Sous Vide Short Ribs

Dining date: 7/6/12

cut short ribs

Sous vide cooking seems to have a countless number of possible applications, but I think it has the most profound effect on things that need to cooked for extended periods of time. Sure, it can produce a perfect medium-rare steak, but a grill/stovetop/oven can do a pretty good job too. For tougher beef cuts such as short ribs or chuck, sous vide cooking provides the ability to break down muscle fibers over a prolonged period of time at a precise temperature. Short ribs are a perfect example of this; traditionally these are simmered for a couple of hours in a rich braising liquid. The effect is a tender piece of meat, albeit overcooked. The accompanying braising liquid imparts a lot of the flavor and moisture back into the meat. When cooking in a vacuum at a controlled temperature, the muscle fibers can be broken down with much less heat, yielding tender meat that’s perfectly cooked and juicy. Of course, since it’s a lower heat, it also takes a lot longer to cook too. Between the two methods, it’s hard to say one is better than the other; they’re just different.

There are a number of recipes out there for sous vide short ribs – David Chang has a popular one for 48-hour short ribs in an Asian braising liquid. However, Thomas Keller cooks his a whole day longer – 72 hours. It’s something I’ve been wanting to make ever since I got my sous vide machine. However, it took me a while to get comfortable enough to leave the machine on for a straight 72 hours…something that sounds kind of ridiculous.

Given that it would take so long to prepare, I figured I’d cook a large batch. I found 6 pounds of bone-in short ribs at my local market. For some reason, the bone-in short ribs at the market always appear to have better marbling than the boneless, so I went with those.

raw short ribs

raw short ribs

I experimented a little bit with flavors; for half of the short ribs, I seasoned with simple salt and pepper. For the other half, I sauteed a mirepoix of carrots, onions and celery and reduced red wine. After freezing this mixture, I added this to the other bags with the short ribs in order to mimic a more traditional braise. After the bags were vacuum sealed, they were put into the 57.0C (134.6F) water bath for a full three days.

sealed short ribs

Seriously, patience was probably the hardest ingredient in this recipe.

After 72 hours I was ready to dig in. The bags were full of juice, and the first thing I noticed about the short ribs was that they hadn’t shrunk much at all. When braised on the stovetop or oven, they always shrink quite a bit, but I could see there was relatively little shrinkage when compared to the bone size.

cooked, bagged short ribs

de-bagged short ribs

seared whole short ribs

I sliced off the bottom bones and seared the exterior with a torch. They were finally ready to eat!

seared short ribs

Sous vide short ribs

These were fantastic. Luscious, tender and very juicy, these were some of the best short ribs I’ve had. Much of the muscle fiber and collagen had broken down, leaving the meat easily fork-tender, but not at all mushy.  Pretty much as good as they looked. As for the two different types, I didn’t notice a significant difference between the salt & pepper short ribs and the celery/onion/carrots/red wine variation. Not sure why.

The next step for me is making a sauce out of the juices…I’ve had difficulty with this. When heated, most of the juices coagulated into a gross-looking, brown form; I believe I need to heat the juices then strain to get a ‘clean’ final product for sauce-making. Any tips on this would be appreciated!

Duck Ragu

Dining date: 7/1/12

duck ragu

Any casual reader of this blog may realize pasta is one of my favorite things to eat (all kinds of noodles, really). I’ve dabbled in preparing different pastas over the years with my most successful perhaps being the oxtail ragu with pappardelle. Following up on that effort, I’ve been meaning to make a duck ragu. Searching the web for recipes yielded a few variations on a Mario Batali recipe and I decided to go with one of them. The variations in the recipes were strictly whether or not to include porcini mushrooms, grate any cheese, or add sage; the base of each ragu was essentially the same.

The recipe I used is below:

Ingredients
4 duck legs and thighs, skin removed
4 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 medium Spanish onion, chopped into 1/4-inch dice
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 stalk celery, chopped into 1/4-inch dice
8 ounces red wine (Chianti preferred)
1 pound canned tomatoes, peeled whole
1 cup chicken stock
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

Directions
Wash duck legs and remove all fat. Pat dry.

In a thick bottomed casserole or Dutch oven, heat olive oil until smoking. Add duck legs and cook until brown on all sides and remove, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add onion, carrot, garlic and celery and cook until softened, about 7 to 9 minutes. Add wine, tomatoes, chicken stock and dried mushrooms and bring to a boil. Add duck legs and return to boil, lower heat, cover and allow to simmer for 1 hour. Remove duck legs and allow to cool. Pull all meat off the bones and return to pot, without the bones. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, or until quite thick. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Heat duck ragu in a saute pan until quite hot. Boil pasta until cooked and drain well. Put hot pasta into pan with duck ragu and toss well. Pour into serving bowl and serve immediately.

I followed the recipe closely, starting with the preparation of the duck. Skinning and removing the excess fat was the most painstaking part of the process (it didn’t help that I used 6 duck legs instead of 4 since I like my ragu a little bit meatier). The fat started to melt a little with the heat of my hand and everything quickly became quite slippery. Once ready, the legs were seared.

raw duck

seared duck

The following steps were similar to any braise: sweat aromatics, deglaze with wine and stock, and return meat to pot.

aromatics

duck in liquid

After an hour, the duck was removed and meat pulled off the bones. The meat was returned to the pot to simmer for another hour or so. I simmered it longer than the recipe stated to get the saucy consistency I was looking for (it continued to reduce on the stovetop), as well as to continue braising the meat to get it more tender.

shredded duck in sauce

Once ready, the sauce and meat were put into a sauté pan to toss with pasta (I used fresh fettuccine and dried pappardelle). Once plated, I grated some Parmesan cheese to finish.

duck ragu

duck ragu w/ pappardelle

I was pretty happy with the ragu. I liked the oxtail one more (personal preference) but felt this one seemed healthier (less unhealthy?) since there was significantly less fat in the resulting sauce. Next time I’d consider using an immersion blender before adding the shredded meat in order to make the sauce a little more uniform in consistency. Now, if only I could consistently make good fresh pasta..

Sous Vide Scrambled Eggs

Dining date: 5/28/12

While most of the foods I prepare sous vide have been meats, I’ve been trying to broaden my repertoire a bit lately. I’ve poached whole eggs a number of times; they’re one of the easiest things to sous vide since they don’t need vacuum sealing, just place them in the water straight from the carton. However, Gourmands Review tuned me in to a recipe for sous vide scrambled eggs. Given that I had recently returned home from Europe with some Spanish jamon iberico, I thought it would be an opportune time to make the eggs to go with the ham. Even more fitting was the fact that it was a Heston Blumenthal recipe, whose restaurant (The Fat Duck) I had dined at a few days prior.

The ingredient list of eggs, whole milk, heavy cream and butter sounded like a heart attack on a plate, so it had to taste good right?

Ingredients
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons whole milk
1.5 tablespoons heavy cream
salt
1.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1.5 tablespoons brown butter, melted, for serving

Directions:
Preheat the water bath to 167°F (75°C).
In a bowl, blend the eggs, milk, cream, and salt with a hand blender or whisk, then stir in the melted butter.
Divide the egg mixture in half and pour into two food bags. Seal under full pressure if using a chamber sealer, or use two zip lock bags and seal using the water displacement method.
Cook for 15 minutes, massaging the contents every 3 to 5 minutes.
Transfer the eggs to warm plates, drizzle with the brown butter, and serve.

Once the eggs were ready, I plated them with a little bit of chopped chives.

sous vide scrambled eggs

The last ingredient would be the jamon iberico, which I laid on top of the eggs to let the residual heat slightly melt the fatty slices.

jamon iberico

sous vide scrambled eggs, jamon iberico

In my first try at the eggs, I found them to not be as creamy as expected and they also seemed to be cooked a bit more than my liking too. Instead of fluffy, airy eggs these were somewhat firm. It did work well with the ham though, the salty pork flavor being an ideal pairing with eggs.

In my second attempt I stepped up the cream a bit and turned the temperature of the water down a couple of degrees…but I still liked the first batch better.

sous vide scrambled eggs

Given that my first two attempts have yielded OK-but-not-great results, it may be a while until I try this one again. For now, I’ll stick to poaching eggs.

Shrimp & Sausage Gumbo

Dining date: 5/6/12

shrimp & sausage gumbo

I thoroughly enjoy cajun & creole food – the food tends to be so full of flavor and comforting that it really jives with me. One of my favorite lunch spots in the downtown area, Fisherman’s Outlet, serves a seafood gumbo that I find almost irresistible. I finally decided to make a gumbo of my own, though it would be a bit different from the one at Fisherman’s Outlet. I decided to start with a more traditional recipe for a shrimp and sausage gumbo. This would be my first time making the dish and I’m pretty inexperienced with cooking in this part of the country; I’ve attempted making jambalaya a couple of times with mediocre success.

I based my gumbo almost entirely on a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen; any substitutions were based on what I could find at the market.

Ingredients:
8 ounces seafood stock or clam juice
3 1/2 cups ice water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 medium onions, chopped fine
2 medium red bell peppers, chopped fine
10 ounces okra, cut 1/4 inch thick
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
3/4 lb andouille sausage
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, minced
4 medium scallions, white and green parts, sliced thin
ground black pepper

Directions:
1. Bring reserved shrimp shells and 4 1/2 cups water to boil in stockpot or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer 20 minutes. Strain stock and add clam juice and ice water (you should have about 2 quarts of tepid stock, 100 to 110 degrees); discard shells. Set stock mixture aside.

2. Heat oil in Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed sauce-pan over medium-high heat until it registers 200 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and stir in flour gradually with wooden spatula or spoon, working out any small lumps. Continue stirring constantly, reaching into corners of pan, until mixture has a toasty aroma and is deep reddish brown, about the color of an old copper penny or between the colors of milk chocolate and dark chocolate, about 20 minutes. (The roux will thin as it cooks; if it begins to smoke, remove from heat and stir constantly to cool slightly.).

3. Add onion, bell pepper, celery, okra, garlic, thyme, salt, and cayenne; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables soften, 10 to 15 minutes. Add 1 quart reserved stock mixture in slow, steady stream, stirring vigorously. Stir in remaining quart stock mixture. Increase heat to high; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, skim off foam on surface, about 30 minutes.

4. Stir in sausage; continue simmering to blend flavors, about 30 minutes longer. Stir in shrimp; simmer until cooked through, about 5 minutes longer. Off heat, stir in parsley and scallions, adjust seasonings to taste with salt, ground black pepper, and cayenne; serve (traditionally gumbo is served over white rice.).

I followed the instructions step by step, first using my shrimp shells to fortify my shellfish stock (directly simmering the shells in a combination of the stock and water). I used stock from a carton; I wanted clam juice but wasn’t able to find it at the market. The roux was the part I was most concerned with since this was my first time making one and I feel like I’ve heard a ton about the importance of a quality roux. The longer it’s cooked, the less it acts as a thickening agent and the more it provides a deep, kind of  nutty flavor. I cooked mine for about 40 minutes, stirring almost constantly until it reached a fairly deep chocolate color.

roux

The rest of the steps were rather straightforward, which included sweating the aromatics and adding the liquid to simmer.

aromatics

adding stock

I next added the sausage and, after about 30 minutes, the shrimp. I actually had some sea scallops on hand, so I quartered them and dropped them in too. Lastly, off heat, I added the parsley and scallions.

finishing gumbo

I scooped up some rice in the middle of a bowl and ladled the gumbo around it. My first plate had a bit too much rice – the starch can really soak up the soup so I’d recommend starting kind of small.

shrimp & sausage gumbo

shrimp & sausage gumbo

Overall, I thought my gumbo turned out okay. I really have no idea if I executed the recipe the way it was supposed to, but I’d like to think I followed the directions pretty well. The andouille is key, providing much of the flavor; next time, I’m gonna try packing in the seafood.

Bluefin Tuna Sashimi

Dining date: 4/14/12

Last weekend, I was browsing my local Japanese Nijiya market when I stumbled upon an advertisement for a tuna filleting demonstration. It would be a prized bluefin tuna and the fish would be sold at the end of the demonstration! I knew tuna could be huge fish so I was curious to see what it would look like and how it was going to be broken down. Plus, I wanted to try some of the fish fresh off the cutting board.

butsuakamichutorotoro

Bluefin tuna is a poor choice in terms of sustainability (the Monterey Bay Aquarium assigns it an ‘Avoid’ rating) due to decades of over-fishing around the world. The primary consumer is Japan, where it’s considered a delicacy – particularly the fatty section of the belly, or toro. Given the depleting population and the fact that the fatty belly is a small fraction of the overall yield of the tuna, the toro is often one of the most expensive cuts in a sushi restaurant.

I dropped in to Nijiya just after 11am and an employee was well on his way to breaking down the fish. I’m not sure if he started with the whole fish (I was pretty early and his table wasn’t that large, so I don’t think he did), but it was clear that all of the parts were there from head to tail.

tuna remains

filleted carcass

filleted flesh

The tuna was effortlessly filleted, separating huge chunks of flesh from bone. Clearly, this guy had done this many times before. It was pretty cool to see the meat; a red to white gradient showed the level of fattiness from one side to the other. The deepest red color, and the leanest part of the fish, was akami. Often called maguro in restaurants, it’s the cheapest cut of bluefin. The rest of the flesh ranged from medium-fatty chutoro to the fattiest (and most expensive) of them all, otoro. The trimmings and other sections of the fish were sold too; I grabbed a small chunk of each of the three highest grades and took them home to eat.

trimming the fish

chutorotoro

I’ve never prepared sushi before, but I often purchase sashimi-grade fish to slice and eat. In short, sushi chefs make it look so damn easy to do but it’s really hard to slice it perfectly. In fact, I don’t even know what a perfect slice is supposed to be, but I did my best to cut against the grain and slice on a bias wherever possible (my pieces of fish were of varying shapes). The fattiness of the toro was evident when I was cutting it; my hands became oily just by touching the fish, and the knife sliced through like I was cutting a softened stick of butter.  It wasn’t pretty, but I got everything sliced up and served it with a warm bowl of short grain rice and a soy sauce-wasabi mixture.

bluefin tuna sashimi

toro sashimi

The fish was excellent and about as good as expected. I enjoyed the lean akami (on the right of the plate), which was still very tender and had good flavor. The chutoro (middle of plate) was even better, having a richer flavor while being even more silky and tender. Finally, the toro was expectantly rich and fatty with a texture that seemingly melted before it could be bit into. Like Japanese wagyu beef, it’s really best in small quantities because it’s just so incredibly rich and oily. But man, it is good stuff!

Dining on bluefin tuna (especially on the belly) is by no means an everyday occurrence, but it was fun to splurge on this a bit. Purchasing it from the market was a whole lot cheaper than a restaurant too (of course), with the whole plate above costing about $30…and it came with a show!

Sous Vide Flank Steak with Arugula Chimichurri

Dining date: 4/9/12

The latest in my experimentation with sous vide has been beef. Actually, the first thing I cooked was beef (a flat iron steak) and I moved over to chicken, pork and lately, I’ve been cooking a lot of fish. Some duck was a gateway back to red meat, and I’ve been playing with a bunch of steaks (short ribs soon to come!).

The thought came to me while I was planning what to bring to an Easter BBQ potluck. I could cook the flank steak sous vide ahead of time and bring the vacuum-sealed bags to the BBQ to be finished on the grill. I think flank steak is a good option marinated and then grilled, but I’ve heard that cooking it sous vide for a long period of time can slowly break down some of the connective tissue to yield a more tender meat. I was sold.

I tried using three different marinade/cooking liquids, each with one pound of steak. The first was an Asian-based marinade with soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, fresh garlic and fresh ginger. The second was definitely more Western with a reduced red wine (down to almost a syrup), minced carrots, onions, celery, and both fresh thyme and rosemary. Lastly I went with a simple blend of garlic salt and pepper, allowing the meat to bathe in its own natural juices. I sealed up the bags and plopped them into a 131F water bath for 16 hours.

I brought the first two bags (the Asian and Western) to the BBQ, where they were patted dry and finished on an open flame. Given that this was my first time making it, I was a bit nervous – surely I didn’t want to bring a dud to the potluck.

As I sliced into the steak, I breathed a sigh of relief as it yielded perfect end-to-end medium rare meat.  I couldn’t resist eating one of the slices on the spot and was rewarded with pretty good beefy flavor, with each of the different steaks subtly showing off their marinades. It was more tender than usual, having a consistency akin to a slow-cooked beef brisket. I considered it a success and hey, Wolvesmouth approved!

For the last steak, I ended up making it the following day at home. I warmed the bag up in hot water, removed the meat from the bag and patted it try. Lastly I seared both sides with a blowtorch and cut it thinly across the grain, on a bias.

flank steak

Given that this one didn’t have a marinade, I didn’t want it to be one-dimensional. A sauce to accompany the steak would be ideal, and I had stumbled upon an intriguing recipe a while back. It was an arugula chimichurri, something I thought would fit in perfectly. Garlic, citrus and arugula are all wonderful accompaniments to red meat so I figured together they’d be a sure bet.

Below is the recipe, adapted from Kitchen Daily.

Ingredients:
1 cup arugula leaves, rinsed and dried
1.5 cloves garlic, peeled, or more to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, or more as desired
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt, to taste 

Directions:
Combine the arugula with a pinch of salt, the garlic, and about half the oil in a food processor or blender. Process, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container if necessary, and adding the rest of the oil gradually. Add the lemon juice, then a little more oil or some water if you prefer a thinner mixture. Yields enough sauce for approx. 1 pound of meat.

The recipe was pretty flexible; it’s really about proportioning the ingredients to personal taste. Balance is key too, since the raw garlic and lemon acidity are both assertive flavors that can easily overpower.

I generously spooned the chimichurri sauce on top of the meat and was ready to dig in. I loved the colors, particularly the vibrant green of the sauce. The flavors were just as vibrant too between the peppery arugula, garlic and bright lemon flavors. It ended up being an excellent accompaniment to the flank steak! I’ll make this chimichurri again since it’s such a good pairing with a nice steak.

flank steak arugula chimichurri