The first time I ever used my immersion circulator- I was given a huge chunk of beef brisket. It was definitely not number one(or top 5, for that matter) on my list of things to sous-vide. Why? Because there is a lot of conflicting information and debate over the temperatures and times used for beef brisket. Why? Because brisket contains alot of collagen and elastin(More on that later). The two basic trains of thought for cooking brisket sous vide is as follows, low and very slow, which I had gone for, or high and (relatively) faster. Baldwind tables provide 2 choices:
-57C for 36-48h
-80C for 24-36h
-Keller uses 64C for 48h
-Egullet members and various blogs mention 55C for 48h
I didn’t give it much thought as I hadn’t cooked brisket sous-vide prior to this, so I went with the lowest and slowest option.
Preparation was simple enough, Brine meat in a 4% Salt, 3% Sugar, teaspoon of Liquid Smoke solution for 2.5 Hours.
Remove and pat dry, sear fat cap with a blowtorch to render some fat (To flavour the meat as it cooks)
-Season one piece with salt, pepper and a touch of garlic powder and vacuum seal, season the other piece with salt and pepper, vacuum seal with duck fat
-Cook at 55C for 48h
-Remove both bags, plunge the brisket with duck fat into ice water, immediately freeze (I have not eaten this)
-Remove the other brisket, cut off fat cap(very chewy), and sear on both sides
I am a safety hazard to everyone in the house
Positives: Meat had a nice doneness, I expected it to be in the Rare to Medium-rare region, but it felt like it was more between the Medium-Rare to Medium region. The liquid smoke really added a nice smoky depth of flavour to the meat, have to go easy on using it. I think the brine added enough seasoning to the meat for my palate. Also, the immersion circulator is so much more powerful than the PID+Rice cooker combo, its ridiculous. I turned away for about a minute or so and the temperature had already gone up by about 10C, the rice cooker used to go up in 0.1C increments
Negatives: There was a lot of connective tissue present in the meat. The meat itself was nicely cooked, but the elastic tissue held the meat together and made it very tough. The meat was also fairly dry, it wasnt completely dried out, but it wasn’t as moist as I would have hoped for. So what went wrong?
Thoughts: After probing around for answers, I discovered that the elastic tissue that holds the meat together are elastin, and collagen. Elastin needs to be physically destroyed (pounding or grinding), whereas collagen will melt as it is heated, and it begins melting at a temperature of 55C. Based on this, my theories were: 1) That was a cheap cut of beef(US$16 for the whole slab), with more elastin than a normal cut of brisket 2) The brisket wasn’t cooked long enough at 55C, or the temperature wasn’t high enough for the collagen to fully melt, or a combination of both. Taking whatever information and theories I had, I went over to egullet to seek help, the replies I got:
“Keep in mind that the speed at which the reaction happens is temperature dependent. The lower the temperature, the longer it takes. Probably, you needed to could it longer. I would recommend cooking at 56 or 57 celsius — at 48 hours it should be fork tender.
Also, you should trim all the excess fat you can before cooking. It won’t render at these temperatures. “The flat” part of a brisket has very little interior marbling unless you use Wagyu beef or a very high-quality brisket. A lot of butchers only carry the middle unmarbled section. Such meat will become tender when cooked long enough BUT it will also seem somewhat dry. Part of a brisket has a lot of interior marbling and gives much nicer results sous-vide — although that part of a brisket also has parts that are so fatty that they really are best chopped up after cooking and used for making hash the next day.
All that being said, brisket is very hit & miss because the quality of briskets seems to vary a lot even from the same purveyor. I also personally feel that the best briskets while very nice are not nearly as delectable as sous-vide short ribs at the same temperature. I have never had a dinner guest do anything but rave about short ribs and how amazing they are. The best briskets that I have done people have liked quite a bit but they don’t beg me to cook it again like they do with short ribs.”
“I had the same brisket-flop last Xmas (Frank Hsu quoted me in this blog ), and I also suspect I had a cut of “brisket” that was not beef breast but some other cut containing more elastin than collagen (which according to Douglas Baldwin occurs in some muscles in the rump). Since then I always look for a cut which has obviously been cut from the ribs, i.e. I can see the intercostal muscles. Apart from this flop, my briskets 55°C/48h always were fork-tender and succulent. I have no experience with short ribs.
My other preferred cuts are “brisket” from veal 55°C/24h, veal shoulder 55°C/5h (16h was too much, falling apart), beef shoulder 55°C/50h, which all came out even more tender than brisket.”
Conclusion: The next time I decide to have the other brisket sitting in the freezer, I’ll let it reheat/cook at 57C for another 24 hours, it’s probably going to be very dry, but it’d be interesting to note if the extra 24h at a slightly higher temperature has any effect on the collagen of the meat.