Bury the tomahawk

Hosting a sous vide FB Group provides defacto insight into sous vide enthusiasts’ interests. It’s no surprise that steaks rank among the most popular treatments. I avoid reminding people that tender cuts of beef are not the greatest beneficiaries of sous vide processing. After all, tenderization is rarely required, so conversion of collagen to gelatin is unnecessary. Most steaks are not processed with the intention of pasteurization and/or preservation.

The only reason left to sous vide process a steak is to create the uniform appearance of doneness. Don’t get me wrong. That effect in itself has come to convert even the most stubborn of skeptics. I always aspire that their curiosity will thereby be stimulated, causing them to explore the more nuanced assets of the methodology.

With age (and dyspnea), I have learned not to weigh in every time I have an opinion, but I have yet another cross to bear when it comes to cooking steaks. A cross made of calcium, as it were–the so-called “bone-in rib eye,” and its even more so colloquially coined sidekick, the “tomahawk steak.”

The ultimate hatchet job

Without even engaging them in conversation, I am fairly certain that most enthusiasts assume that a steak with the bone attached is superior to one that has no bone–and that the flavor of the steak benefits from the presence of the bone. I know people believe this, I know people WHO believe this, and I know people will continue to believe this. Unfortunately, not only is there no science to back this up, there is strong scientific evidence to contradict it. There is a barrier of connective collagenous tissue between the meat and the bone that is at least as impenetrable as the tightly wound surface of the meat itself. We discuss at length HERE.

We go into even greater detail on the subject HERE.  The bone itself is heat resistant, as it was designed to be. The marrow inside is tightly sealed away from any possibility of seeping through the non-porous calcium barrier, the gristly collagen and then into the meat. By the way, meat responds to exposure to heat by EMITTING substances, not ABSORBING them–even salt and smoke. I keep bandaids around for when my lip starts to bleed.

The Mediocre Lieutenant

I’ve been colleaguing with some French chefs on line recently. Those guys are way past my pay grade. One of the more gregarious Franco-modernists joined our SVR group a while back; on a lark, I suppose. I suspect he invited me to join his corresponding group as an indulgent courtesy. I have no illusions about performing on the same level as these fellows.

Their training alone far exceeds the culinary experience that most American chefs acquire in an entire career. In France, you see, being a restaurant chef or even a restaurant server is considered a PROFESSION that benefits from formal training. Here in the States, it’s something that people gravitate to after they have dropped out of college and failed to acquire a skill like carpentry or data entry. The domain of single mothers and failed musicians. And writers.

A steak through the heart

Foreign trained chefs serve steaks, rib eyes, New Yorks, filets etc, but lean away from that American style “slab on a bigger slab” look unless they are catering to the “same as it ever was” steak-house enclave. Left to their own devices they are much more likely to serve a smaller portion as part of a multi-course experience. Devoted consideration is given to artistic element. For these “forward looking” chefs, a rib eye is a cut of meat, not a shape. This makes Americans suspicious.

We Americans suspect fraud unless our steak arrives to the table looking like it was forcibly hacked off of a steer whose escape from barbed wire confinement was narrowly and dramatically thwarted by a lasso-wielding cowboy just outside of some West Texas town.

Looky here, Pilgrim

For us Nebraskans, if it doesn’t LOOK like a rib eye, how do we know that it really IS a rib eye? I mean, if I’m paying rib eye PRICES, I want to see a rib eye STEAK. Again, the indulgent but tight lipped explanation is that “the price is not based on the cost/lb of the piece of meat, or even its size. It’s not about how expensive it is. It’s not about how big it is. It’s about how DESIRABLE it is.” Sadly, this just sounds like a come-on to most Americans. What? The French want us to TRUST them?

Even so

I decided to buy an entire “prime rib,” which, as you can tell by the quotation marks is a misnomer. It is not usually prime grade, there just isn’t enough prime to go around. There are ribs IN it, but the meat far outweighs the bones. Even so, it is from the front quarter of the steer/heifer, proceeding from the shoulder to approximately half way down the bovine spine. All of those rib bones connect to the sternum–the tomahawk steak is simply a rib eye with all that extra bone still attached.

If that handy-handle tomahawk bone had been cut off, and the meat left on it, we would call it a beef “short rib,” another misnomer. I have great admiration for the think tank that figured out a way to get us to pay rib eye prices for stripped bone. That is true genius, characteristic and perhaps even unique to American merchandising. I said it was brilliant; I didn’t say I would buy one and brandish it in my back yard BBQ selfie.

Get along, little doagie

Once we get past the 7th bone we start calling that longissmus muscle a New York/Striploin/Kansas City steak, etc. By then, the abbreviated, pin-like rib bones display benignly in T-bones and Porterhouses. For a more detailed explanation of this, click HERE.

When butchers cut bone-in rib eyes, they use a mechanical band saw and usually cut to somewhere between 18-24 oz, 500-675 g. Otherwise, if you cut one bone to one steak, your sections are going to be closer to 3 lb/1400 g. And that’s what we did. And there’s a reason. Actually, two reasons. I don’t have a band saw. Additionally, steak lovers love their steaks THICK. We will also embrace beef sliced thin if it was at least CARVED from a big thick steak/roast.

If you want a thick steak, a filet/tenderloin is usually your best bet. Men consider filets to be somehow unmanly, who knows why. Butch just can’t bring himself to order a “petite filet.” And you’re not going to see a bone-in tenderloin, either, not bloody likely. This creates a problem.

Ride’em, Cowboy

While we carnivorous cowpokes like the idea of the bone-in rib eye, even a relatively heavy one is not going to be very thick–same thing with Porterhouses. So.

We are going to abandon our steadfast fixation on appearance driven anatomical accuracy and replace it with a thick steak that has the texture of a rib eye but whose shape shall be determined as needed. That’s job one, as they say. We’re going to explore some other alternatives too.

That dirty word, evolution

Below: 129 F/54 C X 6 hours.

I have just enough training to know that scientists cringe at what most people consider to be an “experiment.” For most of us, an experiment is doing something without knowing what the results will be. By that definition, almost anything can qualify as an experiment. If you wear a watch, walk around your home in the pitch dark middle of the night and note the time whenever you stub your toe, is that an experiment to determine the statistical likelihood of wishing you had turned on the light?

A real scientific experiment requires precision and control. It cannot depend on your subjective sense of vision, taste and smell to determine success, failure or puzzle. If you believe it will taste good, if you want it to taste good–it will most likely taste good.

We are not conducting sous vide/culinary experiments. In the FB group alone, we have a database of thousands of sous vide demonstrations, complete with pictures and recipes. We have access to scientifically established time and temperature guidelines as per Baldwin. We have resources like HACCP and the USDA which have sous vide pretty well nailed down in terms of safety. We are not really breaking new ground here. What we are doing is tinkering. Tweaking to meet our preferences. We are not attempting to detect the presence of radium. We are conducting repetitive investigative exercises.

In the picture above, we took apart the sous vide processed 3 lb/1400 g rib eye in an effort to introduce something new and exciting. Wait, let’s moderate our expectations a bit. Maybe we should just try to create something that will pass muster if served without charge to our adoring friends.

Well, sort of

The round piece in the middle could easily be mistaken for a filet, so that’s pretty straightforward in terms of appearance. The two curved strips at the 9 o’clock and 11 o’clock positions are the spinalis dorsi muscle, which most rib eye aficionados recognize as being shapeless but outstanding in texture and flavor. The two smaller pieces on the right are the gristly tail and trim pieces, which rib eye fanatics scarf without hesitation but would be difficult to otherwise “market.” That leaves the bone, but don’t lick your chops yet.

The meat around that bone is not the same as the meat of which the steak is composed. If you are the kind of person who brings your steak knife with you when you go to a restaurant, you may manage to rip and tear at this with a certain degree of success. If calmer heads prevail, this bone gets re-packaged and goes back into the tank for another 24 hours at 140 F/60 C to achieve the expected degree of tenderness.

Later that same week

We processed this one a little higher. Rib eyes respond well to a little extra heat, 134 F/57 C X 6 hours.

Counter shocked, bone and trim staged out…three thick blocks, steak looking-ish.


Cast iron seared at 500 F/260 C until well marked, and still four minutes in the hot oven…

You can see that the steaks are thick–thick enough to be marked on all sides…mission accomplished…

All around goodness.


Mo’ Money

Waiting for Gordo

Chef does not live by sous vide alone. I was buried in the industry long before I stumbled backwards into sous vide. So, while we wait, we make other things.

“Back in the day,” we never dared think of roasting vegetables instead of boiling them like laundry. I seem to remember not even believing that vegetables like cauliflower would cook without the hot hot bath.

Cut to desired shapes, toss with some vegetable oil and seasonings, I just used the rub. Spread out one layer only on a sheet pan lined with parchment and roast away, 350 F+/176 C+. Don’t open the oven for half an hour. Start pulling vegetables as they get brown. Cauliflower goes quick. Most of the roots go at pretty much the same speed. Potatoes usually take the longest.

I separate the carrots and sweet potatoes after roasting so I can drizzle with a little sweet–maple syrup in this case. Some guys even use 7-Up. Hack.

Above–the celery heart that everybody throws away. Remove the tough outer stalks, cut into quarters, almost kind of an artichoke looking thing.

Parsley. It’s a thing.

Smoke’em if you got’em

After processing at 129 F/54 C for six hours, this 1500 g behemoth was staged on the counter for half an hour while I put some other details together. Some people are anxious to rush through the staging process from bath to pan for fear of some exotic form of pathogenic or autolytic catastrophe. At this point, you have at least two hours without violating guideline. Relax. Season with a blend, your blend, my blend, the blend on the shelf in the market, salt and pepper, it all works. The seasoning will not affect the results of our “experiment.”

For those who measure, most chefs aim at applying about 2 teaspoons of salt per lb/450 g.

Applying a thin coating of oil (or cooking spray) helps secure the seasoning to the steak when it hits the pan. Putting oil in a hot pan can cause the oil to burn in a matter of moments, so that is another good reason to do this. Yes, both sides.

Fire in the hole

Searing is very subjective. For this model, I used a cast iron broiler griddle that I pre-heated in a 500 F/260 C oven. I carefully pulled the griddle out and put it on the cranked induction burners and seared about two minutes on each side–the larger the piece of meat, the more tolerant it will be to the application of heat without exceeding the original target temperature. Even then, I returned the steak to the 500 F/260 C oven for another 7 minutes to make sure we had mouth hot everywhere. Okay, how to serve? Family style? Grip and rip? Plated for your dinner guests?  Read on.

You’ll never see this in London

Again, RELAX. The steak/roast just came out of the oven and it’s going to be hot and hard to handle. Run your knife over the steel, take a deep breath, make sure the dog isn’t underfoot.

Have fun with it.




Over the topitude.

Norm King