cooking, plan on using about 8 quarts of water per steak or fillet, and dump in water that is a good 15 degrees warmer than the final temperature you want the center of the meat to achieve. The recipe below lists final target temperatures for several good options.

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