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!