10 Days of Sous Vide: Dispelling Myths & 72 Hour Short Ribs (Day 3)
It’s now day 3 of the 10 Days of Sous Vide series. Per our earlier post, today the topic is all about dispelling myths about sous vide. The recipe is 72 hour short ribs with Hawaiian BBQ Sauce, both sous vide and slow cooker.
It’s day three now, and I’m posting a recipe that ended up being mine and my fiance’s favorite. I remember talking to him once about short ribs, and he scrunched up his nose and said he didn’t like them. He proclaimed them tough and cheap. He wasn’t wrong, either–beef short ribs are an economy cut. They come from a part of a cow that gets a lot of muscle action and, as a result, they can be incredibly tough so they must be braised for at least 3 hours to break down the fibers contributing to that toughness. After which, they are insanely tender. Anything that does well in a braise, will similarly do excellent in the sous vide, however.
Sous Vide Myths
We’ll return to the recipe after we talk about some pervasive sous vide myths. Like most inaccurate beliefs, myths that surround sous vide come from misunderstandings about the science behind it, and plain ignorance. Here are the top 5 myths about sous vide:
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Myth #1: It’s not safe to cook food in plastic
The first myth comes from an admirable place: the concern for health safety. There is no doubt a mixture of reports about the safety of cooking with plastic. Consumers, now cynical ever since we realized that asbestos wasn’t just keeping our insulation fireproof, but was also slowly giving us cancer, are quick to doubt the safety of any new “trend.” The problem is that we’re often presented with research that either conflict other research or the reporting of a finding is grossly oversimplified and, frankly, those of us who don’t have a science background don’t know what to do with this data.
We, however, take the position that Chef Steps takes: the risks of cooking in plastic are so small IF you are taking care to use food-safe plastic bags made to withstand the temperature differences of sous vide. That means using freezer-safe Ziplock brand bags (DON’T use generic!) or bags specially made for vacuum sealing or sous vide cooking.
Myth #2: Okay, fine. The plastic risks are negligible. But what about botulism?
Hey, smarty–that is a fantastic question and a very legitimate concern. Indeed, botulism is a risk that arises from the mishandling of sous vide foods. However, when done correctly (e.g., correct temperature held for the correct amount of time and correct handling after cooking), sous vide leads to a full pasteurization of foods. This, in combination with proper handling after cooking, means the risk of botulism is reduced. Here is a great article in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science. I realize that article is not an easy read, but it is quite informative.
Additionally, the risk of botulism is affected by many factors and isn’t limited to sous vide cooking; normal food safety precautions will generally render sous vide cooking to be as safe as any other non-sterilizing method. For those concerned about the low-oxygen environment, please take comfort in the fact that your home vacuum sealer (even chamber vacuums) can not remove enough oxygen to create the anaerobic environment necessary for creating botulinum toxin. Unless you are planning on using sous vide for canning (which I would advise against) or for preparing foods for long term storage, this should not be an issue. (This section updated 4/17/2017 for clarity).
Myth #3: Cooking sous vide is difficult, and is only done by chefs with specific training
Hopefully you’re picking up that sous vide is not difficult, so long you’re careful about temperature and timing. The result the technique yields is worth the minor effort you put into it. I like to think of it as a very precise slow cooker, one which allows for you to have the same convenience of a set-it-and-forget-it meal without being limited to stews, soups, and other braises (although, slow cookers certainly are capable of more than that, too, like roasting a chicken for example).
Myth #4: Sous vide is exclusively for meats & seafood
No way! You can cook a whole manner of different foods. In fact, sous vide is an excellent way to get a very crisp pickle, to cook mashed potatoes, and for even making desserts (especially custards). Linked here is a recipe for perfect sous vide mashed potatoes, which will make an excellent accompaniment with your short ribs. Cooking vegetables sous vide maintains their nutrients and, usually, gives them a richer, stronger flavor because they aren’t exposed to air or water during cooking.
Myth #5: It’s not affordable. It’s a hobby. It’s only for enthusiasts/chefs.
Hey, you got me. This is a technique that can become pricey if you let it. And true, no one has to cook sous vide. Just like no one has to cook with a microwave, a toaster, a slow cooker, or any other similar gadget. You don’t have to, but you WANT to because it’s either convenient and/or yields a better result. And you have to feel like you’re receiving value. The truth is sous vide devices are becoming affordable (Anova’s new model release is on sale as of this writing for $149), especially for the use it gets. Experts are predicting that sous vide may become commonplace in residential kitchens in the next few years, too.
72-hour Sous Vide Hawaiian BBQ Short Ribs
These were incredible and a fantastic example of how sous vide can transform a cheap cut. At 72-hours cook time, these are unreal. We used the timing and temperature from Chef Step’s guide, Beef Short Ribs Your Way. You must do this. Do this now. However, if you don’t have a sous vide all is not lost! You can get a conventional braised texture from your slow cooker. No, it does not compare to the sous vide. Sorry. But it will still be delicious!
Today we discussed various myths about sous vide and why they’re not true. In our next post, I’ll share how a brine affects chicken texture and flavor. Is brine needed for sous vide? Stay tuned–we’re taking the weekend off of the blog for my birthday and tisha b’av. We will be back Monday!
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