A famous dish from the Piemonte region in Italy is Brasato al Barolo, beef braised in Barolo, king of the red wines. Since a bottle of good Barolo does not come cheap, it is good to realize that you can achieve an almost identical result using another wine from Piemonte made from the Nebbiolo grape that is not as expensive. And if you marinate the meat in a ziploc bag rather than in a bowl, you only need half the bottle and can drink the other half with the meat.
For this dish I used a piece of chuck roast. Unfortunately it is next to impossible to find properly marbled beef in this country, as Dutch people only want to eat lean meat. Because of this my previous attempts at making this dish ended up being a bit dry, and I decided to do an experiment to see if cooking this dish sous-vide would work. So I cut up the beef into two pieces and cooked half the conventional way and half sous-vide. Conclusion: sous-vide was slightly better, but using better beef with more marbling is the real key to success here. I cooked sous-vide at 63C/145F to obtain a ‘braised’ texture since that is suitable for this dish. You could of course also cook at 55C/131F to get more of a sous-vide texture, but then it would not be a braised dish anymore. I’m providing recipes with and without sous-vide, so you can try to make this yourself whether you own a sous-vide water bath or not.
The sauce of this dish is very flavorful because of the wine and the spices used.
For 4 servings
500 grams (1.1 lbs) chuck roast
1/2 bottle of nebbiolo based wine from Piemonte
1 celery stalk
1 clove garlic
1 bay leaf
1 stick cinnamon
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 cloves (Dutch: kruidnagels)
2 black pepper corns
2 Tbsp olive oil
20 grams (1 1/2 Tbsp) butter
Chop the carrot, onion, celery and garlic. Put the meat with the wine, the vegetables and the spices into a ziploc bag and marinate for 12-24 hours in the refrigerator.
Brown the meat on all sides in the olive oil and butter. Take the meat out of the pan.
(I’ve cut the meat into two pieces to experiment with sous-vide and conventional preparation, but you can just leave it whole.)
Drain the vegetables and reserve the marinade.
Sauté the vegetables in the fat remaining from browning the meat until they are tender. (Especially when cooking sous-vide it is important to cook the vegetables sufficiently tender, because the temperature at which you will cook sous-vide will not be sufficient to cook the vegetables.)
Add the wine and let bubble just a bit to burn off the alcohol. Season with salt.
For the conventional preparation, return the meat to the pan (here I’ve moved it to a smaller pan), cover and simmer for 2-3 hours over very low heat. After that, take out the meat and keep it warm in a very low oven (75C/165F or less), wrapped in aluminum foil.
For sous-vide preparation, put the meat with the contents of the pan into a zip pouch and seal it using the water replacement method (i.e. submerge the pouch and push out as much air as possible). Cook sous-vide for 3 days (!) at 63C/145F. Put the contents of the pouch into a saucepan, but return the meat to the zip pouch and put it back into the water bath to keep it warm while you are finishing the sauce.
Remove the cinnamon, the bay leaf and the woody part of the rosemary from the sauce.
Puree the sauce. If necessary (especially when cooking sous-vide), simmer the sauce over medium heat to thicken it. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Take the meat out of the aluminum foil or the zip pouch and slice it across the grain.
The beef cooked sous-vide looks more juicy than the meat cooked conventionally, but the color is about the same. The beef cooked sous-vide is also more tender, but the beef cooked conventionally certainly isn’t bad either.
Serve on preheated plates with the sauce.
If you have more sauce than you’d like to serve with the meat, you can cook some pasta and have that with the sauce first as a primo before having the meat as secondo. This is often done in Italy with braised meats. Serve with some freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and chopped parsley. Fusilli are an excellent pasta shape for this, as they absorb the sauce really well. If you like, you can stir a tablespoon of double concentrated tomato paste and a pinch of sugar into the sauce.
It goes without saying that this is excellent with a Barolo or other nebbiolo-based red wine from Piemonte. I used half of a nice Roero from Marco Porello for the marinade, and we had the other half with the dish. The 2008 Roero Torretta was still a bit young, so I’ll wait at least a year before trying the next bottle.