In an effort to fully and completely document how to sous vide short ribs, I have created this blog entry, including pictures and videos, to describe in detail the steps and experiences one goes through throughout the process.
There are several blogs and sites that talk about this, and do a good job at it. They are what I based my first try on, but I found that little details were missing, questions came up that you don’t think to ask until you actually get your hands in the dough, and do it yourself.
I hope this serves as an informative document, but also an interesting read for those culinary aficionados, professionals and amateurs alike. This is a good time to mention that I am not a trained chef, nor would I say more of myself than that I enjoy great food and I love to experience different food.
The important thing to remember about sous vide is that it is simply another technique of cooking, the same way braising, frying, grilling, roasting or baking is. Sous vide is a technique which allows you to cook at a very low temperature. It permits you to cook at low temperatures for long periods of time. This is important, because this is how you are supposed to cook tougher cuts of meat, case in point, short ribs. The beauty however is that the sous vide technique is not limited to these tough meats, but all proteins, vegetables and even alcohol (see my comments and experiments on infusing alchohol); unlike other techniques, like braising, which are primarily used for cooking only certain ingredients.
As I mentioned, I am not a chef and I do not have a professional kitchen for my experiments. The following takes place in my humble home using the equipment available to me.
DISCLAIMER: I am the distributor of Henkelman chamber vacuum pack machines and Fusionchef thermal immersion circulators. This allows me access to the best, most reliable and industry proven equipment available. This is the equipment used at NOMA (voted best restaurant in the world three years in a row), and shown in the acclaimed culinary book, Modernist Cuisine. Of course, this spectacular selection of equipment is available to you through www.vacuum-packer.com, and to make it an easier decision for those on the fence, I will cover your shipping costs!
Sales pitch behind us, we move on to the meat of our purpose, the short ribs…
Day One: Where do you get Short Ribs…?
Since I leave the heavy cooking to my beautiful chef wife, I’ve never really paid attention to the options in the meat section at the grocery store other than your typical steaks, ribeyes, filets, and skirt steaks for my “famous” carne asada. (To illustrate this I once bought beef chuck steaks, which I grilled and later chewed on for hours…).
I went to the first place that came to mind, my nearest grocery store. The closest thing I found, prepackaged, were “back ribs”. I don’t know what these are so I asked the person behind the meat counter for what I was looking for, short ribs, and put my confidence in their expertise. The person working the counter was a young girl trained to weigh pre-cooked shrimp and responded to my request with a blank stare. Since it is important to me to get this right I decided to look for a second opinion.
Since I am in the foodservice industry business, I have been able to get a membership to Restaurant Depot, which is like the Costco for restaurants. I made the trip to the closest location and walked around their huge cold storage area and found exactly what I was looking for, Beef Chuck Short Ribs. The problem is that it comes vacuum packed in very large portions.
For those that do not have this kind of option I suggest going to your local grocery store, they do typically have this cut. If you have no luck there, you may want to try a local meat market or latin grocer (Carnicería) and ask for what you are looking for.
Happy with my purchase I drove home to prep, or “mis en place” (my wife is smiling at this…). I opened the vacuum packed short ribs, took out a slab and cut it into three pieces. I left each piece with a bone. I cut roughly in the middle of each bone. I then trimmed the fat off of one piece, just to see what this will mean to the end flavor.
As you can maybe see in the pictures, I simply salted and peppered the ribs prior to vacuum packing.
Once vacuum packed, I filled my water bin (a plastic cambro bin my wife brought home from work, however any large pot, or bucket or any container large enough will do). I attached the immersion circulator to the water bin and programmed the Pearl (the basic Fusionchef immersion circulator) to 135.0º F.
Putting aside the fact that I sell this stuff, it is super important to use a chamber vacuum packer. Using these units is the only way you can really get a full vacuum (external units, at most, provide a 60-70% vacuum – not optimal), and a perfect seal, which is key to the sous vide process. Obviously, the seal is important, the vacuum bag cannot leak. But, a full vacuum is so important because you cannot allow any air bubbles to form. Air bubbles, minute as they may be, create an insulated section, and may allow the vacuum pack to float disallowing full submersion. But more importantly, an insulated section in the vacuum bag allows for inconsistent temperature distribution. Full vacuum, perfect seal: priceless.
So, I vacuum packed the short ribs with the Jumbo 30, and the Pearl circulator is holding the bain marie at a perfect 135.0º F. The moment of cooking-truth has come. I drop the vacuum packaged short ribs into the water bath and watch…nothing happens. The fully vacuumed ribs just sink to the bottom, and settle into their resting place…R.I.P.
A few observactions…
With heated water you have evaporation. Since this is cooking for a long period of time, evaporation is a concern. Luckily, Fusionchef offers combination units with insulated stainless steel bins with lids for this reason. As you can see in the picture I have a plastic cambro bin with no lid. Companies sell several solutions for this problem; I simply covered the bin with plastic wrap, which seems to work just fine. CAUTION: It is detrimental to all immersion circulators to run when the water level is too low. Fusionchef circulators have a Low Water Alarm, which sounds and turns the unit off when the water level is too low to protect itself.
Ok, back to the meat.
I dropped the ribs in and watched them sit in the water. The temperature reading fluctuated slightly on the Pearl display, but only by 0.1 degrees. And, well, I watched. I reminded myself that this thing is going to sit there for 48 hours! I am so used to seeing, hearing and smelling my efforts immediately. Not here my friends…patience is a virtue, patience is a virtue…I found myself checking on the ribs frequently – nothing seemed to change.
Day Two: Uh, Now What?
Ok, so day two has come, and well there is not really much to say or report on. They just sit there…
Here is a picture at the 24 hour mark…
Day Three: …It’s What’s For Dinner!
Today is the day the 48 hour sous vide cooking process ends, and marks the completion of my first attempt at cooking short ribs.
I am a little nervous how this will turn out. Of the huge amount of short ribs I bought at Restaurant Depot, I portioned a few good pieces for my wife to take to one of her collegues. The idea is for him to cook them in the traditional manner, as a classic braise. This chef friend of ours is a non-believer of sous vide, so I promised to send him a sample of my sous vide short ribs for him to try. I have no doubt he will give me his honest opinion, especially if he doesn’t like it…argh, chefs!
Important to note is that once the 48 hours is up, the ribs are not quite ready to be plated. You must finish them on the grill or a hot pan to get that nice char flavor (the Maillard reaction). This is the only reason for this step, you are no longer “cooking” the ingredient, you are simpling flavoring the end product.
I also plan to use the juices that released from the ribs to make a little sauce to accompany this yummy protein.
Yes, I know. I am no saucier and I’m sure my method leaves a lot to be desired and is probably cringe worthy. Nevertheless, I plan to carmelize some onion, add a bit of chopped garlic and through them in the pan I used to finish the piece of short rib. I will then pour in the juice from the vacuum bag and add a bit of red wine (a Spanish Garnacha) to deglaze. I will let it simmer a bit until my limited experience tells me, STOP.
*I don’t know why Garnacha, it just sounded good.
Ok, so at the 48 hour mark I pulled the vacuum bag of short ribs from the bain marie. I cut open the vacuum bag and placed the sous vide short ribs on a cutting board, keeping the vacuum bag with short-rib juice left in it for the sauce.
After searing and finishing the slab of short ribs, I started the sauce. A little worse than what I expected, the sauce was completed using the juices from the vacuum bag and the red wine.
Once the sauce was completed I placed the short ribs on the plate, and poured the sauce over them. As you will see in the second picture below, the cooked temperature of the meat is heavenly. If you enjoy a medium rare, you will appreciate the end result here. The very beefy, meaty flavor that you get from short ribs with the soft toothy texture you get with perfectly cooked prime rib. Honestly, the flavor was exquisite.
Yeah, that bite, from the above picture, was yummy.
This was a really fun experiment. I learned a lot, and will change some things the next time I sous vide short ribs.
I feel it is necessary to point out that while I was able to cook the short ribs to the perfect temperature and served with the perfect texture, I failed miserably at prepping the product (trimming, cutting, seasoning), making the sauce for the short ribs, and final plating. These are the things that should be done by the deft hand of a trained chef.
The sous vide technique allowed me to cook the ingredient itself as good as, if not better, than I’ve ever had it before. It allowed me to obtain this without the years of training and real cooking experience required to acheive this sort of result using more traditional methods of cooking.
For professional kitchens, sous vide allows for a level of consistency rarely obtainable. However, the art of gastronomy goes way beyond the precise application of heat to an ingredient. So beyond it, in my mind, it is difficult to put into words and explain – how do you define art?.
Science definitely has a place in the kitchen, but without the art food just becomes fuel, albeit well cooked fuel.
For next time:
1. Trim off the fat prior to vacuum packing – salt and pepper trimmed pieces.
2. Learn how to make a proper sauce
3. Invite guests to enjoy your food
For those that are interested, below are the images of the braise our chef friend did in his kitchen. As you can see, his skills are much more…how do you say, better.
The cooking hand in the images belongs to Adam Hervieux, Chef de Cuisine at restaurant 3800 Ocean on Singer Island, FL.
This is what I need to learn…the sauce.
I will be enjoying this for dinner real soon.
Happy cooking everybody!