What Is This?

Illustration for article titled What Is This?

The temperature readout is a hint, but here's another: This science-y box will cook meat fully (and deliciously), but it probably won't burn you.

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Serious gastronomes and/or obsessive Top Chef viewers will have nailed this one right away, but that box up there is a thermal immersion circulator, which regulates water temperature for a cooking technique called Sous-vide , which literally translates to "under vacuum."

Illustration for article titled What Is This?


What's special about sous-vide cooking is that it's barely cooking—delicate ingredients, like fish or a tender cut of steak, are vacuum-sealed into bag, then left to sit in a temperature-regulated water bath for hours (Update: Food expert Nick Kokonas has chimed in on the subject: some foods don't take long, some do. Plenty more great info in his comment below.) What makes the technique so strange is that is calls for amazingly low temperatures, in the range of 140 degrees—or about 10 degrees cooler than Mali on a bad day.

If it sounds dangerous, that because it is. Well, it can be: Unless you're a trained expert cooking in sterile, controlled conditions, you run the risk of contaminating your food with Botulism, ruining your diners' meals with symptoms like "diarrhea" and "death." But oh god, when it works, it works. [PolyScience, Douglas Baldwin, BarfBlog]

Taste Test is our weeklong tribute to the leaps that occur when technology meets cuisine, spanning everything from the historic breakthroughs that made food tastier and safer to the Earl-Grey-friendly replicators we impatiently await in the future.

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DISCUSSION

nick-kokonas-old
nick.kokonas

cooking meats, like fish, chicken, beef, only need to be brought to finished cooking temp... which would only take 20 or 30 minutes.

Long slow cooking is used to achieve results more like a pressure cooker or dutch oven — pulled pork, "stewed meat", etc.

The beauty of the method is that you get precisely the cooking temperature you want. Think about it like this: normally, you put chicken in a 350F pan or oven trying to get the middle of the meat to 165F or so. So there is a gradient of finished meat from the middle outward — the surface will be slightly overcooked. Using this method, all of the meat is cooked to precisely the desired finished temp... no gradient. The result is incredibly perfect meat every time with no error.

The downside is no maillard reaction... but that can be easily solved by quickly searing the meat in a pan just before serving.

Finally, while it is great to have an immersion circulator handy, it is not necessary. A foodsaver vacuum sealer and a giant pot of water with a polder digital thermometer do the trick just fine. I use a big pot because it keeps a steadier temp over a low flame.