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Why didn't this recipe work?

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7 replies to this topic

#1 lutefisk

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Posted 17 November 2009 - 09:25 PM

Hi folks. I tried to make this recipe tonight and I'm stumped as to what went wrong. A friend of mine has made it many times before (and, in fact, was making it simultaneously tonight 200 miles away) and I've eaten it so I know it works and what it should be like.

I did everything the same (except, as my friend has done many times, added the onions to the package). Usually, when he makes it, the whole apartment starts smelling really good; mine never did. When I took it out 4 hours later, the meat was still tough and the onions not fully cooked. He says that, when he makes it, it's already falling apart after about 2.5 hours.

Ok, so, it didn't cook long enough. What's baffling me is: Why? Afterward, I checked the oven temperature with a thermometer and it was reading about 245 degrees (with the oven set at 250). Seems close enough to me that it wouldn't make hours of difference.

Is it possible that I packed the meat in too tightly? Or could my using a double layer of foil keep heat out?

So baffled. Any ideas what happened?

#2 Smithy

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Posted 17 November 2009 - 09:41 PM

I have a bunch of ideas but no solid information. I suspect that you either (a) use gear that slows down the heat transfer or (b) have a cooler oven or © use a cooler place in said oven. For instance: do you put the assembled package in the same place in the oven as your friend does? My oven has a measurable temperature difference between the top and bottom rack locations. I have also observed a difference in the results of braising short ribs in a lightweight pan (regardless of whether the package is wrapped in foil) versus a heavyweight pan, on the same rack. What differences in gear, or in gear positioning, might there be between your setup and your friend's setup?

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
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"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

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#3 djyee100

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Posted 17 November 2009 - 11:00 PM

What kind of pan did you cook it in? Metal? Earthenware? What kind of pan does your friend use?

#4 sheetz

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Posted 18 November 2009 - 03:23 AM

Have you ever watched your friend make it? Or watched the program?

I haven't seen the program, but it sounds like you would want the meat in a single layer so that the heat is evenly distributed. If you packed the meat in a huge lump then it would take a lot longer to cook.

ETA: The episode with this recipe is on Youtube.

Pt 1:
Pt 2:

I noticed that it's slightly different than the written recipe.

Edited by sheetz, 18 November 2009 - 03:42 AM.

#5 scott123

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Posted 18 November 2009 - 04:58 AM

Besides finding out what kind of pan (material and size) your friend uses (both for browning and for braising), I would also suggest finding out how dark they brown it. His browning process might be cooking the meat further.

For instance, preheating a massive cast iron griddle until it's almost red hot and browning the meat to a dark brown on all sides in two batches will produce an ENTIRELY different product than preheating a non stick aluminum pan and tossing all the meat in at once and cooking it until it's a greyish brown.

I would also confirm the thickness of rib he's using. English-cut short ribs, depending on how the butcher cuts them, can vary in thickness. The thicker the rib, the longer they take to cook.

It also might be worth comparing fridge temps. If your fridge is colder, then that will prolong the cooking time.

Two layers of aluminum will create an air pocket, albeit a small one. Air is an insulator.

Gas oven? Electric?

Other than thermodynamics, I think biology could be playing a role. Most of the time, short ribs have fantastic marbling (probably the best in the entire animal), but I have seen short ribs that were so marbled they look like pale pink Kobe (drool!) while other times the fat distribution wasn't quite so gorgeous. If your ribs aren't as marbled as your friend's, they will both take longer to get tender and the end result won't be as tender overall. When marbling is compromised, even if you cook the living daylights out of it, it will never have the same succulence as it's marbled brethren.

Onions can vary in quality as well. I'm not sure how often you cook with onions, but, in the last 7 years, onions have taken a nose dive in quality. The trend has been towards a tough/fibrous/flavorless onion that takes longer and longer to cook properly/soften. I sweat onions for hours on end to get them soft, and frequently they never soften completely and I have to hand blend them. As far as agricultural trends go, it's one of the most depressing (on par with breeding leaner livestock).

Vidalia onions will soften, but, when slow cooked, they offer almost no flavor. Sweet onions have no cohones. An onion that has flavor when slowed cooked should make you cry when you cut it. Not crying when I cut onions makes me want to cry.

It's possible that your friend lives somewhere where the onions are better (are they typical California supermarket yellow onions?) or maybe he's just lucky. I know, for a fact, that here in NJ, onions are total garbage.

Btw, acids (vinegar) prevent vegetables from softening. If you're already starting with a potentially hard fibrous onion, cooking it with the vinegar in the pouch liquid is pretty much the kiss of death.

#6 HungryC

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Posted 18 November 2009 - 07:48 AM

Another factor to consider: what temp was the meat when you put it into the oven? Some cooks allow it an hour or two on the counter at cool room temp to take the chill off. If your short ribs were very, very cold or even still partially frozen, it could dramatically extend cooking time (since you're cooking at such a low temp).

#7 lutefisk

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Posted 18 November 2009 - 07:56 PM

Thanks. All good points. I'm still not sure exactly which is right, but I'm not feeling quite so much like nothing makes sense in this crazy universe.

#8 mgaretz

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Posted 18 November 2009 - 08:05 PM

You calibrated your oven, but how about his? Maybe his is running way hotter than yours and he doesn't know it.