The Santoku and 72 Hour Short Rib

January 25, 2023

The Santoku and 72 Hour Short Rib

About 20 years ago a revolution made its way through restaurant kitchens.  Eager to explore how science could influence the kitchen, chefs experimented with new gadgets, dreamed up previously unthinkable dishes, and in some cases completely rebuilt the physical kitchen itself.  The movement was called Modernist Cooking, and it was the biggest shift in restaurant kitchens since Nouvelle Cuisine lightened French cooking in the 1960s.  Guided by the writings of a few prominent food scientists like Harold McGee and Nathan Myhrvold, chefs started to explore the science behind the cooking process.  In many cases they revealed that much kitchen wisdom was nothing more than unchallenged tradition.  For some chefs, this disruption was understandably disconcerting.  They felt tradition had gotten them where they were. But for others a new frontier awaited. With their science-based understanding of the how’s and why’s, these pioneers dreamed up radical new dishes and hypothesized novel results. They built new equipment, and with that new equipment, new techniques.  Sometimes they repurposed old equipment, and something like a vacuum sealer evolved from food preserver to cooking vessel.  Chefs sealing food under pressure could even alter the physical state of their product.  Place a strawberry and balsamic syrup into a chamber vacuum sealer, and 10 seconds later you’d have a strawberry so cellularly infused with balsamic you’d swear it grew that way.  With the revolution fully underway, costs for these new appliances dropped, and before long, many of these gizmos found their way into homes.  Probably the most prominent of these devices was the immersion circulator and the technique of submersion cooking called sous-vide. 

I remember the Christmas my wife got me an immersion circulator.  Aside from maybe the GI Joe Mobile Command center I got when when I was 8, the most childlike measure of giddy I’ve ever felt on Christmas was in 2013 when I opened up a box to reveal my new stainless wonder.  They had been available to home cooks for a few years, but they cost upwards of 700 dollars.  The model my wife gave me in 2013 was one of the first that was almost actually affordable for home cooks.  

I couldn’t wait to experiment, and I ‘sous-vided’ everything—steak, carrots, fennel, fish, chicken, custards, bread dough(!).  Sometimes the results were revelations.  Occasionally, the final dish was…interesting.  In some instances, I learned how unnecessarily wasteful the whole process was.  Why fill a large plastic tub with 8 quarts of water, wait 30 minutes for it heat up, and submerge a few plastic-bagged asparagus for 10 minutes? Flash cooking the little spears in a skillet for 2-3 minutes was easier and yielded a better result.  I didn’t get down on myself for the failures. Even Edison had a few exploded lightbulbs, right?  The issue was that in most of my failures, science revealed the traditional method was superior.  Success came when the circulator’s science showed off a result tradition could only dream of. That’s when I discovered the 72 hour short rib.  

The short rib is one of those magical muscles on a cow that packs huge amounts of flavor but only if cooked a certain way.  The most common method is braising.  Brown the meat, then half submerge it in wine, stock and aromatics for a couple of hours. By dinnertime you’ve got a crazy-tender meat with a sauce so complex it actually makes you stop and think.  Braises are great, but they require you to overcook the meat to achieve that tenderness.  The intramuscular collagen that makes the meat so tough has to melt away, but that collagen won’t budge until it reaches 180ºF.  What if you could make a short rib with that same level of braise-y tenderness, but only cook it to medium-rare?  It’s one of those contradictory holy-grail questions.  How, for example, can you cook something to 132ºF and 180ºF at the same time?  The immersion circulator, sous vide, and the 72-hour short rib answer that question.

Food scientists discovered that if you cooked tough cuts of meat sous-vide for very long amounts of time, the collagen would still liquify even if the temperature never exceeded medium-rare.  And the result is breathtaking. When the short rib is plated you’d swear it was a normal, braised short rib, that is, until you cut through it.  As your fork makes its way through the tender rib it opens up a coral-hued interior that will instantly stop you in wonder.  You’d swear it was magic, if it weren’t, you know, science.  Soon you’ll be inviting all of your friends over to show off this new discovery.  “Sorcery!” they’ll shout.  “Witchcraft!” they’ll chant.  But before these zealots drag your heretical rump roast out to the stake you can protest, “Nope.  Science!”  

 

72 Hour Short Rib - Serves 4 

Note:  This recipe requires a set up for sous-vide.  If you don’t have an immersion circulator, they can bought easily for around $100 at many cooking stores or online. 

 

INGREDIENTS

Short Rib:

  • 4 bone-in short ribs, about 8 oz each
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  •  

    Red Wine Sauce:

  •  1 cup of demi-glace.  (I make my own, but you can buy small containers of a product called More than Gourmet at many nicer grocery stores or online for about $5.00.  1 container, reconstituted, makes about 1 cup of demi-glace).
  • 1/2 cup of red wine
  • 1 shallot, minced
  •  

    Potato “Risotto”:

  •  2 large russet potatoes, peeled
  • 1 quart of stock
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese
  • 3tbs of heavy cream
  •  

    STEPS:

    Short Rib:

    1.  Preheat circulator to 134ºF.
    2. Place the short ribs and salt in a vacuum bag and seal.
    3. Place the sealed/bagged short ribs in the water bath and cook for 72 hours.  
    4. Think about your life, go on walks, take up new hobbies, or grow a beard.  
    5. Remove the short ribs from the water bath and rest at least 10 minutes before using.  
    6. Alternatively, you may place the bagged short ribs in the fridge for up to two weeks until ready to use.  If you decide to chill them, just bring them back up to temperature in the water bath for about 45 minutes.
    7. Remove the short ribs from the vacuum bags, trim away the bone and serve atop the potato risotto.  

       

      Red Wine Sauce:

      1.  Combine the minced shallot and red wine over medium high heat.
      2. Bring to a boil and reduce by half, about 10 minutes.
      3. Add the demi-glace, bring to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes until thickened slightly.
      4. Keep warm until ready to sauce the short ribs.

         

        Potato Risotto:

        Note: You may have unused stock in the risotto recipe. That’s okay.  Just put it in a container and save for another use.  Exact measurements of liquid for risotto are difficult to state in advance.  

        1. Using a sharp knife, slice the potatoes lengthwise into a stack of several ~1/8th inch slices.
        1. Rotate the potato and slice again so the result is 1/8th inch matchsticks.
        2. Finally, mince the matchsticks so the result is about 1/8th inch cubes. Set aside.
        3. Add the stock to a large sauce pot over high heat, bring to a boil, then cut heat down to low.
        4. In a separate sauce pot or large skillet over medium high heat, add the minced shallot and the olive oil, and stir, about a minute, until fragrant.  
        5. Add the finely diced potato and a few pinches of fresh pepper.
        6. Stir to combine.
        7. Add the white wine, and start a timer for 15 minutes.  Stir continuously until the wine is fully reduced.
        8. Add a ladleful of stock, and stir continuously fully absorbed.
        9. Repeat this step of adding stock, stirring and reducing until the 15 minutes are up.
        10. Taste the potato risotto.  If still too firm, add another ladleful of stock, and stir/reduce as before until the risotto is still toothy, but not crunchy.
        11. Add the grated parmesan and cream. Stir and season with salt to taste.
        12. Plate immediately.  
        13. Top with the short rib.
        14. Using a spoon, glaze the short rib with the demi-glace.
        15. Serve.

         

        John Tufts is an award-winning actor and author.  In addition to being paid to travel the world to wear tights and fight with swords, he has also written a book about the food of Shakespeare’s England called Fat Rascals: Dining at Shakespeare’s Table.  His book is available at john-tufts.com/fatrascalsbook.  His food history web series, “Eatso-Facto,” currently airs on YouTube.  You can follow him on Instagram at @johnnymtufts.  He lives in New York.





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