Dining date: 7/6/12
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.
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.
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.
I sliced off the bottom bones and seared the exterior with a torch. They were finally ready to eat!
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!