10 Days of Sous Vide: Dispelling Myths & 72 Hour Short Ribs (Day 3)

12 August 2016

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.

Fork tender short ribs

Fork tender short ribs

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

Hawaiin BBQ Short Ribs-4

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!

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Hawaiian BBQ Short Ribs
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine Shabbat, Weeknight
hungry humans
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Shabbat, Weeknight
hungry humans
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BBQ Sauce
  1. Combine the first five ingredients, mixing well
  2. In a glass bowl, cover the short ribs with the sauce. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
For sous vide
  1. Preheat sous vide to 54 ˚C / 131 °F .
  2. Vacuum seal the ribs, with sauce. Place into water bath and cook for 72-hours.
For slow cooker
  1. Add ribs with sauce to your slow cooker. Cook on LOW for 9 hours. Do not cook on high--this must be done low & slow to avoid toughness.

Hawaiin BBQ Short Ribs-1

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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  • Reply 15 Sous Vide Recipes to Up Your Weeknight Dinner Game | NEWZE 1 December 2016 at 12:42 pm

    […] 8. Hawaiin BBQ Short Ribs: Short ribs are best when they’re literally falling apart. These are flavored all the way through with pineapple, soy sauce and ginger for a sweet and savory Hawaiian-inspired dish. (via Almost Kosher) […]

  • Reply Michael Silver 15 December 2016 at 1:23 pm

    Did you sear or roast after sous vide?

    • Reply Chava 15 December 2016 at 1:37 pm

      I seared it with a blow torch, but a sear in a very hot pan would also do.

  • Reply Chava 15 December 2016 at 4:39 pm

    That’s interesting information. I got the temperature from ChefSteps.com: https://www.chefsteps.com/activities/beef-short-ribs-your-way

    Would you mind explaining or sending a source for temperatures being unsafe below 131F, especially for 72-hours? It’s absolutely not that I don’t believe you, but if I had that I could update the post!

    Also, I would not recommend anyone finish 72-hour ribs on the grill–they’re much too tender and will fall apart. If you want to finish them on the grill, raise the heat to 144 F and only cook for 48 hours.

    Thanks for sharing!


    • Reply Chava 20 December 2016 at 5:36 pm

      Melanie, I’ve done some research since your comment, and I wanted to clear the air. Your comment is incorrect. What is taught about the so-called ‘danger zone’ is a simplification. Harmful bacteria do not grow above 129F. However, at temperatures between 129F and 140F they die slowly, so for simplicity the temperature of 140F is quoted, at which a 6D reduction is achieved in minutes. It is perfectly safe to cook at 129F and up, as long as you cook for long enough. 72 hours = long enough. Also, double bagging isn’t necessary, unless you’re concerned about the bag seal coming undone. Still, to not be so wasteful, I would just check your bag seal every so often. Mine held up fine sealed with a chamber vac.

      Bacteria growth from long cook times is most likely the result of contamination from something like the lactobacillus type bacteria (same ones used in cheese making, buttermilk, yogurt and so on). These aren’t harmful like salmonella and e.coli. They are more tolerant to higher temperatures and they convert sugars into lactic acid which is why sometimes those 72hr cook times result in a rancid smelling batch. It probably won’t give you food poisoning to eat the batch but the smell/taste is unappetizing.

  • Reply Chava 17 April 2017 at 10:55 am

    Thank you for the information, Dina. As I said in my post, “when done correctly” — this qualifier is key (I did not say simply, “when *cooked* properly”). This wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive instruction on how to use sous vide, but rather just a guide with some resources. I don’t need to be “set straight.” However, in light of your comments I do see how you could be confused or misunderstand what I said, so I added some emphasis.

  • Reply 2014ritchie 26 April 2017 at 4:22 am

    This is a very interesting discussion. I would love to try this recipe and technique.

    • Reply Chava 26 April 2017 at 1:51 pm

      Thanks for stopping by! I do hope you try this technique, but if sous vide isn’t your thing–don’t fret!–the marinade would work for the grill or slow cooker.

    What do YOU think?