Short ribs two ways!

It took me a while to join the Instant Pot (IP) cult, but I finally did and I’m glad that I did–I love my IP. Now I’ve added a new gadget to the kitchen: a sous vide immersion circulator.

I had tried some “jury rigged” sous vide (here and here) so I was sure it was a way of cooking I was interested in pursuing.

The Joule, from ChefSteps now has a place in my kitchen. We all also know that you can’t have a new kitchen toy without playing. So I had to decide what to cook first.

When I got my IP one of the first recommendations for something to cook was boneless beef short ribs. I’ve done short ribs as a braise in the oven (love them, but it’s a wintertime thing–not for summer when the A/C is working hard to fight the heat and humidity. As I was browsing amongst the cookbooks on sous vide I found a recommendation of something to try with sous vide. Yep, short ribs. There was even a recipe for them in the app on my smartphone (which you need to operate the Joule). An absolute no-brainer–short ribs by sous vide.

After reading the descriptions of sous vide meat, the scientist in me just had to do a little study of my own. I’ve really enjoyed short ribs out of my IP. Certainly they were not the same as the long oven braise that I would do in the wintertime, but for hands-off cooking and summertime, they are great. It seemed logical that I should cook something using my new sous vide that I knew so I could really get a feel for what sous vide really does. So, a little experimental design here.

I got a package of four very homogeneous-appearing boneless beef short ribs. Two of those went into the IP, and two into the sous vide according to the recipe on my smartphone. I seasoned both the same: garlic powder, onion powder, and salt then set to cooking.

The Joule app gave me a choice of cooking temperatures for ribs: 156°F, 167°F, and 176°F, with 167°F marked as the “fave”. Since I thought a good deal of experimentation had probably gone into those recommendation, I opted for the middle one for the recommended time of 24 hours. (Yes, really.) The other two went into the IP for 90 minutes that I’d previously used to get nice tender short ribs. (I’d tried less time, higher pressure but didn’t get the result I wanted. Less and there was just a bit too much chew to the meat.)

When the short ribs in the IP were cooked, I cooled them quickly, put them into a freezer bag and refrigerated them. (The freezer bag was because the sous vide ones and my IP ones would be reheated in the water bath.) At the end of the 24 hours, I chilled the sous vide ribs and refrigerated them too.

Instant Pot (left) and sous vide (right))

For the taste test, reheated both batches in the sous vide water bath at 140°F for 35 minutes and plopped them onto a plate and dug side by side and dug in. Was there a difference? Yes there was.

After all the descriptions of meat cooked sous vide I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The seasoning on them was just about the same so they were beefy, onion-y, and garlicky. The appearance was slightly different: the IP ribs were a bit darker. Both were very tender, but the “mouth feel” of the sous vide ribs was much moister than those from the IP.

I really like the sous vide ribs! Am I going to give up cooking them in the IP? Not likely since it’s also hands off, but it’s quick. Will cook more ribs using sous vide? You bet! I’ll certainly want to try some different temperatures, though. I perusing the Sous Vide for Everybody* cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen I found that their suggestion of time an temperature for braised short ribs was 160°F for 20 to 24 hours.

When thinking about sous vide you have to remember we’re talking precision cooking here–not hit or miss, or close. So it’s likely to take a bit to get the feel for just how I like things cooked using sous vide, but it should be an exciting journey.

A son gôut!

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*Note: If you’re skulking on Amazon for sous vide cookbooks, be sure to look carefully at the author or editors. There is another with the exact title except that it has 2019 appended.

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Chilean sea bass (sous vide)

Supper this evening was Chilean sea bass (Patagonian toothfish. or Dissostichus eleginoides if you prefer). I’ve been skulking through cookbooks again–especially those that have sous vide recipes. (No, I haven’t bought anything special for sous vide cooking–yet, though I will confess to looking at immersion circulators and thinking a birthday present to self.)

In The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji López-Alt I foud a lot of recipes for sous vide cooking–and a method of doing it without any special equipment (at least for foods requiring only a short cooking time). It’s done with a beer cooler.  I do have a beer cooler so this seems like a method to try, as an alternative to the multifunction pot that I used before because I was too lazy to try the beer cooler method.

First I decided to check out the beer cooler to see how well it held temperature. I put about 2-1/2 gallons of hot tap water into it (118ºF) and checked the temperature over several hours.  Two hours later, the water temperature was 113ºF, and at four hours, 110ºF. I decided that would certainly do for “short” cooking times. Seems most fish recipes call for cooking times under one hour.

The recommended temperature that I found for Chilean sea bass ranged from 122ºF to 140ºF so I decided to go with 130ºF. Since my sea bass was frozen (individually packaged filets from Costco), I thawed it in cold water, seasoned it lightly with salt and black pepper, a tiny splash of fennel fused olive oil (olives and fennel are crushed together), popped it into a zipper-lock freezer bag, and after squeezing out the air, plopped it into my beer cooler for 45 minutes. (Water temperature was 131ºF when I put the fish into the water and 129ºF one hour later.)

Results? Well, satisfactory. Obviously, the temperature in the cooler held well for the necessary time. The sea bass wasn’t quite as done as I’d prefer–though perfectly evenly cooked (even though this piece had one end that was definitely thinner than the rest). I think for my next–there’s more in the freezer–I’ll go with the 134ºF temperature or maybe just a tad higher.

I’ve also read lots of warnings about over-seasoning for sous vide cooking (and I came close to over-seasoning with the monkfish) this was bordering on under-seasoned. Next time, a bigger pinch of salt, and a bit more fennel oil, and a little lemon zest.

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Monkfish sous vide

I’ve been thinking about sous vide cooking, reading about it, and I’m finally going to try it, especially since it CAN be done without any fancy equipment–except a beer cooler. That I can handle–in fact, I already have one–I just not thought of it as a kitchen appliance.

I’ve been wanting to try sous vide cooking, especially reading about it Stefan’s Gourmet Blog posts. Being somewhat budget conscious, I’ve explored alternatives to the water ovens and circulators usually used in sous-vide cooking. I’ve looked at articles on how to turn your slow cooker into a sous-vide machine and discovered that requires some additional equipment and “hacking” to work; that’s also not for me.

There seem to be a lot of reasons for using this technique, not the least of which is to avoid heating up the kitchen and overworking the A/C! There’s also the appeal of the evenness of cooking and not being able to overcook unless you give a lot of attention to the actual cooking. All those advantages and some alternatives to expensive equipment or ones that require engineering know-how at least let me try it. One alternative I discovered was a big pot of water, low oven temperature–not an option in summer for me.  I found references on adding external temperature controls to rice cookers and multifunction pots, using the oven, and, of course, lots of ads for sous vide tools.

So what has precipitated this sudden fit of actually doing it? It’s the hot, muggy, humid, steamy weather we have here in the summer and the fact that I’m a serious fresh-air freak. If it’s at all possible I’ll have the doors and windows open–Frankie especially appreciates this. I want to cook without having all the extra heat–so I’m exploring all possible alternatives, including adapting recipes that normally involve using the oven for the slow cooker–looking for ways to beat the heat.

For food safety temperature is important so I looked at lots of articles giving temperatures for various meats and fish, including on that considered using the keep-warm function on the rice cooker or multifunction pot. Next to the beer cooler method this looked like a possible one for me since I do own a Krups multifunction pot. To check that out I filled the pot Krups rice cooker IMG_3796with and checked the temperature on the slow-cooking setting–the temperature held at 185 ºF which looks as if it might work for some veggies and, perhaps, for tough cuts of meat. Switching to the keep-warm function and doing a temperature check two hours after I had switched to keep-warm function–but the water started at 185 ºF and I had absolutely no information on what the rate of cooling in the closed multifunction pot was. So–more data, please! I started with water at 110 ºF on keep-warm setting to see what happened. What happened was 165ºF.

So the multifunction pot (Krups) is out for just using the warm function, but I’ve discovered that if the pot is hot and then turned off, it hold a steady temperature for about two hours. Since I’m only doing sous vide for one and quick things, I don’t need a huge pot. This is going to take a bit more tending, but it would certainly be easier for quick things than a beer cooler (my laziness is showing, I know).

Searching for the best temperature to use for monkfish sous-vide produced an interesting array of suggestion. Always preferring data, I was glad to see Monkfish sous vide temperature experiment which tested throughout the range of temperatures that I found and gave a description of the fish texture at each.

From ChefSteps I also found the following temperature guide for fish and from Amazing Food Made easy temperatures and times in the range of 10 to 30 minutes:

  • Tender  40ºC/104ºF
  • Tender and flaky 50ºC/122ºF
  • Well done 60ºC/140ºF

For my monkfish, I think tender and flaky is a good option; for tuna, I might go for just tender–or even rare, depending on the grade. Now for time specifically for monkfish to be medium the general consensus seemed to be “medium” at 140ºF for 10 to 30 minutes. Since my tap water is at 140ºF with the beer cooler I should be good to go–though it seems strange to not have to be concerned about time but since it won’t go above the water temperature anything in that range should work.

For seasoning? Well, simple seemed good for my first try so I went with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and butter. I used the rice-cooking mode to bring the water up to 140ºF, put the monkfish in, closed the lid and crossed my fingers. It just seems too simple even though I’ve cooked other things by putting them in liquid and then turning off the heat and letting the residual do the cooking.

The results? The best monkfish I’ve ever eaten. Okay, so I’ve not had anyone else’s monkfish cooked sous vide, but it’s the best monkfish I’ve ever cooked. I cooked it at 140ºF for 30 minutes. Temperature check at the end of the cooking was still at 140ºF. The fish was tender and just starting to flake. I’m still trying to find some adjectives for it. If i have to pick one I think it will be just plain luscious!

Now that I’ve done all the temperature experiments on the Krups multifunction cooker (in slow-cooking mode and keep-warm mode), and on how it holds temperature, I see more sous vide in my future.

Related links:

Supermarket special….

Andrea is passing close to us and the rain is the kind that makes you want to have quality time with the cat and a good book–so glad to be indoors.  But, my unpreparedness did make me venture out (cat litter very low–very serious problem!); fortunately, out and back before the heavy rain started.

tuna medalions

tuna

I came home with an impromptu purchase–the local HT had lovely looking tuna (wild caught) on sale.  I’m going to make a small batch of tuna confit to use with my summer salads, though I suspect that one of the small “steaks” is going to supplement the grilled or griddled shrimp for supper.

I’m really intrigued by the sous vide cooking technique–and I’m constantly drooling over recipes from Stefan’s Gourmet Blog!  Such perfectly cooked meat, and the veggies, too. But, as Stefan points out, it takes equipment!  I’d love to try tuna like that as it seems that fish do well that way.

For now,  I  will settle for the very slow “poaching” as an alternative.  It certainly beats the average canned tuna (unless you can get one of the canned variety that is hand packed, and cooked only once.

I keep wondering if there are any low-budget ways of trying the sous vide  technique! I think some research is called for here.