Thursday, January 19, 2017

Instant Pot vs. Sous Vide! A Saucy Food Fight featuring Baby Back Ribs

I've been doing a lot of sous vide cooking lately, trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. So, when I picked up a pack of baby back ribs, I decided I'd give them a try. I've cooked pork loins and pork chops with great success.

One thing I've found with many meats I've cooked via sous vide is that if I want to brown them after cooking, it works best to refrigerate the meat first to let it cool down. For me, this means I usually cook the food so it's ready the day before I actually want it, then I refrigerate overnight.

On the day I want to dine, I finish cooking. This way, I'm just searing the outside and warming the middle, rather than driving more heat into the meat, which could overcook it.

This might not be necessary with every cut of meat, but I also find it convenient, particularly for small, thinner cuts. The meat is fully cooked and resting in the refrigerator so I can have it on the table in a very short time when I decide I'm hungry. And these days I'm mostly cooking smaller cuts of meat.

Except when I go on a pork rib binge. That's totally different.

So anyway, After puttering around a bit, I decided to cook the meat three different ways. First, I cooked one batch in my Instant Pot, using my usual method. I know this method works, and I wanted it to be my control sample.

This isn't the same as cooking ribs on a grill or in a smoker, but it makes decent ribs. And crazy fast.

Then I started looking up sous vide recipes. I didn't care so much about spices or sauces, but I wanted to pick two different cooking temperatures and times, to test the results.  I settled on 165 degrees for 12 hours for one batch and and 145 degrees for 36 hours for the other batch.

I cut each rack in half to fit the bags, and for the fun of it, I put a little bit of sauce in one of each pair of bags. I don't know if that made a heck of a difference. I think a little bit of the sauce flavor did get into the ribs, but not so much that it made a huge difference once the ribs were sauced and broiled.

Next time, I might try a rub and see how that works.

When the pressure-cooked ribs were done, I slathered them with sauce, then broiled them to get the sauce all sticky and bubbly.

When the sous vide ribs were done, I let them cool slightly, then tossed them in the fridge, still in their bags. When I wanted to eat them, I took them out of their bags, got rid of the accumulated juices, slathered them with sauce, and broiled them just like I broiled the pressure cooked ribs.

And yes, I had two pots with different sous vide sticks set for different temperatures going at the same time. I know how to have fun!

The Results!

The winner, for me, was the sous vide ribs cooked for 12 hours at 165 degrees. They were slightly pink, very plump and juicy, and super tender. They still hung onto the bone when I cut them into single ribs, and when I bit into them, my teeth knew I was biting something.

They also fared well when reheated, which I find is pretty typical with sous vide meats. They don't seem to tighten up or dry out as quickly as conventionally cooked foods. Of course, the sensible thing to do was to broil as many ribs as I needed rather than broiling all, but I did have to reheat some and I didn't notice any quality issues.

12 hours at 165 degrees

The second best were the pressure cooked ribs. They were also plump and tender, but not pink and not quite as juicy, particularly when I reheated them. What, you thought I ate all of them in one big meal? And not quite as ... hmmm ... fluffy, I guess, compared to the sous vide ribs. Yup, the pressure cooked were just a little more dense than sous vide. Which is actually okay, I like that texture a lot, too.

I'm sure I'll still be pressure cooking ribs once in a while. It's so fast! I can bring home a slab of ribs from the grocery store and have dinner in a reasonably short time. The other advantage to the pressure cooked ribs, though, is that I save the stock and use it to make tomato soup.

Pressure-cooked ribs. Recipe here.

My least favorite (although not actually bad) was the batch cooked at 145 degrees for 36 hours. They were a little too tender for my liking. I had a hard time cutting them into individual ribs because as soon as there was slight pressure from the knife, they just slid off the bone. When I bit into them, it was almost like the meat flaked apart (kind of like flaky fish) rather my teeth letting me know we were biting into something meaty.

While the ribs at the thicker end of the rack fared better, some of them were verging towards being a little overcooked and dry, too. And some parts were pinkish while the thinner sections were more white. I might try the 145 temperature again, but this time limit it to a 24-hour cook time.

36 hours at 145 degrees
Of course, preferences for cooked-rib texture is a personal thing. You might like yours softer than I do, or you might not want to see any pink in the meat. Or you might appreciate more chew. Make 'em the way you like 'em!

Have you tried sous vide cooking yet? What's your favorite recipe? Or, if you're curious about it, is there anything you'd like to see me try?