I was shopping for meat at the supermarket, and not finding many bargains among the beef offerings. There were some interesting cuts among the pork, though. Hormel had these pork loin roasts for around $5.00, but they were as much as 30% water by weight. I wasn’t interested in buying water at 3-4 dollars a pound. There were also some pork loin roasts though, that had been priced reduced to 3.50 a pound and that sounded interesting. I picked one up.

img_6920

Looking around for pork loin sous vide recipes, the one I found first was this one, by Dan Gourmet. I will note he brines his meat overnight, and uses maple syrup as his sweetener. I’m diabetic, and I didn’t want to add anything too ridiculously sweet to the meat. Further, I wasn’t wanting to brine overnight, or for that matter, use any potent brining recipes (this one, for example, has a fair amount of negative comment on the web, if you’ll look around. See here, or here). I decided I’d find a simple basic recipe, and work from there.

A generic introduction to brining is this About.com article. This article on CookShack.com talks about brining in the context of smoking meats. (1) More to my purposes, two online resources that are good for simple brining formulas are found on food.com and thekitchn.com. The first resource, from food.com, is a generic brine for multiple meats, useful, for example, in plumping up a chicken. The second reference, from thekitchn.com and Emma Christensen, is a base brine plus some aromatic suggestions.

In terms of aromatics (spices) that might go well with a pork loin roast, a place to start is here.

As a sweetener, my wife has found Truvia to be reliable. With Truvia, 3/4 tablespoon of the product replaces 2 tablespoons of sugar. In terms of aromatics used in pork brines, Dan Gourmet uses peppercorns, and I saw another brine that used 3 cloves of garlic. Those were the aromatics I used. Often when infusing flavors through the brine, you will see recipes that use 1 part hot water (steep the aromatics in these), one part room temperature water, and then two parts ice cubes. (2) I didn’t do anything fancy. I started with cold water, and once my sugar and salt were dissolved, added my aromatics.

Used to make the brine.

Used to make the brine.

So, ultimately, for a pound and a half of pork, I used:

  • 1.5 quarts of water.
  • 3 tbsp of salt.
  • Truvia equivalent to 3 tbsp of sugar.
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed.
  • 1 tbsp of crushed black pepper, from a pepper mill.

A note: When dissolving salt and sugar, use the least amount of water possible to dissolve these two items, and then add the remaining liquid and aromatics.

This was just enough brine to cover the roast. I let the meat soak in the refrigerator for an hour and 45 minutes, and then removed it.

img_6923

I washed the meat under the faucet, dried it with paper towels, and then chose a couple spices to add to the meat once we bagged it.

img_6924

Along with thyme (pictured above) I added a bit more crushed black pepper and some onion powder. I made the working assumption that garlic flavor was imparted by the brine. This then was sealed and placed in the fridge for an hour or two, until it became time to cook.

img_6925

I cooked the meat in a sous vide apparatus at 140 F for 6 hours.

Pork in the pot.

Pork in the pot. Because of the algorithm used by the Auberge to control temperature, the temperature peaks above 140 degrees for a while.

Afterwards, we fished the meat out of the pot. The smell of the meat was fantastic. There are plenty of juices, so if you can follow Stefan Gourmet’s formula for handing sous vide juices, you can make a reduction from this liquid.

Finished.  The aroma is notable coming out of the pot.

Finished. The aroma is notable coming out of the pot.

The meat, sliced. Slices didn't last long.

The meat, sliced. Slices didn’t last long.

The meat itself was essentially white, was flavorful, and was really juicy. The word that comes to mind is amazing. The chunk of meat lasted about 10 minutes. We cut off slices and ate it on the spot. In terms of pleasing just about everyone in my family, this compares to a sous vide buffalo sirloin, and my wife much prefers pork to steak.

Notes:

(1) An important point made in this article is that the combined osmotic effect of both sugar and salt are important in “sugar” brines (i.e. brines that contain sugar). Both the amount of sugar and the amount of salt are important. This was not something I caught onto until after I had made the brine above, and probably affects the ability of Truvia to really replace sugar in a brine.

(2) Indian cooks “break open” spices by pan frying spices in ghee, and I can’t help but wonder if something similar could be done in a non-stick pan with a very minimal amount of oil or cooking spray. That’s an experiment for another time.

Lamb shanks were a meat I picked up while picking up lamb chops. Dalia’s does a mean lamb shank, and I was looking for something straightforward to do with lamb, that didn’t involve a lamb steak style prep. Stefan Gourmet had a good looking lamb shank recipe, so I took his approach when trying to make this dish.

The meat itself came from Australia and was, to be plain, a little butchered. The pieces were nearly cut in two in the middle.

img_6906

We coated the meat in olive oil, the leaves of fresh thyme, salt, a pepper blend, a light dusting of garlic and onion powder and sealed the meat in a bag.

img_6908

This went into a sous vide pot and was cooked for 48 hours at 144 F. The smell of the meat after cooking was fantastic.

img_6911

Though plans had changed in the two days of cooking. I still went ahead and recovered the lamb juices. Since solids will form with unheated sous vide juices, these were poured into a pot and heated till solids formed. These solids were then strained, using a collander and wet paper towels, and placed in a jar for later use.

Solid forming in the lamb juices as they heat. The brown layer on top is later strained  off the juices.

Solid forming in the lamb juices as they heat. The brown layer on top is later strained off the juices.

The meat itself was very good, but very reminiscent of the kind of meats the Chinese favor. It’s as if the breakdown of all the connective tissue left it with a lot more gelatinous character. It also reminded me of meats that have been stewed for many hours, but without the water associated with that kind of treatment.

More gelatinous than I expected, very tender, and delicious.

More gelatinous than I expected, very tender, and delicious.

Because the meat had been nearly doubly cut, it never did hold up to much of any kind of post prep, falling apart easily. All that said, I’d do it again. Meats nearly cut in two shouldn’t be used as stand alone entrees, but perhaps as the source of meats for sandwiches, quick soups, or as a meat topping for a pasta dish.

My daughter wanted lamb chops, wanted to cook one herself and leave the other for me. I didn’t want to fight for the kitchen when she was using it, and I wanted a piece of meat cooked to the degree I wanted. Sous vide was the way to go, because I could start 2 hours ahead of time and just wait for my meat. I picked up some chops at the Publix on Pleasant Hill, the one near Fung Mei.

To note, Richard Blais has a fine sous vide recipe for lamb chops, up on the Sous Vide Supreme site. I was moving quickly with no time for marinades or fresh spices. So what I did was dry spice the meat before sealing it in the bag. I used dry rosemary and dry thyme, a large pinch of the spice on each side of the meat. I used a pepper blend instead of pure black pepper. The simplest version of the blend is cracked black pepper, crushed red pepper (i.e. the pepper flakes used on pizza), and a small amount of ground red pepper. Salt to taste, a dusting of garlic and onion powder and I sealed it in a bag.

Lamb chop, dry spiced and  ready to go into the pot.

Lamb chop, dry spiced and ready to go into the pot.

The finished meat. I added vegetables and ate it as is.

The finished meat. I added vegetables and ate it as is.

For purely idiosyncratic reasons, the meat stayed in the bag 2.5 hours at 131 F. I wasn’t interested in finishing on the stove, as I’ve found that thin meats in particular can go from medium rare to medium well before getting a decent crust. This chop wasn’t particularly thick. The chop was a fattier cut than most supermarket meats, and you have to get used to trimming sous vide meats before serving, because the fat isn’t rendered the way grilling or pan frying will.

I would say the chop compared well to other steaks I’ve cooked sous vide. I found my steak to have a little chew, and my daughter also found her meat to be chewy when pan fried. I’d consider 3 or 4 hours for meat of this quality.

I’ve cooked roasting meats to 16, 24, and 48 hour sous vide, and after a number of these experiments, tend to the following rules of thumb:

  1. 12 hour range for softer steak-like roasts (round roasts).
  2. 24 hours or so for cuts with more connective tissue, such as chuck roast.
  3. Tri tip roast, lacking connective tissue of any kind, optimal around 2 hours

This one was an experiment in overnight cooking, and times were more or less set by when I started one evening (I had an afternoon appointment) and when I normally would get up in the morning. The span of cooking was 11 hours, the technique more or less identical to this link. The meat used was a supermarket eye of round. All the spicing was dry spicing this time, though I added a touch of ground cumin to this one.

Eye of round, dry spiced and later placed in a vacuum seal bag.

After I woke up, I fished out the meat and cut. The meat was, by this point, notably tender.

A lot of the color of these roasts bleeds into the bag juices, thus they tend to be pinker than steaks cooked by the same method.

I taste tested with my daughter. She thought it a little too soft, I thought it was fine. 8 hours wouldn’t hurt this meat, and the 8-10 range, I would guess, seems about right.

I had previously done a roast to a 48 hour limit, and found it to be good and tender, but also to suffer from a sawdust-like flavor and texture, a product perhaps of too much drying. I was also interested in Stefan Gourmet’s finding that sous-vide juices are much more usable after being heated and strained (Stefan also has a very usable vegetable stock recipe as well).

The roast used was a 3 pound chuck roast, which I squeezed into a quart Food Savr bag. It would have been better to use a custom bag, as the quart bag was a little small and it took work to seal it. Spicing was pretty simple. Onion and garlic powders, various peppers (cracked black pepper, red and cayenne pepper powder, paprika, crushed red peppers), slivers of garlic inserted into folds in the meat, thyme and rosemary, sage and parsley. Dry spices were used, as to not overpower the meat.

This was cooked at 131F for 22 hours. A buffalo steak was added at the same time, and fished out four hours later. The final product looked like this coming out of the pot.

The juices were saved, and looked a bit like this.

We heated the juices to almost a simmer, the pot turning into a scummy brown. This we then strained, using a collander and a pre-moistened paper towel (pre-moistening reduces liquid loss). We tried skimming, but as the scum retains considerable liquid, we later put everything into the collander and let it drain. This gave us perhaps a cup of clear colored liquid. This we treated as if it were a beef stock. It was sealed in a jar and placed in the refrigerator.

In the fridge, after a day, this liquid will turn cloudy. That’s not because of any bacterial growth, but the product gels a bit in the refrigerator.

Good roast. Some chew left, but tender and flavorful.

The roast we started eating immediately. It was good warm, perhaps better cold. I was lucky to have prepared it when I did, as the capacitor went out in the air conditioning and it was a couple days before we could get the aircon fixed. So, once the house was cool, we went about making a reduction of the liquid. To note, the liquid was gelatinous when fetched. Heat got rid of that in a couple minutes.

We set a pot on a simmer, and towards the end of the liquid loss, added slices of garlic, some dry thyme, some cracked pepper, some red wine, and some butter to the pot. The final product looked good. If I have any warning, taste test what you add to your liquid, and taste test the reduction itself. That would allow you to adjust for any off flavors.

Cold slices of roast with the final reduction.

The local supermarkets, perhaps encouraged by Nam Dae Mun, are now offering a more interesting selection of meats.

Buffalo sirloin.

I was curious about bison. Ted’s serves it, as did the now closed Ruby Tuesday. It tends to be tastier than beef, but in the portions shown, a bit expensive. 8 ounces of buffalo steak cost me about $6.80, close to 14 dollars a pound.

I prepped the steak in a traditional way, dry spicing before sealing in a pint bag. This went into the sous-vide pot for four and a half hours at 131 F. The result?

This was the most tender steak I’ve ever prepped by this method. Utterly delicious.

This is a topic, I’ll note, covered nicely on the Sous Vide Supreme blog, in a recipe supplied by Richard Blais, but my take on lamb as steaks is that you can treat them pretty much the way you would treat beef steak. This lamb was something of an impulse buy. I’m short of fresh herbs, so I made do with the powdered stuff I usually use on steaks these days.

I sealed the meat in a Food Saver bag. This isn’t necessary, a good Ziploc will do.

The steak was cooked at 130 for two hours, then 131 the remaining three. Note that with my setup (a PID controller), I have a peak temperature initially 2-3 degrees higher than my nominal setting. This steak peaked at 132 F. Afterwards it was spiced (kosher salt, cracked black pepper, garlic, onion powder, a little cracked red pepper)

then finished on the stove, 45 seconds a side at a high heat. With a red wine reduction, the final result looked something like this.

As a side, I tried a steamable edamame I found at the local grocer.

This product tasted better than it looked coming out of the microwave. Be warned.

There are cuts of meat known as restaurant cuts, because they are tough when not handled properly, but have plenty of flavor if cooked in the right way. Among these cuts are hangar steaks, flank steaks, skirt steaks, and flatiron steaks. The flatiron steak is well described here, and as the local Kroger has been offering this cut for 6 and 7 dollars a pound, I was curious how well it handled via sous-vide.

Kroger sells this steak in 1.5 pound sealed packs. I bought one, sliced it roughly into 4, vacuum sealed the meat, and froze it. This particular example sealed the most poorly; you can see some air in the pack. This will tend to make the plastic float. Just take the pack and shake it a little, once unfrozen, so the air pushes one end of the plastic up and the steak can sink into the pool of water. You don’t need total immersion, just temperature equalization, but in my case, a little shaking allowed the whole of the steak to go under water.

Five and a half hours later, 30 seconds of sear a side, some spices, and the steak looked like this. There was some chew, some mouth resistence, but no toughness. The steak was pleasantly tender.

Surprisingly tender, almost too tender.

It was a good meat hot, a better meat cold. It makes great steak sandwiches, when sliced about a quarter to half inch thick. But as much as I like it, I agree with the poster here that perhaps 30 hours would be a better time.

Most of my low temp gear arrived last Tuesday, and I used Tuesday night to calibrate it. Yesterday I did some steaks using the gear. One calibration run, and 4 steaks later, these are the notes that I have. I’m using an Auberge controller, and a Hamilton Beach 8 quart slow cooker as the base. Since the vacuum sealer hasn’t arrived, I’m bagging food in freezer Ziploc bags for now.

Auberge controller, 8 quart slow cooker. Socket has a circuit breaker.

Calibration with this setup takes about 5.5 hours. Yes, it is worth it to calibrate your device. By calibration, there are a couple steps you’ll want to do.

1) Take ice (plenty of it) and let it melt halfway into a large container. Place the probe in the ice water bath. Best to use meltoff water instead of adding your own, as ice-water baths with tap water won’t be temperature equilibrated.

2) Follow the instructions to calibrate PID parameters with a pot full of the amount of water you’ll use for cooking. In my case, it took perhaps 5.5 hours for the system to figure out what the correct PID parameters were.

With this setup, and in using a PID controller, as opposed to PD controller, there will be overshoot for a couple hours. In my experience, the overshoot is about 2 degrees, with it settling in to accuracy around the 3 hour mark.

In terms of safety, this is a pleasing setup. The water could probably hurt you if you immersed your hands in it for a length of time, but brief fingertip exposure to 131 degree water doesn’t hurt. You can easily handle the lid of the slow cooker without harm. The Auberge defaults to a timed setup. Once the time is met, the device shuts off power to the slow cooker. I made sure to plug into a wall socket with its own circuit breaker, so any electrical short would flip the socket breaker.

Steaks? One thing I have found out is that with a thin steak (circa 0.5-0.75″ thick), one minute of sear on both sides can easily turn that medium rare steak into a medium well steak. 30 seconds of sear per side after the fact preserves the cooking much better. Since steaks can go anywhere from 2-6 hours (I do not recommend cooking steaks for less than 2 hours), adjusting your controller to compensate for the overshoot seems reasonable.

2.5 hours with Auberge controller at 131. Mostly cooked at 133 for that period. 30 second sear each side.

Beer Advocate: I don’t know much about these guys, other than second hand exposure to the collateral damage they’ve done to people they’ve kicked off their forums (oh yes, and delete years of info these beer hounds have collected forum wide). Now, after decades of exposure to every forum “wizard” there is, many with serious delusions of grandeur, I have no tolerance for the self appointed dictator types. But as it’s their forums, and not mine, why am I mentioning this?

It’s because the Beer Advocate folks don’t stop at tossing people out of their forums. They then proceed to taunt the people they’ve tossed off their forums on Twitter. And in that lies the crux of the tale, the reason the generic food blogger needs to be informed.

Don’t go. Don’t get involved. Start a beer blog instead. You might get 1/100th the comments on your pages, but you will be read, and you will be much happier about your treatment. And if you have to do the forum routine, strongly consider Rate Beer instead.

One final beer note: The early months of the year, winter, tend to feature stronger beers, such as barleywines. Sierra Nevada comes out with Bigfoot, and Sam Adams comes out with Griffin’s Bow. I’m not a fan of extreme beers, but Bigfoot is worth some trouble, and I suspect Griffin’s Bow will be as well.