Asian Sticky Baby Back Ribs Sous Vide

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I have been thinking about doing this recipe for a couple of months after having some Sweet and Sour Spare Ribs during my Asian cooking boot camp at the Culinary Institute of America.  There are tons of recipes out on the web for Asian Sticky Ribs and, of course, none of them agree on how to do anything.  That’s okay, because I only use them for inspiration. I always end up taking my own road.

I kept my ingredients simple since this was the first time making Asian Sticky Ribs.  Next time, I may start it venture out a little.  I used commercially available Chinese Five-spice.  You can experiment with the flavor profile by actually using the base spices (star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, fennel, clove, and cinnamon) and varying the amounts. 

Ribs need a low and slow cook to become tender.  I chose to do the basic cooking Sous Vide since I can control time and temperature precisely.  The other thing that nobody agrees on is time and temperature for ribs.  The Sous Vide community seems to fall into two camps: The ~140F group and the ~165F group.  The former tend to cook their ribs for 24-48 hours and the later for 4-12 hours.  This is my first time with Baby Backs Sous Vide so I went with 160F for 12 hours in the dry rub and then finished them on the grill with the sticky sauce.  You can chose your method, time and temp of cooking.  The important point is having tender ribs that melt in your mouth and, of course, stick to your fingers. 

I wanted to maximize the surface area for the sticky sauce so I cut the rack into individual ribs before coating the ribs.  For ease of grilling, the two half-rack pieces can be left whole until ready to plate. 

I served my ribs over a Spicy Asian slaw (recipe that I picked up at the CIA and tweaked) and Japanese Potato Salad (recipe in the May/June issue of Milk Street magazine).  [As a side note, I run hot and cold on Cook’s Illustrated; however, I love Chris Kimball’s new effort.  He has taken on international cuisine and it doing an excellent job of bringing it into the American kitchen.  If you don’t already subscribe to the magazine and podcast, you are truly missing out on a fantastic culinary discussion. . . . Free advertisement complete.]

Wow, this is a keeper.  The meat was moist and tender and easily pulls away from the bone leaving it totally clean.  The sauce was not really sticky, but the flavor profile is definitely there.  You can taste the anise, the soy sauce and Hoisin.  The savory flavors of the ribs played well with the insane crunchiness and heat of the slaw and the cool, crunchiness of the potato salad.  Every bit was an explosion of flavor and texture.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 rack of Baby Back Ribs
  • Yellow Mustard
  • Dry Rub:
  • 1/4 cup Dark Brown Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp Chinese Five-spice
  • 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt
  • Sticky Sauce:
  • 1/3 cup Soy Sauce
  • 1/3 cup Honey
  • 1/4 cup Hoisin Sauce
  • 2 Tbsp Rice Vinegar
  • 3 tsp Chinese Five-spice

Directions:

  1. Prepare the Baby Back Ribs by removing the membrane from the back of the rack.
  2. Cut rack into two pieces for ease of Sous Vide bagging.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the Dry Rub ingredients and mix well.
  4. Slather ribs generously on both side with yellow mustard.
  5. Coat both sides of the ribs with the dry rub and rub to evenly coat.
  6. Place ribs into a the Sous Vide bags and vacuum seal.`
  7. Refrigerate ribs for 8 hours or overnight.
  8. Prepare your Sous Vide cooking vessel and preheat water to 160F.
  9. Remove the ribs from the refrigerator and place into the Sous Vide bath for 12 hours.
  10. Near the end of the Sous Vide cooking time, combine the Sticky Sauce ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.
  11. At the end of 12 hours, remove the ribs from the Sous Vide bath, remove ribs from the bags and place on paper towels on a cutting board. Let ribs dry for 15 minutes.
  12. Meanwhile, fire up the grill for high heat cooking.
  13. When the ribs are somewhat dry, cut the rack into individual ribs and place in a large bowl.
  14. Pour the Sticky sauce into the bowl with the ribs and gently toss to thoroughly coat.
  15. Place the ribs on the grill and cook until the sauce has thickened and become sticky.  Recoat the ribs with the left-over sauce until it is gone.
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The Ollie Burger

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And now for something a little different:

Anyone remember Lum’s Restaurant or Ollie’s Trolley?  The only reason to go to Lum’s was the Ollie Burger created by Oliver G. Gleichenhaus and the recipe eventually sold to Lum’s.  Only one Lum’s remains open, in Nebraska, and that Lum’s sadly has no Ollie Burger. 

 I have been on the search for a copycat Ollie Burger recipe for years and finally found what claims to be the original recipe (http://www.recipelink.com/msgbrd/board_14/2008/JAN/29430.html) and developed a method to use it to get the original flavor profile.  The suggested method did not impart the marinade spices into the burger enough. 

 The change I made was to marinate 3/4 lbs of boneless Short Ribs and 3/4 lbs of Sirloin, each cut into 1 inch cubes, in the Ollie Burger marinade for 2 hours and then course ground it into ground beef.  After forming 6 oz. burgers, I bagged them and cooked them sous vide for 45 minutes at 135F.  Once out of the water bath, I let the burgers rest for 10 minutes, basted them with more marinade and seared them on a super hot grill for about 1 minute on each side topping the burgers with mozzarella after flipping.  I then slathered a toasted multi-grain bun, not original, with Ollie’s Bun Sauce, plated the burger, and enjoyed.  This is the Ollie Burger.  I used one slice of mozzarella.  Next time, I will use two. 

No reason to fret if you have not yet explored Sous Vide cooking.   The key here is marinating the meat in the Ollie Burger Sauce and grinding it into the ground beef.  

Again not original, I served with a Japanese Potato Salad; recipe from this month’s Milk Street Magazine.  The potato salad almost stole the show, but not quite.  You need to get this recipe and try it.  I was able to snag Kewpie mayo at my local Wegmans, but will have to try the work-around (extra egg yolk and sugar) when the wife is around since she is MSG sensitive.

The Perfect Poached Egg – plus a little time

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Poached eggs take only a few minutes right?  Why use a 46 minute process?  Repeatability and perfection, that’s why.  You break even the freshest egg into a simmering pot of water and are immediately presented with far reaching wisps of whites clouding up the water.   Give it some time and you have a perfect poached egg every time.

I’ve tried the traditional method for years.  I’ve added vinegar.  I’ve tried the whirlpool.  You can strain your egg to get rid of loose whites before cooking.  Sure it helps, but you still can’t get a well formed egg every time.  Then there’s the timing. Am I over cooking it?  Am I under cooking it enough?  If only I could get a perfect poached egg every time without fuss and worry.

Of course, you can.  The holy grail of the search for the perfect poached egg method is Sous Vide . . . and a little bit of patience . . . okay, maybe a lot of patience.

But can it be that easy?  Of course not.  I’ve seen lots of attempts to poach an egg sous vide.  Frankly, you end up with a lot of the same problems as the traditional method.  I have seen plenty of pictures of poached eggs with perfect yolks and runny, unshaped whites or perfect whites with stiff yolks.  The answer to the perfect poached egg seems elusive even with sous vide.  Enter J. Kenji López-Alt and The Food Lab’s Guide to Slow-Cooked, Sous Vide-Style Egg .  Here is everything you want to know about cooking eggs.  Using the data garnered from Food Labs you can cook perfect yolks and whites every time.  

The poached egg in the photos was cooked sous vide in the shell at 147F for 45 minutes.  This sets up the yoke perfectly, but the white are still a little runny. That is solved by poaching it in water for just 1 min (traditional poaching method: crack the shell and gently drop the egg into simmering water). After the sous vide bath, the whites are firm enough that they hold their shape in the poaching water unlike poaching a raw egg.  The result: a perfectly poached egg.

On service day, you can save yourself some time by cooking the eggs sous vide in advance, chilling them in an ice bath, and refrigeratoring them until needed.  When ready to serve, warm them sous vide at 147F for 15 minutes and then proceed with the poaching.

Mississippi Short Ribs Sous Vide

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The Mississippi Roast recipe is an internet sensation and a great way to add flavor and tenderness to a tough piece of meat. It’s simply made by throwing a chuck roast into a crockpot with one package each of Hidden Valley Ranch Salad Dressing and Au Jus Gravy Mix with some butter, pepperoncini and water and cooking for 6-8 hours. But we can’t do anything simply, can we? We need to complicate everything and take the road less traveled.

First, I don’t use salad dressing or gravy mixes. The top two ingredients in Hidden Valley Ranch Salad Dressing are salt and MSG. The top ingredient in McCormick Au Jus Mix is salt. No wonder Mississippi Roast tastes good: gobs of salt and glutamic acid. It’s an Umami Express. But I prefer to control my ingredients and minimize salt. In addition, my better-half is sensitive to MSG; so homemade buttermilk ranch dressing is on the prep list. You can, of course, substitute store-bought (shutter) ranch dressing for the homemade.


I was planning on making the dressing from homemade mayonnaise.  That plan did not work out too well.  I’m not sure why, but it would not emulsify.  As a fall back, I used Hellman’s.

As far as the Au Jus mix, I don’t see the point. The meat has its own jus and we don’t need the added salt.

Okay, I admit I am a culinary snob, I don’t do “crockpot.” My slow cooker of choice is my Anova Precision Cooker (sous vide). Unlike the crockpot, with sous vide I can precisely control the doneness and texture of the meat. It’s all a matter of time and temperature. Variations are endless and predictable.

I have done a Mississippi Roast using this method with great results. Unfortunately, I lost my recipe to an iPad meltdown before I could post it. I thought I would start over and, as a twist, give it a try with Short Ribs. Short-ribs are another cut of meat that benefits from low, slow cooking and has a rich beefy taste.  The recipe calls for bone-in Short Ribs.  I actually used boneless since that is what was available.

 I was looking for a texture somewhere between a steak and the fascicles falling apart. I went with 165 F. / 74 C. for 24 hours.   The texture and doneness were perfect.  The meat was tender and flavorful without being stringy.


I am not sure if it adds much, but I did marinate the ribs in the ranch dressing and pepperoncini for 8 hours before throwing it into the cooker. Buttermilk has natural enzymes that tenderize meat. I figured it couldn’t hurt to let the short-ribs get happy in the dressing before starting the cooking process.  If I were to change anything, it would be to pierce the pepperoncini before adding them to the bag.  Even after 24 hours of cooking, many of them were whole with the juices still captured inside instead of flavoring the meat.

I have also been experimenting with molecular gastronomy, so for plating I topped it with some pepperoncini air. This step is totally optional. I served it with my take on Spinach Salad ala Firebirds Wood Fired Grill and some Bourbon Cracked Potatoes (recipe coming later).

Ingredients:

  • 3 Bone-in Short-Ribs, 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, English or Hybrid cut
  • 3/4 cups Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dressing (see below)
  • 12 Pepperoncini
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbps Olive Oil

Directions:

  1. Place the short ribs in vacuum bag(s) leaving room between ribs with 1/4 cup of ranch dressing and 4 pepperoncini per rib. Vacuum seal each bag.
  2. Marinate in refrigerator for 8 hours.
  3. Preheat water bath to 165F/74C
  4. Place short ribs into the water bath and cook for 24 hrs.
  5. Remove bags from the water bag, remove ribs from the bags and pat dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
  6. In a skillet, heat oil over high heat. Sear short ribs on all sides.
  7. Serve on smear of Ranch Dressing. Top with Pepperoncini air.

Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise 
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk 
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • A dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Mix well. Cover and chill in refrigerator overnight.

Pepperoncini Air

  • 20 grams Pepperoncini
  • 25 grams juice from Pepperoncini
  • 100 grams water
  • 1 gram Soy Lecithin

Moroccan Chicken With Olives

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The genesis of this recipe was Moroccan Chicken Smothered In Olives from the New York Times.  The basic ideas of the recipe seemed sound, but the suggested execution lacking.  I did not brine my chicken.  Maybe it would have been better, but my version was moist and flavorful without the additional step.  I also did not just throw the ingredients into a casserole and braise it.  I took a more classic approach and seared my chicken and cooked down my onions and garlic.  I also started on the stove top, cooked in the oven and finished back on the stove top, as I often do.  

Many of the reviews of the original recipe complained about a bland sauce.  I can’t imagine how they achieved that result unless they opted not to reduce the sauce at the end and failed to adjust their seasoning.  I used only half of the spices from the original recipe since it just seemed like too much and I had great flavors.  I also did not blanch my olives as recommended which undoubtedly helped add flavor.  Why would one want to extract the briny taste of the olives?  I also added salt and pepper up front and at the end.  I seasoned my meat before I seared it and adjusted the seasoning when reducing the sauce. 

The original recipe was undoubtedly a little lower in calories and lower in sodium, but according to reviews lacked flavor.  Give me a few more calories and better taste any day.  I would gladly spend a few extra minutes in the gym than sacrifice flavor in my food.

I betrayed a basic principles here: try a recipe as written at least once and then adjust from there.  I often abandoned this rule, but this one begged for upfront revision.  A lack of seasoning and making sauce reduction optional just begged for substandard results.  

Ingredients:

  • 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 onions, peeled, halved and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 tablespoon Spanish sweet paprika
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 11 ounces pitted green olives in brine, drained and halved
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Salt and pepper both sides of chicken pieces.
  3. In bottom of a large pan, heat oil over medium-high heat.  
  4. Add chicken pieces and brown on all sides.   
  5. Remove chicken to a plate.  
  6. Add onions and sauté until softened and translucent.  
  7. Add chicken back to pan.  
  8. Add chicken broth. Sprinkle with ginger, turmeric, cumin, paprika, and garlic. Place over high heat to bring to a boil.
  9. Cover and move to oven for 30 minutes, turning chicken once.
  10. Turn chicken again and add olives and lime juice to chicken, and cook uncovered for another 10 minutes.
  11. Remove chicken to a platter and keep warm.  
  12. Transfer pan to the stove-top and raise temperature to an aggressive simmer to reduce adding salt and pepper to taste. Thicken sauce to 1/4th or less in the volume.
  13. Pour sauce over chicken and serve hot.

Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna

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Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna
Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna

This adventure started with a Mushroom and Burrata Lasagnette recipe by Alison Roman published in the October 2015 issue of Bon Appetit. Ms. Roman admits her recipe is “indulgent” and, I am sure, delicious, but what I was going for is something much lower in fat and healthier. I not only want to “live a little,” but live a little longer.

Gone is the butter and olive oil. Gone is the heavy cream. In place of the heavy cream, I used a cauliflower cream (basically pureed cauliflower). If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making the cauliflower cream, substitute back in 1/4 cup of heavy cream. In place of the burrata, I used mozzarella. I am sure the extra creaminess of the burrata adds to the decadence, but would get lost in the lasagnette. For added nutrition, I added spinach to the recipe.

The other major change is the serving size. As published, the recipe indulgently serves 2 people. I used a little larger casserole dish and it yielded 6 large servings.

You can use dried lasagna noodles. Simply cook them until al dente according to package instructions before assembling the lasagna. I have sworn off store-bought pasta in favor of homemade. It’s really not that difficult to make and the taste and texture is far superior its store-bought relative. I used Bob’s Red Mill 100% stone ground whole wheat organic flour for the pasta. Bob’s Red Mill flour is ground finely enough to give you light, delicate pasta even using 100% whole wheat.

Ingredients:
2 pounds mixed mushrooms, cut into bite-size pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 Tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 cup fat-free ricotta
1/4 cup cauliflower cream
1/4 fresh nutmeg, grated
2 tsp. fresh thyme
14 oz frozen cut leaf spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
12 fresh lasagna noodles (about 10 x 4 inches)
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn into pieces
1 1/2 ounces Parmesan, finely grated

Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 425°.
2) Add mushrooms to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has been absorbed, about 10-15 minutes.
3) Add shallot, wine and rosemary and again cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has been absorbed, about 5-10 minutes.
4) Combine ricotta, cauliflower cream, nutmeg and thyme in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper.
5) Working in batches, cook fresh lasagna noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until just softened, about 30 seconds.
6) Spread a thin layer of ricotta mixture in a 10 x 8 x 3 casserole dish and top with a 2 lasagna noodles side by side. Spread a large spoonful of ricotta mixture over pasta, layer with 1/6 of the mushrooms, spinach and mozzarella. Top evenly with 1/6 of the Parmesan. Repeat layering process 5 more times finishing with the last of the Parmesan and grinding on fresh pepper, to taste.
7) Cover casserole with foil and bake until warmed through, about 15-20 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until golden brown, 20-25 minutes.
8) Let cool at least 5 minutes and serve. 


Cauliflower Cream

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Cauliflower Cream
Cauliflower Cream

Why cauliflower cream? It’s lower in calories that a Béchamel Sauce. It’s neutral in taste so takes well to additions like cheese. It’s healthy. And it’s different.

I have done quite a bit of experimentation substituting fat-free Greek Yogurt for white sauces with a consistent result: The sauce separates and ends up runny with clumpy cheese. Cauliflower cream solves this issue while remaining fat-free.

I used the above sauce in a Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna. I also plan on using some in a lower calorie Macaroni and Cheese. You can substitute cauliflower cream in any recipe that calls for a white sauce except maybe a gravy.

The process is easy.
Ingredients:
1 head cauliflower

Directions:
1) Wash and chop a head of cauliflower.
2) Place cauliflower florets into salted water and bring to a boil.
3) Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until fork tender.
4) Drain cauliflower reserving 2 cups of the cooking liquid
5) In a food processor, puree cauliflower adding reserved liquid, as needed, to desired consistency