One of MY favorite things about Sous Vide is simultaneously processing several pieces of the same cut–lamb shank, in this case–and waiting until later to decide which recipe application to use. Some sources would have us believe that each gradient between 129F and 183F must be carefully dedicated to each different recipe for lamb, chicken, beef, or whatever. But is this the only way we will achieve a state of perfected skill, must we micromanage our short ribs’ texture in order to achieve culinary Nirvana?
I prefer the short form
In reality, there are just a few temperatures, or RANGES of temperatures, that are typically used. 125F-129F for rare meats, for example. 135F-155F for chicken or turkey. Pork really has the widest range, because it’s served so many different ways–135F–165F, or even higher. The upper range is utilized to achieve the totally drained out, shredded and almost dry texture popular in some BBQ and ethnic styles–damaged to perfection! For vegetables, you can pretty much set it and forget it at 183F.
I’ve gone through all those exercises, jumped through all those hoops, and threaded all those needles. Once you’ve used Sous Vide a few times, it becomes easy to gauge the relative outcome of lower versus higher processing temperatures. Lower temperatures will yield a more intact, sliceable product, and higher temperatures will yield a more shreddable, fall off the bone kind of product. Most people’s preferences fall predictably along that curve. Experiened practitioners seem to gradually end up processing at the lowest safe temperatures possible.
The science of Sous Vide is not intended to turn us into wizards in lab coats. The science of Sous Vide is what makes it exquisitely SIMPLE. Imagine exploring the effects of every possible temperature on your oven–300F, 305F, 310F, etc. You may be able to detect slight differences in your results, but, after an excruciating series of experiments, you will most likely end up pretty close to 350F (except for pizza!).
So, with rare exception, I process particular cuts within extremely narrow ranges of temperature. The duration may fluctuate, but only as a function of tenderness. This is true for lamb, chicken, pork and beef, etc.–the Sous Vide parameters for each particular cut of each particular beast hardly vary, regardless of what their eventual use might be.
Dispensing with the Minutiae
Once you adopt this approach, you don’t even really need a reference guide or a cell phone app for it. I suppose that could be the reason Sous Vide teachers, cook book writers and publishers don’t reveal this–it could threaten their job security! You read it here first!
With this demonstration, we will attempt to show how one basic recipe can yield considerably different results in the final product. One will be Tomato Braised Lamb Shanks with Polenta, and the other will be Shredded Lamb Shanks with Gnocchi.
- Lamb shank(s), processed SV as per the root article
- 1 ea. Fresh Fennel Bulb, processed SV@183Fx1 hour, shocked and refrigerated.
- 1 oz chopped garlic
- 1 oz. chopped parsley
- 1-2 cups stock of your choice
- .5 Tablespoons Nutmeg, to taste
- 3 oz. Pecorino Romano (or other dry Italian cheese)
- 4 oz. cold butter
- 3 oz tomato paste, for the Lamb Shanks with Gnocchi, OR San Marzano tomatoes (or comparable), 12 oz. can, for the Braised Lamb with Polenta,
- 12 oz. Butternut Squash Gnocchi OR
- 1 cup Polenta, and three cups stock (see procedure below)
- If you decide to make the Gnocchi version, make sure you make your pasta first, as per the recipe here. I love the Butternut Squash Gnocchi, but Potato Gnocchi are very lovable too. If you’re not ready for that commitment, just use a good quality dried pasta, large shells, rigatoni, even macaroni–perfectly fine.
- after processing…
This lamb shank was shocked, refrigerated, and then the gelatinized purge was removed, like I said, just like for all other models–persillé, braised, confit, whatever.
At the risk of harping, this philosophy flies in the face of other recipe guides who land “all over the map” on their “times and temps,” as we say. True to the purest intentions of Sous Vide, proteins really are “best” when processed at the lowest safe temperature possible. The higher the processing temperature (Sous Vide or otherwise), the greater the moisture loss, and the greater the actual “damage” to the structural integrity of the meat–this is not an indicator of tenderness, but actual cell “destruction.”
Tenderness is very simply the conversion of collagen to gelatin, through dissolution of connective tissues. The cellular nature of the meat is intended to remain intact, and, to a greater or lesser degree, retaining as much moisture as possible.
- For some applications, you may want to French the bone, to get that elegant and hand friendly appearance. Many chefs want to do this when it’s raw, but this method is a lot easier and more precise, as well.
- Cool looking, and the meat still has that wholesome color.
- In the restaurant setting, this would probably have been discarded or thrown carelessly into stock, but, there’s lots of flavor and meat right there. There is no reason to waste anything, when SV makes it so easy to implement.
A fork in the road…”well, pick it up”
There are a couple of ways for us to go at this point, with freedom to mix and match. You can leave the shank whole, as pictured above and below, or you can remove it from the bone in advance, which is going to happen eventually anyway. Some people believe leaving the meat attached to the bone yields more flavor, but the science doesn’t support it. As always, feel free to indulge your romantic notions.
- We put the whole shank in the pan to brown on medium heat, again, using a little neutral vegetable oil. Or, even, pork or chicken fat. We are equal opportunity renderers.
- Turn it after a while, let it get some color. The more you move it around, the more likely it is to stick. People want to see if it’s sticking, so, they try to move it, which causes everything to cool off, and, then, it sticks. *sigh* smh. Haste is the bane of the anxious cook.
- Lean it on its side if you have to, to get all the sides brown. You can see, we DID get a little sticking in there. That’s okay, it’s gonna be harvested.
- Add the diced up meat that you trimmed off before…things should sizzle, but not pop.
- Breathe deeply, slowly. Lamb can be a little greasy, if you see a puddle in there that seems like two much, fold up a paper towel and lay it on there–really, it’s okay.
- Add your garlic, follow the recipe, or follow your heart.
- You want to sizzle the garlic as long as possible, but you don’t want to let it get brown. Again, bubbling, but not popping.
- Pictured, we see the version with the San Marzano tomatoes added. If you plan to do the Gnocchi version, add half a small can of tomato paste instead and stir it around, it can brown a little, and, then…
Time to Shift Into Overdrive
- Stop the frying, and start the simmering. Pour in this one cup of chicken stock; it has SousJus from prior projects in it too…very gelatinized. Believe me, any kind of stock (other than fish stock) is fine. No guest has ever said “This lamb is good, why did you ruin the sauce by putting beef stock in it?”
- You still have some stock left, or you should. Use it to adjust volume and consistency at the end, as needed.
- I used the Lipavi C10, and Ziploc Gallon Bag, which I have hung over a couple of the inner adjustable/removable racks with clothespins. The outer racks are attached to the bottom grid, but fold in for easy storage.
- Load in the shank and all the stuff from the pan, whichever recipe you are executing. If you are making the Gnocchi version, add the chopped fennel now.
- Plenty of room, just take your time. I know, my stove is very crowded. My KITCHEN is very crowded. We are a grass roots, cottage industry. Do they even HAVE cottages any more? Is that where they make the cheese? Sorry, I got distracted there for a minute.
On Your Mark…Get Set…
- And, into the tank with the Nomiku we go.
- The Lipavi C10 pairs with a Lipavi L10 lid. There are different models that are dedicated to each particular circulator, so they always have a great tight fit.
- The temperature can be as low as 140F, and as high as 183F, in case you need to multitask your vessel. We’re going to set this one at 183F, because we want to make polenta. This means everything will be done in just about an hour. Not quite enough time to get a pair of glasses made, but long enough to take a little break.
- Meanwhile, pull the Lamb Shanks from the tank and unload into a pan to finish the sauce. As great as Sous Vide is, I still haven’t figured out how to get it to “make its own sauce.” That eternal search will no doubt continue.
The Thrilling Conclusion
- Return the sauce to a gentle simmer…
- Check for seasoning, and add 2 oz. of COLD butter. That’s right–we like butter. Butter is what makes sauces sauces. Sauces are more than delivery systems for salt and fat, but it doesn’t always seem so. At least there’s no GLUTEN!
- Parsley, parsley, and more parsley, curly or flat, parsley, parsley, parsley.
- Add the fennel wedges, grilled or seared, whole or chopped, whatever feels right. Sprinkle with the herb, and take a picture for legacy.
Standing tall, but not for long. This dish CAN be presented this way, in a big serving dish, family style, to be ripped at table side, but it’s monumentally tall. You may lose sight of your dinner companions.
That’s Why They Call It “Fork Tender”
- Here I remove the meat from the bone with a fork, it will fall apart, and that’s what you want. Don’t give that bone to the dog, lamb bones are sharp. You really shouldn’t give ANY cooked bones to a dog, but that’s another story.
- For the San Marzano model, taste your polenta for seasoning. Some like to add some dry cheese, go ahead if you like. We’re going to grate some on top anyway.
- Scoop the polenta into a large pasta bowl, and lay the fennel on top (or not, if you cut it up).
- Cross another piece of fennel over the top. That’s right, that’s the lawn chair that I was using at my computer station.
- Ladle some of the tomato sauce over the top.
- Then, some of the broken up meat, and then, some more sauce.
- So you’ve got something like this…
- Sprinkle some Pecorino Romano over the top, the thin mandolined strips are fun, but, grated, all good. Parsley, and bada bing, bada boom.
- What’s not to WOW?
Wait! We’re not done yet!
If you decided to make the Gnocchi Model of this recipe, your sauce will be considerably darker at this point, because you used tomato paste instead of the San Marzanos.
If you made the polenta without thinking, just shock it cold and refrigerate. Tomorrow, cut it into squares, dip in flour and fry in the pan for breakfast.
Cook your Gnocchi, if you haven’t already. But, if you HAVE already…
- Gather up your gnocchi…
- and pour some boiling water over them. They are already cooked, we’re just softening them up a bit.
- Drain them well, and strain a little bit of the sauce over them, just to coat, and put them in the bowl.
- Put the shredded Lamb in the middle, sprinkle with the Pecorino Romano, and arrange some little parsley florets.
- You know what’s good with this? A little bit of fresh Mint leaves mixed in with the parsley. Mint is related to Basil (or is it the other way around?), and goes great with Lamb.
- Mint Jelly is probably my LEAST favorite utilization of this wonderful herb.
- To me, this is a beautiful thing.
- and this is that same beautiful thing, up close.
- Couldn’t you just cry? I mean, like, Tears of Joy?