Brasato al Barolo Sous Vide (Beef Braised in Barolo)

Brasato al Barolo is a classic dish from the Italian region of Piemonte of beef braised in Barolo. Barolo is also known as the king of Italian wine, and is the most important wine from that region. Traditionally a beef roast is first marinated in Barolo with vegetables, herbs, and spices, and then braised on the stovetop with the marinade. This means you will have to tend the braising for several hours, and even if you keep the meat moist, there is a substantial risk that the meat will dry out due to the high cooking temperature. Cooking the meat sous vide means that the total elapsed time will be a lot longer, but the active time you are actually doing something is a lot shorter than the traditional preparation. And if you have insulated your sous vide container, the long cooking does not require a lot of energy.

I’ve already posted a sous vide version of Brasato al Barolo 10 years ago, but I have now updated the recipe with what I’ve learned over the past 10 years. The most important difference is that I now prefer a different time and temperature, but I’ve also replaced marinating the meat (which doesn’t really work anyway) by salting the meat.

Traditional recipes often use techniques that were supposed to have a certain effect, but that we now know are not actually working. The flavors of the vegetables, spices, and herbs, will not actually penetrate into the meat when you marinate it. Just the acid from the wine will enter into the meat and will help to tenderize it, but that is not really needed when we will be cooking the meat sous vide anyway.

As the meat needs to be sliced after cooking, I’ve used a shorter cooking time than I would usually for braising beef, as otherwise it would be impossible to slice it without the meat falling apart.

This dish is served on special occasions in Italy, so it is perfect for the holidays. You can prepare it in advance, and even freeze it. On the day you are serving it, you will only need to reheat it sousvide (which for a large piece of beef could easily take 4 hours, so make sure to check the minimum time needed in the table here), reduce the sauce, and slice and serve.

For the best result use a beef roast with plenty of connective tissue and marbling (intramuscular fat). I used a blade roast, but chuck roast or even brisket could also work. The connective tissue will be transformed from collagen to gelatin due to the low and slow cooking process, and will provide an unctuous texture. The marbling will contribute to that as well. Lean beef can even turn out dry when using sous vide and will not be as flavorful.

It is not required to use an actual Barolo to make this dish (although it would of course be cheating if you are still calling it Brasato al Barolo if it is actually Brasato al Cheap-Supermarket-Merlot. I’ve used a bottle of supermarket Barolo to make this, because it is not worth to use an expensive Barolo, as the beautiful aromas will be lost in the cooking process anyway. When choosing a wine to cook with, it is important to pick a wine with a good taste, because a sour or bitter wine would result in a sour or bitter sauce. This Barolo was quite decent for being 13 euros from the supermarket, perhaps because 2016 was an outstanding vintage. For a good wine pairing it helps if the wine used for the dish is similar to the wine you are going to drink with it.

Ingredients

Serves 4

  • 600-750 grams (1.3-1.6 lbs) beef roast
  • 1/2 bottle Barolo (375 ml)
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 stick celery, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 twig rosemary
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cloves
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • olive oil

Instructions

Season the meat with salt on all sides. Use 1% salt of the weight of the meat, so for instance 7 grams (1 tsp) of salt for 700 grams of beef. Place the roast in a bowl or on a platter, cover, and refrigerate overnight to allow the salt to penetrate into the meat.

After that, pat the roast dry with paper towels.

Sear the meat on all sides over high heat in 3 tablespoons of olive oil. The meat should be nicely browned, as that provides a lot of flavor. (This used to be called “sealing in the juices”, but it doesn’t actually seal in the juices.)

Take the roast out of the pan and place it on a plate. (You will see that juices will run out of the meat, despite having “sealed” it. Add those juices to the sauce later on.)

The drippings in the pan contain a lot of flavor, so do not clean the pan.

Add the chopped carrot, onion, and celery to the pan. Add another tablespoon of olive oil if needed.

Stir the vegetables over medium heat until they are golden. Take care not to burn the drippings in the pan. Add the garlic at the end and make sure the garlic doesn’t brown.

Deglaze the pan with the wine.

Stir and scrape with a wooden spatula to get all of the flavor stuck to the pan into the sauce.

Add cinnamon, cloves, bay leaf, rosemary, and freshly ground black pepper. (You could also use whole black peppercorns, but they are difficult to remove later.) Bring to a boil and simmer until reduced to about a third.

Remove the spices and herbs from the sauce after reducing. It is important to count how many items you added of each type, so you can check the number of removed items to make sure there is nothing left. (In the photo you will see more of everything than in the recipe, because I made a larger batch.)

Puree the sauce with an immersion blender until smooth, after removing the spices and herbs.

If you own a chamber vacuum machine, allow the roast and sauce to cool completely (first to room temperature and then in the refrigerator) before vacuum sealing roast and sauce together. A chamber vacuum machine does allow you to vacuum seal fluids, but only if everything is cold. (This is because at low pressure the boiling point drops, as anyone who has cooked at higher altitudes has noticed.)

With an external vacuum sealer you can only vacuum seal the meat with the sauce by allowing the sauce to freeze first as well as chilling the roast in the refrigerator. As an alternative you can use a ziploc bag and the water displacement method, in which case the roast and the sauce may still be warm when you bag them up..

Cook the roast sous vide for 36 hours at 68C/155F. If you don’t have that much time, you could also go for 18 hours at 74C/165F. (These cooking times are shorter than what I would normally use for a braise, which is 48 hours at 68C/155F or 24 hours at 74C/165F. However, with those time and temperature combinations the meat will become so soft that it would be impossible to slice it nicely.)

Take the roast out of the bag after sous vide cooking and wrap it in aluminum foil to keep it warm. It is even better to place the aluminium-wrapped roast in the oven at around 75C/175F, along with the plates.

Pour the juices from the bag into a wide shallow pan and allow to reduce. For a thicker sauce, you could thicken it with a slurry of cornstarch mixed with an equal amount of cold water before adding it to the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. If the wine you used was too acidic, you could try to fix that with a pinch of sugar. But make sure it is only a small pinch, as you don’t want the sauce to actually taste sweet.

Slice the meat and serve with the sauce on preheated plates. As sides I included cavolo nero (stir fried in olive oil with garlic) and runner beans (stir fried in olive oil after blanching).

Wine pairing

It speaks for itself that a nice Barolo is the ideal pairing for this dish. A Barbaresco or Roero, from the same grape variety Nebbiolo but from areas adjacent to Barolo, would also work. Or another complex full-bodied red wine.

2 thoughts on “Brasato al Barolo Sous Vide (Beef Braised in Barolo)

  1. Love the dish on the rare occasion I seem to eat beef these days and make it rather similarly but enjoying its stovetop aromas. As if I have not shocked you enough shall admit to the occasional 2-litre ‘cask’ from one of my favourite wine cellars . . . *smile(* !!!

    Liked by 1 person

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