Sous vide faceoff: Corned beef
As I was waiting for my beef brisket to cure for St. Patrick’s Day dinner this year, it occurred to me that I’d never cooked corned beef sous vide. When I tweeted that I was debating the relative merits of sous vide versus traditional stovetop braising, Michael Hay, chef of the Courtyard Restaurant, suggested that I try both and see which one I liked better. A sous vide faceoff? Good idea! Once the brisket was cured, I cut it in half and put one half in the fridge and vacuum-sealed the other half.
The next question was what time and temperature combination to use. Previously, I’ve taken Keller’s approach of 64°C/147°F for 48 hours, but I hadn’t quite gotten the beef in the brine early enough for that to be possible. Consulting a couple of other references, I settled on 66°C/151°F for what ended up being 34 hours. For the conventional piece of beef, I simply simmered it in water with some pickling spice for 3 hours. A little cabbage sautéed in butter and some champ rounded out the meal. (No, we didn’t have any Guinness. We did enjoy an Irish coffee for dessert, though.)
And what was the outcome? The sous vide beef was slightly moister, but the bigger difference was the texture: the conventionally braised brisket was flakier, while the sous vide beef was more steak-like. Moreover, the juices from the sous vide bag were far, far tastier than the cooking liquid from the pot, and made a great condiment for the beef. Although this wasn’t a properly blind test, my preference lay with the sous vide beef. I think I’d prefer it even more at a slightly lower temperature and longer time, though, so I’ll have to plan better next year.