Beef, Random Thoughts, Science

Brisket en sous vide.

I took the new Sous Vide Supreme (SVS) for a spin last night – or rather, all weekend, starting Friday night. As I wrote here, I’ve been cooking food sous vide for a few years using a fairly ramshackle, cobbled-together setup, but because it’s ramshackle and cobbled-together, I haven’t felt comfortable using it for long-duration cooking. Having acquired a piece of equipment that is far less ramshackle, I decided to test it out on one of my favorite cheap cuts of beef – the brisket.

There’s nothing better than a thinly sliced brisket, still a little pink, with the pockets of melting fat. If you’ve had brisket at a really good deli, you know what I mean. It’s been brined, so it’s nicely seasoned, and when you bite into it, you get the beefy taste, plus the fatty texture, and the salt. It also can be hard to achieve at home – braising often involves cooking at too high a temperature, and simmering can toughen the meat if executed improperly, even for a short time. Sous vide provides the solution, but I haven’t been willing to execute it with my cobbled together setup. With the SVS, though, it seemed possible – long cooking at controlled temperatures just high enough to break down the collagen into gelatin.

So I gave it a shot. I brined the brisket for about 24 hours in a 6% salt, 3% sugar solution (meaning 60 g salt and 30 g sucrose per 1000 g or 1 liter of water). When preparing the brine, I dissolved the salt and sugar in about 200 ml of water first, and simmered it, lid on, with coriander seed, peppercorns, thyme, and bay leaf, to infuse the brine. (Unlike surface aromatics, which only flavor the surface of meat, aromatics in brine do flavor the entirety of the meat during the brining process.) Then I chilled down the brine in the freezer before diluting with 800 ml of ice cold water. Why is this important? Because sous vide cooking takes place at a relatively low temperature, product should remain cold and below the pathogen danger zone (5C/40F to 60C/140F) as long as possible before use.

After 24 hours, I removed the brisket from the brine, wiped it dry, sealed it in plastic, and removed the air using the vacuum sealer. I placed the sealed brisket on the SVS rack and placed it in the SVS, set to 63C, and left it alone for 42 hours. When I removed it, I wiped it dry and seared it in a little butter for about 35 seconds each side.

The results were spectacular. The brisket was still pink inside, completely tender, beefy, and laced with pockets of warm fat. I was afraid the 6% brine might be a little salty but the beef was seasoned perfectly.

42 hour brisket/63C

I have to give an enthusiastic thumbs-up to the SVS. It delivered.

42h brisket, syrah demi, crispy shallot, savoy cabbage.

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Beef, East Asian, Soup

Noodle bowl.

My parents live in Taipei these days and I can say with confidence that no city in the world outshines Taipei in the street food department. You got your dumpling stands, your steamed meat bun guys, the green onion pancake specialists, the fried chicken people (more on that in a later post), the hot limeade, oyster omelettes, fried sausages on a stick…and then there are the noodle soups.

The noodle soup stands are ubiquitous and feature vats of noodles, and steaming broths, bowls of shredded or slow-cooked meats, bins of raw vegetables and eggs. Recently, the Taipei Main Station – the main railway terminal – opened an amazing food court featuring a wide array of noodle soups, curries, and other international meals. Their braised beef noodle soup – niu rou mian – is delicious.

Some specialists believe the best niu rou mian features separately cooked meat and broth. I agree but if you want to eat this on a weeknight, you can prepare a really good broth using just the meat. Both recipes follow – decide which way you want to go.

Braised beef brisket, noodles, gai lan.

Niu Rou Mian

2 lb beef brisket, cut into 1 1/4″ cubes – tendon and shank are great also
2 lb beef bones, preferably knuckle and oxtail
About 10 c filtered water
6 inch piece ginger, sliced 1/2″ thick lengthwise (slightly on the diagonal)
6 scallions, 4″ segments
1 onion, halved across the equator
6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tbsp bean paste
1 tbsp hot bean paste
1/4 c soy sauce + 2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp shaoxing wine
3 whole star anise
*****
12 ounces wheat noodles (la mian)
1 lb green vegetable, like broccoli raab or chinese broccoli (gai lan)
*****
Garniture:
Tiny red chiles, sliced into thin rings
Hot bean paste
Pickled mustard greens, chopped into fine dice – available in cans in Asian groceries
Scallions, sliced into thin rings
Toasted/black sesame oil

For the broth:

Note – see below for the easy way. Place a large deep pot over medium heat and add a small quantity of vegetable/canola oil. Add the onion. Do not stir but allow the onion to blacken. Remove from the pot. Add the garlic, ginger, scallions, and saute until aromatic. Return the onion to the pot, reduce the heat to low, and add the beef bones. Add 7c of water and bring to a simmer, skimming all the foam that rises to the top. Simmer for 3-4 hours. Strain through a chinois/fine strainer.

Meanwhile, in a separate heavy pot with a lid, combine the bean pastes, star anise, shaoxing wine, and soy with the remaining 3c of water. Add the beef and bring to a simmer. Skim the foam that rises to the top. Simmer until the beef is tender, about 2-3 hours depending on the type of beef and its fat/collagen content.

Combine the beef with its braising liquid and the strained beef stock. Bring back to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust with soy sauce. You can prepare this in advance and hold it for service (or freeze it and bring back to a simmer for about 10 minutes to heat the meat thoroughly before service).

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil, reduce the heat, and cook the greens until just crisp-tender. Remove from the pot, return the water to the boil, and cook the noodles.

Drain the noodles and divide into a number of bowls (4-6 depending on hunger level). Add greens, beef, and broth. Garnish with scallions, red chile, bean paste, sesame oil, and pickled mustard greens.

* Easy route:

If you don’t want to deal with beef bones and two pots, you can make the beef and broth all in one shot.

Place a large deep pot over medium heat and add a small quantity of vegetable/canola oil. Add the onion. Do not stir but allow the onion to blacken. Remove from the pot. Add the garlic, ginger, scallions, and saute until aromatic. Reduce the heat to low and return the onion to the pot. Combine the bean pastes, star anise, shaoxing wine, and soy with about 10c of water. Add the beef and bring to a simmer, skimming all the foam that rises to the top. Simmer until the beef is tender, about 3-4 hours depending on the type of beef and its fat/collagen content. Remove the beef chunks to another container and strain the broth through a chinois/fine strainer.

Note to slow cooker enthusiasts: Once you bring the mixture to a simmer, you can transfer it to a slow cooker and cook it on low all day or all night. You’ll have super tender meat.

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