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.
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."
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.