Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hacked Sous Vide Lamb Rack [Zack]

Wowee does that title rhyme. 

I normally try to post my own recipes on this website. This is a case where I shamelessly stole from my favorite food writer Kenji Lopez. Since he's a genius and I'm developing a man-crush on him, I decided to try his method to replicate the sous vide process. Even though I have a lot of kitchen tools, I don't own a sous vide machine yet, so I called up my buddy Sven and we used his beer cooler instead.

I've always wanted to try sous vide cooking from the moment I went to Per Se with Lauren. That meal was the first time either of us had had sous vide meat before and it really blew us away. It was so tender and perfectly cooked!

I bet right now you're thinking: why would someone pay $500 to put some vacuum-sealed food into a temperature-controlled water bath? If you have been to a fancy restaurant before and have wondered how the heck your steak so tender and how it's cooked so perfectly on the inside, the answer is probably sous vide.

In short, the process allows you to cook your food to the perfect desired temperature (i.e. if you want a medium-rare steak to be 135F, you cook it in 135F water so it doesn't over-cook). Then you can take it out of the bag, sear the steak on both sides for some caramelization, and proceed to amaze your guests. Some people even claim that it will save you money in the long-term because you can buy less expensive cuts of meat and cook them in your machine to make them heavenly. I don't believe that though :).

If you have wanted to try to cook sous vide, this recipe and process is the poor man's version. You won't get the pin-point accuracy of the machine, but you'll get very very close. This was hands-down the best lamb I've ever cooked and it was also the most fun way to cook it.

If you want to study the master, here is Kenji's link on cracking sous vide cooking.


I suggest doing 2 full racks of lamb ribs if you are going through the trouble. I bought 2 racks from my local butcher and sliced them in half so I could have separate servings prepared. Make sure you take your lamb out of the fridge 45 minutes before you submerge it in the water bath so it comes to room temperature and therefore cooks more efficiently.

Prepare the shallots by slicing them. Peel your garlic, ready your rosemary, and divide up the ingredients between four 1 gallon-sized ziploc bags. Add one portion of lamb ribs to each bag and ½ T of olive oil. 

Here is the tricky part: boil a few pots of water so they reach 140F. We had to guess how much heat we would lose by pouring the water into the water cooler and also how much it would cool down sitting in the cooler for 1.5 hours. We started with water at 140F and it ended at 130 right on the nose.  We guessed perfectly!

Since you want to get all of the air out of the bags so the meat has maximum contact with the water, you should keep the tops open and slowly submerge the bottom of the bag so the water displaces the air. Seal at the top right before the water rushes in.

Do this to all 4 bags and submerge them in the water. They shouldn't float if you've done this correctly. Cover the cooler back up and make sure the lid is tightly closed.  I let the lamb cook for 1.5 hours in the water and did something else (AKA had a beer).

Pull out one bag and test the internal temperature. I wanted mine right at 130F (which non-coincidentally the same temperature that the water ended up at the end). It was spot-on.

Place it back in the bag and then back into the water until you have your finishing heat source ready to go. Fire up the grill or to heat up a pan with some oil to medium-high.

Your next mission is to brown the outside of the meat without cooking the inside any further. Since the inside is perfectly cooked already, we want to sear the outside as quickly as possible. Brown all 4 sides on your hot grill until they have a nice color.

My partner in cooking crime Sven is finishing the racks off on the grill.

Let the meat rest for 5-10 minutes, slice between the bones, and arrange them artistically! 

Since you are cooking a lot at once, I suggest saving the lamb you don't want to eat immediately in the fridge for a day or 2. When you want to finish off the left-over portions, heat up a pot full of water to 130F, take it off of the heat, and submerge for 30 minutes. Then repeat the browning process.

2 shallots:
3 cloves of garlic
4 fresh rosemary sprigs (or thyme or even tarragon)
2T olive oil
2 lamb racks, bone in, fat mostly cleaned up.
You'll also need a large beer cooler and some zip-loc bags.

Song to sous vide to:  James Brown - The Payback


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