Its a funny thing that when my mum goes on a trip to the US, the only thing she buys back for me is food. No, I’m not talking about the typical kinds of food that you would associate as a gift, Im talking about raw, baby back pork ribs. And trust me, if I sound like I’m complaining, I’m really not.
I didn’t want to make the same mistake with an inferior cut of meat(as I did with the brisket) so I decided to test out the ribs. Half of the ribs went into a pressure cooker with water, raw garlic, Bak kut teh spices. Outcome? Delicious, ribs had good pockets of fat within the meat, and there was a nice chunk of meat on each rib; taste-wise, it wasn’t mind blowing, but it was good enough to perk my curiosity. So I started looking for temperatures and times for pork ribs on the internet. Gathered in my little book, I have:
–80C for 8-12h, or 68C for 24h (Baldwin Tables)
–62C for 24h (From a blog, I can’t quite remember which)
–57C for 72h (From this blog)
Seeing as to how my parents were on holiday and I would be putting two less lives at risk; I went with the lowest and slowest cooking method. I decided to do 57.3C for 72h, because I notice that my Immersion circulator fluctuates between +/- 0.2C, and I just wanted to be on the safe side.
-Coat ribs with a mixture of salt and sugar(Inspired by Momofuku, although salt+sugar isn’t exactly inspiring), let the ribs sit covered in the refrigerator for about 14h. Any leftover liquid at the end of those 14h was discarded.
-Ribs went straight into the vacuum bag, along with some duck fat(get used to this), a teaspoon of liquid smoke(and this too), and a dash of garlic powder.
-Ribs were cooked at 57.3C for 72h
-Removed from water bath and plunged into ice bath, then refrigerated for a day (Only because I planned this badly and they finished cooking at 10.30pm)
-Ribs were then reheated at 57C for 30 mins, and burnt with a butane torch.
Positives: The ribs were tender, very very tender. In fact, while I was trying to remove the ribs from the sous vide bag with a pair of tongs, the ribs broke apart under the force of its own weight. I wouldn’t normally throw the phrase “Falling off the bone tender” loosely, but I think this is as close as it gets. The meat was a perfect medium rare, and it was almost surreal to eat it because I normally associate baby back ribs to be cooked on the barbecue; while tender, the meat is often in the medium-well to well-done region. The meat was moist, not as moist as I would have liked, but everytime I felt that the meat was getting a little too dry, I would bite into a pocket of fat that would instantly bring everything back to delicious normality.
Negatives: While the bone on the rib released flavour into the meat as it cooked, I felt that the meat could have been a little more flavourful with its own natural flavour, the salt/sugar seasoning seemed to mask the taste of pork; then again, this is probably my own fault because the meat was fairly cheap. I also found it difficult to get a nice crust on the meat with my butane torch, it certainly didn’t brown as fast as I thought it would (Pork vs Beef?). The doneness of the meat was also fairly inconsistent, the center portion of the meat had a significantly redder interior than the outer portion of the meat(Im talking about from where it was cut), I would think that after 3 days of cooking, the entire slab of meat would have cooked through consistently.
Thoughts: Overall, I was very pleased with the results. 3 days is a long time to wait, for any piece of meat. I’m not sure if you can achieve the same texture with any of the shorter cooking times and their corresponding temperatures listed above, but I can vouch that 57C for 72h yields a baby back rib that is falling off the bone, a texture and doneness of meat that cannot be replicated without a controlled water bath. Another thing to note is that restaurants that use a Cryovac, or any other professional vacuum sealing device, have a significant advantage because they are able to seal at a much higher pressure. To quote http://www.foodsavervacuums.com:
“Apparently the vacuum pressure opens the pores in the meat allowing the marinade to penetrate the meat more easily. Then when the vacuum seal is released the meat will suck in the marinade that is around it. Pretty cool stuff!”
With a stronger seal, the meat is able to re-absorb much more moisture, which might explain why I felt the meat was a little dry. I’m still stumped as to the inconsistency of the done-ness of ribs though.