Monthly Archives: July 2010

Further Fine Food From Fat: BLTs with Locally Grown Tomatoes and Sprouts with Maple Cured Bacon

A friend of mine from Canada came to visit a couple of years ago and brought me one of those souvenir sets of typical Canadian condiments. You know, the kind of gift set you might find in a shop at the airport? Well, the present was well used. The condiments included two different bottles of delicious pure maple syrup and though I am not a lover of maple flavored things myself, the syrups were quickly consumed by the younger members of my family. The third item however went unused. It was a bottle of tiny lumps of maple sugar. Until a few weeks ago I must confess that had absolutely no idea what I was going to use this for. (I tried it on oatmeal and it didn’t do the trick for me.) Not being really suitable to put in the box for the next canned food drive, I stuck it in the back of the cabinet with the other sugars, salts, etc.

Then recently, when it was time to fortify my bacon supply, while hunting in the cupboards to find the ingredients for the cure mix, I came across the odd bottle of maple sugar. Serendipity is a wonderful thing! What could be better than maple cured bacon smoked over apple wood? Now I told you all about bacon curing in my post here, so I am not going to repeat myself. All I did differently was generously sprinkle the curing bacon with the maple sugar. (FYI, I could just as well have used regular real maple syrup.) As the bacon cured, the sugar dissolved and the meat was infused with the flavor. After an 8 day cure, a couple of days drying and an afternoon in the smoker where I used apple wood for the smoke, the bacon was ready to meet some delicious, locally grown, heirloom tomatoes. My yield was about 5 pounds of bacon which I sliced up into serving sized packages for the freezer.

(Sorry for the crappy photo – look at the earlier bacon post for some much better porn.)

Finally around mid-June, at the Maplewood Farmers’ Market, I spied a few first-of-the-season heirloom tomatoes. The farmer knew that he had gold that week. They were ridiculously But my bacon was waiting and my patience was non-existant. I had to have one, even though I cost me my right arm. Ugly, but perfect in texture, color and flavor this expensive tomato did not disappoint us.

Bacon and tomatoes this good, have to have just the right bread, don’t they? Since coming back from the CIA last spring, inspired by my new found bravery in the face of yeast, I have been making our breads at home. I learned several breads in class but the one I prefer by far is the one my classmate Jessica told me about. Apparently everybody in the world knew about this bread before me. But since I was leavening-challenged, I had been clueless before that class. The bread I am talking about is Jim Lahey’s No Knead bread. If you have always fantasized about homemade bread but didn’t have the desire or guts or both to deal with an involved multi-stepped process, I would urge you to take a look at this recipe. I have made many different variations on the basic no-knead version and I swear it never fails. Add herbs, dried grated cheese, chopped olives, sun-dried tomatoes and the basic bread yields to your creativity. I even made a rye version (I used a fine ground flour) that came out fantastically.

Looks like it came straight from a Paris boulanger, doesn’t it? This loaf comes out of the oven moist and yeasty on the inside and crisp and chewy on the crust. It is an amazing bread that makes for some truly ecstatic eating. Bob always likes his toasted and this bread is both crunchy and soft out of our Dualit.

Summer dinners have regularly consisted of a big, thick, well stuffed BLT. For the “L,” we use baby lettuce from my little hydroponic garden supplemented by fresh radish sprouts from that same farmers’ market. These lovelies add an element of spice to our sandwiches. I would show you how beautiful one of these gourmet dinners is but we never seem to be able to wait to take a photo before devouring our meal.

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Filed under Baking, Bread, Cooking, Farmers Market, Pork

Short Ribs: Nothing Short of Fabulous

I have been working with the Sous Vide Supreme  since last February and I continue to be amazed at how great most of what I produce using this gadget. That having been said, let’s just face the truth: this machine is a complete luxury. There is nothing I have cooked with it that can’t be cooked conventionally. It is also true however that certain things come out of the SVS off-the-charts fabulous. So far, the short ribs I made recently top this list.

Short ribs are, IMHO, a fantastic food in their own right though they are also difficult to cook well. Absent an SVS or some other kind of sous vide rig (such as this one or this one), short ribs must be slow cooked using conventional means. This usually involves braising: a method which inherently removes flavor from its subject in order to obtain a desired tenderness and texture. The challenge then is to spice the braise in such a way as to impart some intensity back into the protein and, mostly, to sauce the final product so as to give the consumer back some of the flavor that was unavoidably removed in the cooking process. Take for example a traditional stew. Often made with plenty of aromatics such as onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and bay. But without all that sauce, the meat is otherwise rather dry and tasteless. It is often stringy, too. One of the beautiful things about sous vide cooking is that flavor does not leave the food for the water, as it does with a regular braise and, if cooked at the right temperature, the meat does not become stringy.

With all that fat surrounding it and nestled close to a bone, short rib meat actually has an astoundingly delicious natural flavor. In the sous vide cooking process, unless you cook meat at a high temperature (at least 70C/158F), the fat does not render out into the braising liquid, either. Instead it stays in place, moistening and tenderizing the meat all during the  cooking time. In addition, with sous vide cooking, even at a very low temp you are able to cook protein for a long enough time to precipitate the break down most of the collagen within without turning the protein to mush or, worse yet, string. This method results in a level of tenderness that cannot otherwise be achieved in normally tough cuts of meat. All the while, you can maintain the doneness of the meat by choosing a temperature low enough to leave it pink and juicy even after the hours required to break down the collagen.

I bagged my short ribs after patting them dry and sprinkling them with salt, white pepper, a little paprika and some garlic powder. Each rib got its own pouch.

I cooked them in the water oven for 72 hours at 55C/131F. That’s right 3 whole days the meat was swimming! The temperature I chose is the one generally used to obtain what I would call medium rare beef, though some might call it rare.

The above photo shows what the short ribs looked like after their 72 hour swim.

You can see that they are still very pink and you can also easily see why the fat had to be cut away. But let me tell you, that fat did its job. The texture of the meat was way beyond incredible. As usual, to make the dish more appealing, some browning was in order. I used my handy Iwatani Torch though a searing in a red-hot skillet would have worked just fine too.

Though I removed a great deal of the fat, this meat was beautifully marbled which meant that a quick searing produced a perfect crust. The fat left on the meat became crunchy while the juices carmelized on the outside My mouth was watering as I plated our meal.

When I took the meat from the pouches I had reserved the juices. This I cooked, strained and strained again. I enriched the clear liquid with a red wine reduction that I had flavored with mirepoix, minced garlic and spices. I added all this to some veal demi-glace and reduced it a little more. In the end I had a beautiful and rich sauce which I lightly ladled over the meat.

A while before dinner time, I took a bounty of summer vegetables which I had picked up at one of my favorite farmers’ markets and roasted them in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt. Roasted turnips, baby summer squash, new potatoes and golden carrots made a beautiful rainbow on my plate.

Decadent? Absolutely. The meat had the look and richness of the finest prime rib but it was melt-in-your-mouth tender with a texture that I could not possibly do justice to in words. You simply have to try this if you can some day. No, I could not eat a meal like this with any frequency (though I would love to). But my oh my, we savored every bite we took with our eyes rolling back in amazement – it was truly a religious eating experience. We are not likely to forget this meal anytime soon!

Now consider this: short ribs are considered a cheap cut of meat! They are often reserved for soups or stews or the meat is removed and ground for burgers! If you really enjoy short ribs or other meats usually reserved for braises, put a sous vide rig on your wish list! You will find a new dimension!

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Filed under Cooking, Sous Vide, sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Supreme, water oven