Sous Vide Steak

Dining date: 4/13/13

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While the most profound sous vide application may best represented in long-duration braises of the tougher cuts, breaking down connective tissues while keeping meat a medium-rare temperature, its applications for “simpler” cooking can be just as rewarding. For example, a steak can be prepared very well either on the stove top or seared and finished In the oven/broiler, but I often like to prepare one sous vide. There are a few reasons why.

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Sous Vide Leg of Lamb

Dining date: 3/24/13

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A few weeks ago, I came across a sale in the Bristol Farms weekly ad for boneless leg of lamb. I’ve made leg of lamb the ‘traditional’ way a few times, but figured it’d be a good time to see what would happen slow-cooking the meat in a water bath. Of course, I expected a nice medium-rare all the way around, but I wanted to see how much the long cooking time could break down the connective tissue to make some really tender meat.

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Sous Vide Pork Ribs

Dining date: 9/5/12

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One of the things I’ve wanted to mimic using sous vide is barbecue. Cooking-wise, I could easily duplicate the low-and-slow practice with even more precision; the challenge would be imparting the smoky flavor. I remembered seeing an episode of America’s Test Kitchen where they prepared pulled pork in the oven using liquid smoke in the brine. After dismissing the thought of using mezcal in a brine (a waste!), I was inspired to use liquid smoke as the key ingredient to imbue the smoky flavor. Realistically, I did not expect it to duplicate the natural smoke flavor perfectly, but thought it’d be a fun experiment nonetheless.

Unlike synthetically manufactured truffle oil (most of which never involve actual truffles in its production), liquid smoke is a natural product formed with the condensation of smoke similar to how water is distilled. It definitely smells like smoke.

I first started by brining my baby back ribs in an herb-infused brine. I don’t know if brining makes much of a difference when cooking sous vide (especially for extended periods), but I often do it anyways.

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The ribs were patted dry and rubbed with my trusty Ad Hoc BBQ rub. The sauce would come from another notable place, San Diego’s Phil’s BBQ. I was convinced that I had all the ingredients for a delicious dish.

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The liquid smoke I used recommended 1/2 teaspoon per pound of meat; I had no reason to do any different and ended up using a full two tablespoons for the 6-pound rack. Instead of applying it in the brine stage, I opted to seal it with the pork for optimum smokiness!

The temperature was something I debated about a while. I’d seen as high as 80C for 8-12 hours, but I decided to go even lower and slower with 68C for 24 hours. I figured this would be high enough to break down any collagen and connective tissue, while potentially keeping the meat more moist.

I set my bag into the water bath and waited. After cooking something for as long as 72 hours, 24 really didn’t seem that bad. As with most foods prepared sous vide, the cooked product didn’t look very impressive.

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Brushing on a little bit of the BBQ sauce and caramelizing with a torch made the ribs look a bit more appetizing!

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Lastly, I sliced the ribs and drizzled with more sauce. Voila!

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I thought the end product was good, but nothing exceptional (definitely didn’t compare to the sous vide beef short ribs).  The meat was very tender, though not fall-off-the-bone tender, and moist but not exceedingly so. I definitely wouldn’t have called them dry, but I totally expected them to be more moist. I thought the pork flavor came through with the rub, but most of the flavor came from the accompanying sauce. Only a hint of smoke flavor could be tasted, so maybe I’ll have to use more liquid smoke next time? It was a fun experiment and I’ll probably play with it a bit in the future…but I’ll be sticking with beef short ribs for the time being.

Sous Vide Short Ribs

Dining date: 7/6/12

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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