Sous Vide: Short Ribs of Beef

Given my experience with the tenderness of sous vide steak, I recalled the incredibly tender short ribs I had 14 years ago prepared by chef Daniel Orr at NYC’s La Grenouille restaurant. To this day, I’ve searched for but not found another short rib dish as tender as Orr’s, with no sign of stringiness of the meat. Could he have cooked it sous vide?

I looked for several days for short ribs of beef and finally found some frozen at Carfagna’s Italian market. After I thawed the vacuum packed meat, I was disappointed to find the pieces weren’t the nice, thick, meaty short ribs I was accustomed to, but rather thin and fatty. Nevertheless, I cooked on.

With the 8 pieces in the 2 pounds of short ribs I had bought, I tried two different recipes: classic, with salt, pepper, minced garlic, and olive oil; and Chinese, with five spice powder, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Again, simple preparation: I rubbed the spices in, packed the meat in 1 quart Ziploc Freezer Bags, and poured in the oils; sucked the air out with a straw; but this time, the recommended cooking time was 36 to 48 hours at 133°F for medium rare.

By the second day of cooking, though, I had been invited out to dinner for that night. So I took out one packet after about 40 hours of cooking to try as an afternoon snack. It was the Chinese preparation.

The meat was medium rare and nicely tender. I thought the bag had leaked, though, as there was a lot of cooking liquid; I noticed a small hole in the bag, caused by a sharp rib bone.

While the meat was tender, it wasn’t ethereally so, and the gristle between the meat and bone was chewy, though edible. When braised in the normal way, the gristle is very tender. I left the other pieces to cook.

I took out the other pieces for lunch the next day – a total of 62 hours cooking! I opened the classic style ones. They still looked medium rare. There was less cooking liquid too; these bags hadn’t leaked.

I pan seared the ribs for about 45 seconds on each side to give them their classic browned appearance. Sliced open, the were still medium rare.

They tasted like my favorite part of a roasted prime rib: the outside layer between the fat and the rib eye. Although that part is always well done – and I like my beef very rare – it is the most flavorful and tender part, given all the fat that marbles and surrounds it.

The short rib meat was succulent and very tender – and it didn’t have the stringiness that braised short ribs always have. The gristle was still chewy, but tender enough to eat and enjoy. I savored eating every piece, though there was rather little meat, given the big bones and thick layers of fat.

I’ll have to try sous vide short ribs again with some meatier pieces. I think I may have discovered chef Daniel Orr’s secret to his short rib preparation at La Grenouille in that truly memorable meal I had so many years ago.

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