Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Glazed Pork Belly with Swiss Chard, Pinot Gris-Poached Granny Smith Apples, and Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette

This was quite possibly the best pork fat I've ever tasted. Most of the time when I eat pork belly, I take the fat off because it feels so unhealthy. This, however, was so good I wanted to eat all of it. The beauty of cooking this sous vide is the fat. Fat melts at 85°C, and the meat is cooked at 82.2°C. What this means is that while the meat is getting tender, the fat does not melt away. One mistake I made, however, was that I cut the pork incorrectly with respect to the grain. I should have cut the pork against the grain, because cutting with the grain made the meat seem more tough and stringy instead of fall-apart tender.

The combination of flavors on the plate was fun. There was the rich and decadent combination of the pork belly and the swiss chard leaves. The leaves were cooked with bacon, another form of pork belly, and could definitely stand up to the richness of the belly. Then there was the vinaigrette and the apple balls, both of which provided a cleansing acidic counterpoint to the fatty pork.

I paired this with a Ravenswood Zinfandel. I thought the fatty pork would help to balance the acidity and tannins of the zin, but I don't think it worked that well. It seemed like the zin overwhelmed the pork, which although it was rich, it was not very heavily flavored.

The pork was cooked 82.2°C for 12 hours, then seared at high heat on all sides. After that, it was cooked in a pork sauce made of reduced pork stock. This cooked down until it became thick and glazed the belly.

The swiss chard leaves were cooked with bacon, onions, and garlic, then roasted with additional chicken stock in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes. Then it was reduced on the stove until the chicken stock thickened and glazed the leaves.

The chard stems were cooked sous vide at 85°C for 75 minutes, with bay leaves, thyme, and garlic. Be careful with the herbs! The stems really soak up the flavor.

The final touch were granny smith apple balls. These were cooked sous vide at 85°C for 30 minutes in a solution of water, sugar, and an Oregon pinot gris. These provided a perfect counterpoint to the richness of the belly. The sous vide cooking allowed the apple balls to soak up the sugar and wine, while retaining a toothsome bite.

The vinaigrette was simple, with Dijon mustard, olive oil, honey, salt, and pepper.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Twelve hour pork belly

Unhindered by my lack of success with the short ribs, I decided to move onto pork belly. The recipe is also from Thomas Keller's Under Pressure. The crazy recipe involved sous vide at every turn, from the pork belly (82.2 °C for 12 hours) to apples (85 °C for 30 minutes) to swiss chard stems (85 °C for 1 hour, 15 minutes).

The pork started off overnight in a brine of salt, sugar, onions, carrots, bay leaf, thyme, and peppercorns.
After that, it was put into a bag with chicken stock, more herbs and spices, and cooked for 12 hours at 82.2 °C. Twelve hours later, it is put in an ice bath and chilled.

When I finally took it out of the bag, it came out a beautiful pale pink color with subtle alternating layers of meat and fat. The fat was so soft, trimming it was like cutting through a piece of lard.
In my next post, I will tell you how the dish turned out. Until then, I will leave you with an appetizer. I laid thin strips of fat trimmings on top of a plain garlic bruschetta. It was delicious! The feeling of cold pork fat melting on your tongue, contrasting with the crisp texture of the toasted bread was amazing. The subtle accents provided by the herbs and spices also added complexity to the pork fat flavor. A wonderful prelude of what was to come...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sous vide short ribs, part 2

48 hours later, I pulled them out. This was my first time cooking meat sous vide, so I found that they looked quite unpleasant and unnatural looking straight out of the bag. Many sous vide meat preparations call for searing the meat with a hot pan or torch before serving to create a nice crust. As a former Boy Scout, I love playing with fire and welcomed the opportunity to torch the meat!
However, before pulling the ribs out of the water, I made a quick sauce by sauteeing a mirepoix (carrot/onion/celery), tomato paste, deglazing with white wine, and then adding beef stock. I reduced this until it became syrupy.

Finally, I had my torched short rib and sauce. Time to eat! The result was indeed a medium-rare short rib--something I had never had before. I also found that there was no discernible difference between the three versions I had made. It was not as tender as I had hoped, except for one piece that was particularly fatty. I also thought that they had an almost overwhelming flavor of beef fat. I wonder if the result had something to do with the beef being grass-fed. Grass-fed beef tends to be lean and strong in flavor, almost gamy. Did cooking it in a pouch intensify these flavors? Did I need to cook it another 24 hours to make it more tender?

Overall, I had expected an amazingly tender short rib with amazing flavor. Perhaps that was too much to expect. Compared to this meal, I would have preferred a traditionally braised short rib. I obviously have much more experimenting to do.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sous vide short ribs

I recently built a temperature control unit for cooking sous vide. For those unfamiliar with sous vide, it is characterized by cooking food in a vacuum sealed bag for (usually) relatively long periods of time in a temperature controlled bath. An excellent and beautiful book on this is Thomas Keller's Under Pressure.

For details on the construction process, I generally followed the instructions for a temperature controller that enthusiasts have made to control the smoking temperatures for smoking food. The only difference is that I purchased this PID temperature controller from Auber Instruments, as well as an immersible probe accurate to 0.1 °C. I also added a power switch and a fuse to protect the PID controller. Total cost of this project was $110 including taxes and shipping. This is dirt cheap compared to the $450 Sous Vide Supreme or any of the medical grade immersion circulators.

Once the temperature controller is setup, it's as simple as plugging it in and connecting it to a rice cooker, slow cooker, or in my case, a 1300W electric burner. I found that it kept a stock pot at a pretty stable temperature (generally within .2 °C of the target).

I've read about and heard about sous vide short ribs and wanted to try it out. After reading Under Pressure and some other online sources, I decided on 57.2 °C for 48 hours. The temperature would give me medium rare doneness, and the long cooking time would make sure the connective tissues had time to dissolve and become tender.

Since I don't have a real vacuum packer, I used ziplock bags and a straw to suck the air out. Ghetto, yes, but does the job. Sort of. I packed three different bags: 1) plain salt and pepper, 2) salt, pepper, and a sprig of thyme, and 3) salt, pepper, and about 1/2 cup beef stock. The third option would be the closest to a traditional braise. The beef I used was from Morris Grassfed Beef.

I labeled the bags, zipped them up, and dropped them into the water. How did it turn out? Tune in next time to find out!