It works like this: You put what you want to cook
(and any seasonings you want to flavor it with) in a
plastic bag and vacuum seal it with a pressure machine. You then cook the food at a low temperature,
usually by immersing the bag in lukewarm water. By
cooking it slowly, the food gently comes up to the
proper temperature—yet never goes over it. You can
serve it right away or the bag can be chilled, then reheated right before it’s needed.
So you’ll understand my confusion about that
duck. After all, consider a great steak: Outside it’s
crispy and charred, almost sweet with caramelization.
When you slice it, you notice that right next to that
char, the steak is cooked through; it’s nearly gray and
a little tough. As you move closer and closer to the
middle of the meat, it gets less cooked—more pink,
more tender—until you get to that sweet spot in the
center: medium rare.
That sweet spot is what Barber and others call the
bull’s-eye. With sous vide cooking, the entire steak is
a bull’s-eye. From the outside edge to the very core,
the meat is at the ideal doneness.
And that explains my momentary disorientation.
Barber hadn’t yet seared that duck. It was pink, all the
way through. A perfect bull’s-eye.
WHY IT TASTES GOOD
Sous vide is certainly convenient for chefs. In the
chaos of a restaurant kitchen, they never need worry
if they’re burning the pork roast. Indeed, in 2005 some
of Washington, D.C.’s, top chefs—Michel Richard
of Citronelle, Roberto Donna of Galileo, Todd Gray
of Equinox and Kaz Okochi of Kaz Sushi Bistro, according to a Washington Post article—prepared nine
courses for 400 Katrina survivors in less than an hour
because the food came in vacuum-sealed plastic bags.
But convenience doesn’t necessarily mean ease.
“There’s a painstaking effort to cook like that,” says
Shea Gallante, the chef of Cru in Manhattan. “It’s not
easier by any means. It’s actually more tedious.”
But the return for the hard work is getting a perfect texture and flavor every time. And consistency is
what keeps diners coming back.
Consider the char on that steak. As food-science
writer Harold McGee, the author of On Food and
Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, explains
it: The high heat that created it tightens—almost presses
down on—muscle fibers and pushes out water. (That’s
why when food is overcooked it’s tough and dry.)
“But you’re not just pushing out water,” says Barber. “You’re pushing out water that’s flavored with
pork—it’s pork water. It’s flavor!”
With sous vide, that flavor stays sealed inside the
plastic, protected. And it becomes more intense the
longer it stays there.