My First Experience with Sous Vide Cooking
The excitement of following food blogs (besides the recipes and food porn, of course), is getting to learn about new tools and techniques in the kitchen. A little over a year ago, I noticed some of my favorite food bloggers raving about a cooking technique called sous vide. Pronouced sue-veed, sous vide is a cooking technique that involves vacuum sealing food in a bag, and then cooking it at a very precise temperature in a water bath. The water temperature is maintained throughout the cooking process, eliminating the chance of over or under cooking the food. The concept on its own peaked my interest, and I had to give it a try for myself.
I choose to make braised short ribs to break in my Joule, the sous vide tool that my Mom gave me for Christmas.
Although the concept of sous vide sounded simple enough, I expected there to be some sort of a learning curve for my first time. To my surprise, my first experience with sous vide cooking turned out to be a breeze, for the most part, due to none other than the accompanying Joule app.
As someone who works in user experience, conducting research to help design applications and systems, I can't recall a mobile app that I was or am as impressed by as Joule's. Following along with the instructions provided by the app, I had no problems setting up my Joule and connecting it to my bluetooth. Under the Tips & Tricks section from the main menu, I found videos between 30 seconds and a minute and a half that introduced and walked me through the experience of sous vide cooking from start to finish. I liked that I didn't have to go to a website or YouTube for the tutorial.
The homepage of the app offers cooking guides, or you have the option to pick from several categories, including vegetables, beef, seafood, poultry, and desserts to get started. You can also use the search bar. I selected "beef" and scrolled through a grid view to find "braised beef short ribs."
After selecting the icon, I was directed to a page that provided an Overview and a Steps flow. The overview gives an introduction to what we are about to cook, with the standard serving size and the required cooking time. In this case, it would be 24 hours.
"Wow." I thought. I guess this requires some planning ahead. So having braised short ribs for dinner that night was off the table. Welp, I know what tomorrow's dinner is.
(Note: Not every thing cooked sous vide will require 24 hours.)
There was a video included on the overview page, showing the finished braised short rib being served and sliced into. Having static pictures is one thing, we're all used to that, but to have a visual and actually seeing the final result! The designers of this app clearly thought out this experience from a cook's perspective.
Next: To set the temperature. I was given three options for a temperature to set the water at. On its own, the temperature wouldn't mean much, except with each temperature there was a video showing the result of cooking at each temperature. For example, if chosen to cook at 158 degrees, the result of the ribs would be tender, similar to a steak. I chose 176 degree for a traditional, but "jucier" and "even more delicious" braise. The description helped more than just a temperature, but again, what sold me on the temperature was the video of how the meat would come out at the end.
After selecting a temperature, it was time to start cooking.
I tapped the "Start Joule" button, and heard the Joule rev up and the water begin to simmer.
As the water heats, I go through the steps provided to prepare the short ribs. I swipe right to a screen with an equipment list and ingredients. The rest of the flow broke down the preparation process into 9 steps. I was instructed on the appropriate bag to use. Since I do not own any sous vide bags right now, luckily there was an alternative - I could use two ziplock-style bags.
Next, I seasoned the meat with Kosher salt and pepper. The app is consistent in that as you are taken through each step, there is a corresponding video so that you can see how the step is executed. Even how the steps are written out was on point. Each step was between 1-3 sentences, which is key to preventing information overload and causing app users to feel overwhelemed, especially during the cooking process.
After I seared the ribs and made the glaze, I put everything into the ziplock bag, and dropped it in my dutch oven. As the app suggested, I left it alone and went to watch Netflix.
Since the ribs needed to cook for 24 hours, I did wonder if the water level would maintain for that long. Well, my question was answered when I got up the next morning. The water had completely evaporated. I wasn't sure how long the ribs were sitting in the pot without water, but luckily (and unluckily) my app told me: 4 and a half hours.
I wondered if I should finish off the ribs in the oven. I decided to take a chance. The app did flash a message asking me to refill the water, so I did. But, the timer reset to begin at 24 hours again (even though the previous message told me to refill the water to pick up where I left off. User error?). I wasn't going to wait another day to eat these dang ribs. Recalling the time I started the ribs the night before, I decided to stay on that timeline since originally the ribs were going to be ready that evening. To prevent the water from evaporating, I covered the pot with aluminum foil, leaving open space for the Joule.
About two hours before I planned to remove the ribs from the pot, I hear from the fiancé:
"Is it almost done?"
I finished off the rest of the meal with sautéed broccolini and a cauliflower-parsnip mash to serve as a cushion for the ribs and the sauce. I ended up taking the ribs out of the pot an hour before its original end time.
"These should be alright," I thought.
I cut open the bag and the ribs and sauce slid out and into the pan I placed under the bag. I took a fork and a butter knife to check the inside of the meat. It looked perfect. The meat was fall off the bone tender. Despite having a butter knife on hand while eating, I didn't need to use hardly any type of force to break the meat apart. The ribs were fiancé approved as well.
Despite the mishaps, I enjoyed my first experience with sous vide cooking. I can't wait to use it again. I think I'll try lobster tails.