Cooking Short Rib Beef the Sous Vide way

Friday, December 12, 2014

"A very important thing to realize is that tougher or fattier meats always have better flavor; this is why osso buco and the short rib are so delicious and filet mignon will never be found on a menu where I am chef.” - Mario Batali

I will be cooking a few lots of Short-rib beef this Christmas. When cooked the Sous Vide way, it turns into a stunning piece of beef which belies its price and is a great party-pleaser.

So, what is your idea of a good steak? This will work for me:
  • Good flavour
  • Good marbling
  • Succulent & Meltingly tender
  • Firm texture (as your knife cuts though it, the steak - though pink - stays firm)
And best of all, if I can have this in the confines of my home, budget and cooking equipment.

I first came across a Short Rib Beef on a menu in Chef Andre's restaurant. A good friend treated us to lunch and as we ate, I was told that it was cooked for 36 hours. It was an amazing piece of beef and like nothing I have ever tasted before.

Curiously for me then, the beef was pink in the middle. How do you cook this braising beef for 36 hours and yet keep it pink?

That was a few years ago. Before I discovered Sous Vide. Before I started this blog.

That lunch experience has stayed in my mind since then. When I started on Sous Vide, I knew I would be cooking beef short ribs soon. And I did, and then some more, mostly for guests.

My 'perfect' steak
With SV, you can turn this rather ordinary beef  - which shares the same status as flank beef - into something which is stunningly delicious. When I first served it to my brother in law- an ardent beef lover - he was wowed by this and said it is 'way up there.' He owned an import business for Wahyu beef a few years back and know beef very well.

Corn-fed US boneless short rib beef - beautifully marbled.
Details of supplier at the bottom of post.
There is a primal satisfaction from producing something special from the ordinary. As they said, the difference between the ordinary and extraordinary is a little 'extra.' And for modern food alchemists, the little extra is Sous Vide.

So, whats the beef on this cut? Short rib beef is usually cooked these ways:

1. You have tasted kalbi. Koreans have been using this cut extensively. It has good marbling. Sliced thinly and grilled quickly, with the right marinade, it is flavourful. It can also be tender if a well marbled cut is used. The taste and texture is akin to flank beef except for a richer flavour from the fat marbling. Some call this the "poor man's Wahyu."

2. In the West, this cut is normally pot-braised. There are some great recipes for this. The ingredients in the sauce and the flavours of the meat intermingle. It is normally braised in the pot with the meat boned in. The meat should be tender and falling off the bone.

3. The third way is Sous Vide. This 'slow and low' method of cooking at a controlled temperature for many hours (normally 36 or more) breaks the collagen down. You follow it with a pan sear and then eat it like a steak i.e. fork and knife. Alternatively, you serve it in slices, go the Asian way with the right accompaniments and use chopsticks.

As short rib is a very flavorful cut, 'steaking' it turns it into a superior steak - well marbled, flavorful, tender..well, all that I have said I wanted for a 'perfect' steak.

I prefer to SV it boneless to reduce the size of the vacuum package. Furthermore, the tendon which clings to the bone does not break down at this temperature (even after many hours) and I rather it is off the bone before I put it into the water bath.

The recipe is simple but the method will need some explaining:

1. A good supplier can trim off excess tendon and fat and vacuum pack the boneless slabs for you. If not, you have to do this yourself. It is important to trim off the tendons as they are chewy and will not break down in low temperature cooking.

2. Adding marinade is an option but if I have a good piece of meat, I normally don't bother. You can also marinate the meat after the sous vide cooking.

3. Leave it in the water bath for 36 hours at 55˚C. Go for 56˚C or even 58˚C if you prefer it less pink. But 55˚C produces a nice medium to medium rare and also give me more 'pan sear time' to form the crust.

4. After it is done, you cool the packs and store in the fridge till you are ready to use it.

5. Remove the beef from the packs. There are juices from the packs which you can use if you like. Just give it a boil and strain the scum.

6. Alternatively, you can remove the beef from the packs and leave it uncovered in the fridge. This will dry the surface of the beef which will make it easier to create a crust when you pan-sear.

7. Using a good pan sear the steak for about a minute on each side. Baste with some butter as it will help with the Mallard reactions and crust. Sometimes I add a bit of Japanese soy sauce as it helps to darken the crust. Let it rest for 2 minutes before you slice and serve

This is after 36 hours SV and chilled
Seared and Crusted
You can eat this with just salt and pepper. Or opt for a sauce to balance the richness of the meat. Balsamic vinegar or glaze will be good. I sometimes cook up a gravy with beef stock, some demiglaze, quince jam (or any sweet sour jam), some soy sauce, balsamic vinegar and add a thickener (corn starch). You can also add red wine.

As this cut is rich, serve it in smaller portions. Think of it as wahyu beef. You can serve it as small steaks or as slices. I have cooked it once using David Chang's (Momofuku) recipe and it was great. 
This was SV-ied in a soy sauce based marinate
After  searing, it has a beautiful colour and crust
Round Lettice
You can also choose to serve it wrapped in leafy veg with some mustard sauce. As the meat is not chewy but tender, you can bite of the portions along with the vegetable wrapping. I like to use round lettuce, which has soft mid-green outer leaves and a slightly crisper, paler heart. (See pic below. More info on this link.). This is akin to the Korean way of eating lettuce wrapped meat. This is normally eaten with hands. In the lead photo above, I accompanied it with edamame and a soyu and balsamic vinegar sauce.

The photo above illustrates how you can slice the beef. If you slice on the left side, you are slicing against the grain. If you do so on the right side, you are slicing along the grain. Unlike other cuts, as this is tender, I prefer to slice along the grain (see sliced pieces below). I prefer the presentation of beef lines and smoother texture.

While 36 hours is a long time, it is "click and forget." Active preparation time is only about half an hour. It is about planning ahead. Once it is sous-vided, it is smooth sailing from then on as all you need to do is to sear the sides and prepare the sauces. There is no guess work involved and you are certain how the meat will turn out. If you are serving guests, they will be awed by it, as I have regularly observed. I cook it often for BBQs (read here). 

One more thing. There are juices from the packs which you can use if you like. Just give it a boil and strain the scum. Making a good beef sauce will need another post.

My normal supplier is Mmmm FreshBoth the boneless US corn-fed and Australian grain-fed Short Rib turned out very well for me. It will cost close to $4 per 100 gm. It is the cheapest from the wet market. There is one Malay butcher in Ghim Moh Wet Market who will vacuum-pack the grass-fed boneless short rib beef and sell it for $3. Grass-fed turned out very well too. Foodie Market at Tiong Baru is another good source and they vacuum pack as well. 

Currently, my favourite Sous Vide gadget is Codlo and I gave my reasons here. Check out more posts and info on Sous Vide cooking here

A BBQ version
Another way of presenting it

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  1. Hi Terry
    The short rib you used looks like a USDA prime cut or USDA Choice and very well-marbled.
    I suspect cut of this kind is very tender already may require less than 36 hours to sous vide in meeting one's tenderness and texture preference.
    One famous chef in Washington DC is famous for his 72-hour fork-tender short rib! The beauty of sous vide is once you have found your own magic numbers (Temperature/time), you can always repeat the same recipe without any fail.
    Fatty meats, specially meats with large pockets of embedded fat, after subjecting to the long term sous vide process, are very easy and fast to render out the fat if put to last minute very high heat roasting or grilling. It literally melts like butter. So for healthy conscious foodies who fancy well marbled meats, sous vide will help cut out the fat without compromising the qualities of the meat (moisture, flavor and texture).

    Frank Hsu
    Fresh Meals Solutions

    1. Dear Frank

      I experimented with 26 hr, 30 does seem like 36-hr gets a better texture throughout the meat.

      But thanks for the advice and info.

  2. This looks yummy!

    Is the short rib beef from mmmm frozen or chilled?

    1. Thanks. You inspired me to try this out but I cooked it for 72 hours:

    2. Sublime. Now, you are inspiring me to do it again! Will try it for 72 this time:)

  3. Dear Food Canon, I just tried your sous vide short rib thanks to S & P who brought their slab over and shared it with me. It is spectacularly good. Thanks to you, I will soon be receiving a Sous Vide magic from my husband who now wants this on the dinner table as often as our health can take it.

  4. I am sure u will have success preparing it. Pan sear it to brown the sides

  5. Hi Food Canon, how did you turn your rice cooker into a sous vide machine?

  6. I am putting 3 cuts ( cube shaped , approximate one pound each) of short ribs into my sous vide maschine. I am doing 57.2 C. Will eat the first one in 18 hr. It looks light brown with the vacuum bag. I hope it will be pink in centre.

  7. Hey,

    I'm having problems sourcing for whole boneless beef short ribs in Singapore.

    Any idea if mmm fresh still carries it? I've tried looking at the Novena Square 2 branch but it only has the sliced beef short ribs.

    Appreciate your help!

  8. Try Hubers. I just saw it last week.

    Or Foodie's Market at Tiong Bahru.

  9. Hi Food Canon, i am into sous vide and soon will be receiving my first unit which i purchased online. I wanted to try this for hainanese chicken? I wanted it to be tender, not over cooked, yet with the flavour sealed in. I hope sous vide can do the magic! Please tell me what is the best temperature to set and for how long. Thank you :)

  10. I bought a 3+kg slab and put them to sleep in a 55.5ºC bath, planning to do a 48h. Really excited to see how it will turn out at my group's bbq tomorrow evening!

  11. It should turn out well. If it is grain fed, it will be quite rich. Best eaten in smaller slices and paired with something else rather then eaten like a piece of BBQ steak.

  12. Thank you for the detailed recipe, it worked out superb.
    Prices have gone up considerably now in 2015 Christmas...
    Mmmm $70/kg - Aust
    Huber $75/kg - US
    Foodie stopped carrying them.

    No longer a cheap cut.

  13. Pete, This is indeed and sadly, true. Perhaps rising demand from restaurants.

  14. As suggested by you, I glazed the short rib with a good soya sauce before pan searing.
    I served the short ribs thinly sliced with spring onions, sliver of garlic and a dash of ponzu sauce.. worked out real well.
    36H55C is perfect. Thank you again.

  15. I was inspired by the post and bought the Anova from Amazon. However in my excitement I bought the US version instead. Are u using a voltage transformer for your sous vide cooker too?

  16. The boneless beef short ribs I found at Huber's recently were very thin, maybe only 2cm thickness when raw and after 55C 72hr SV, shrunk to about 1cm thickness. The butcher claims boneless short ribs are normally very thin after removal of the thick layer of fat / connective tissues... Do you face a similar situation when you buy your boneless short ribs? Where do you source your boneless short ribs these days? And also, if you've dealt with such thin boneless short ribs, you would still apply your recommended 55C at 48hrs? I've not crisped up my ribs yet, holding them in their vacuum bags for a party, so I'm not sure how mine will turn out yet.


  17. As the grain fed SR cut is highly marbled, I will say 36 hours should be sufficient. 72 hours is used for less marbled SR and even then, probably boned-in ones (because of the sinews on the bones) , as recommended on US based sites. The thickness of the cut has less a bearing for long SV cooking

    1. Thanks for your post and reply. My 55C 72hr SV boneless beef short ribs turned out fantastic. I SV-ed directly in the vacuum packaging they came in frm Huber's ie without any seasoning. Then seasoned lightly when searing. Served w chimichurri. And my eyes clearly played tricks on me as they turned out to be a good 1 inch thick in the end. Thank you! I