Monday, June 13, 2011

Möbius Steak: Accepting Delicious Defeat

I didn't fail the test. I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.

— Ben Franklin

Not everything goes as planned. You study something, follow the directions, and you find your end product is a total flop. I always think it important to refer to them as "learning experiences" and to try and find something positive despite the lack of success.

Do you recognize this formula?
x(u,v) = (1 + .5v cos .5u) cos u
y(u,v) = (1 + .5v cos .5u) sin u
z(u,v) = .5v sin .5u
where 0 ≤ u < 2π and −1 ≤ v ≤ 1
Probably not. It's a means of representing a möbius strip. I love the concept of the möbius strip so much that my thesis for my master's in music composition was titled "Möbius". The fact that you can trace a path and end up on the opposite side amazes me. Absolutely amazes me. Want to know what's even crazier? When you divide a möbius strip. You would think that if you divided it in half you would end up with two, but that's not the case. (You end up with a larger loop with two twists!) Dividing the strip off center gives you a small möbius strip and a larger loop with an extra twist, interlocked. I was watching this video on Youtube by the ever amazing Vi Hart and was struck with what I believed to be an amazing idea. Mixing science and cooking got me thinking that to involve some mathematical concepts would be a lot of fun. This question came to mind almost immediately:

Why not make a möbius strip out of meat?

The awesome folks over at RareCuts still had a solid supply of meat glue, so I thought it might be fun to give it a go. I picked up some flank steak from there, since it was a nice long cut, and went about trimming and fashioning the shape I needed.

I trimmed the meat to a nice long strip and beveled the ends that would be connected. Next I sprinkled on some of the transglutaminase, then pressed the ends together. (Almost immediately you can feel the bond being created.) Next I wrapped it in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to set overnight.

My plan was to sear it (remember, it only has one side!) in a hot pan with some butter ...

... but as soon as it hit the pan the bond broke. Someone informed me that flank steak has large muscle fibers that swell when cooked. Even if it had a good bond, when the muscle fibers swelled it just tore apart the bond, much like Chris Farley putting on a little coat and flexing.

Not to be deterred, I thought I'd give it another shot with some of these skirt steaks I got from RareCuts. (Note, the pictures below are made up of a combination of two different pieces of skirt steak. I had the same results with both pieces, so I pick and chose the photos that showed each step best.)

Trimmed, glued, sealed. (Note the glove: transglutaminase can be sticky.) I had two skirt steaks to try out. I was thinking that maybe some added pressure would help make a stronger bond; sadly, I ran out bags for my vacuum sealer so some Ziploc bags with a weight on top would have to do for now.

After a day, I rubbed them with some salt and the same herbs de Provence blend I used for the meat sphere. I used some olive oil I had that infused with cardamom, lavender, and juniper.

Skirt steaks don't need a lot of time cooking, which I thought would be perfect for this. A dry rub and a quick sear was all this tasty little piece of meat needed. Now, since the möbius strip has only one side, if I continued to rotate it around then I would have theoretically seared all sides. Since it's thin this was actually really easy to do. (Cue foreboding music; you can see one of them starting to come apart, right near the pan.)

And it held! Or at least I thought. The minute I started to divide the möbius strip, the bond began to fall apart.

In an effort to still demonstrate the results of dividing a möbius strip made of meat I forced a bond: let's say it was with something inedible that was later discarded along with the meat pieces of meat it was touching. I think that bond might've held had I put more pressure at the site of the bond by vacuum packing the cut of meat, but I couldn't afford to keep trying this. After three attempts (one flank steak, two skirt steaks), I decided to put this one to rest with an assumption that I could possibly do this if I were to give it another try.

I always try and take a lesson from my failures and if anything the only thing I learned was that I can be extremely stubborn. And that skirt steak is amazing. Determined to find another interesting use for the transglutaminase, I persevered through more failure, then turned my gaze to seafood ...

... to be continued.


  1. Hahaha. Onion, you crack me up. You need to bring more of your experiments to work. ;-)

  2. Great post! I love how you used math and food - little sad it didn't work, next time!!

  3. Good stuff bruddah, I like the concept and narration of learning from the mistakes. Cooking the möbius in a "sous vide" fashion, using the oven and water bath might work, then searing only for color and taste as opposed to internal temperature. Stop by the restaurant when you get a chance. Cheers!

  4. Ha! What an awesome idea! Too bad it wasn't fully successful, but you get an A for effort :) I really want to see that transglutaminase in action- you should take a video.

    What's next? Pi out of pie?

  5. Just cut it out of a larger meat block in one piece, i suppose?

  6. The second I read Möbius Steak and transglutaminase I knew exactly what your trying to do. Brilliant idea! I know you don't consider it a success but this opens a whole new can of whoopass!

  7. Even if it worked, you'd have to contrive a new cooking method as so many require flipping from side to side. The topology of such a steak would be highly inconvenient!

  8. The way I tried to cook this was to basically set it in the pan and rotate the strip around. I know that doesn't make sense, but if you make a strip out of paper and press down on it loosely with your finger onto a table top, you can pull it along so eventually the entire strip has touched the table.

    Someone also suggested cooking it sous vide, but I would still have needed to sear it. Since this was a skirt steak, all it really needed was a sear so this worked fine, I suppose.

  9. Chef and IT guru by day Hip-Hop artist at night: Mobius the Shepherd of the group Thought Process releases a new video from his solo album "Anamorphism" video here!
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  10. Wow, this sounds yummy, you crack me up! please bring more of your experiments:)

  11. Could you sear the steak first then "glue it" then sous vide to rewarm?