This is point of inquiry for Monday, October 19th, 2015.
Hello and welcome to Point of Inquiry. A production of the Center for Inquiry. I’m your host, Lindsay Beyerstein. And my guest today is Kenji López out, the author of The Food Lab Better Home Cooking Through Science. The New York Times Review cost Kenji the nerd king of Internet cooking. He’s a veteran of Cook’s Illustrated magazine and many restaurant kitchens. The food lab is much more than a cookbook, though. It’s a treatise on scientific thinking in everyday life. How do we know which nuggets of kitchen wisdom are sound? How do we rigorously quantify our tasting pizza? To help answer these questions, can you discuss concepts like control groups, bias and the isolation of variables? Recently on Point of inquiry, John Paul Freeman explained how misfolded proteins cause Parkinson’s disease. Today, Kenji is going to tell us about how protein folding snack foods give us minor catastrophes like Charki poached eggs and broken cheese sauces. Kanji isn’t just a sharp thinker. He’s a great cook and a great teacher. I’ve made dozens of his recipes over the years and every single one of them has worked beautifully. Kenji, welcome to the program.
Thank you. Tell us about your job at Serious Eats and what does that job entail?
Yeah, I’m the managing culinary director at Serious Eats. And, you know, Synesthetes is a website about food. We do a lot of recipes, a lot of home cooking. We also have teachers and guides to eating out in cities. My role here is to manage the cooking at home side of the side. So that’s all the recipe development, taste, test equipment, reviews, things like that.
And in the book, you write about cooking not just as kind of an applied science that’s handed down by diktat, but it is actually kind of a living example of science in action that people can practice in their lives. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Yeah. I mean, you know, I think I think the kitchen is the you know, it’s the place where I think it’s the easiest place. And in your day to day life where you can practice science because. Well, first of all, because you do a lot of sort of repeated tests. And there, you know, most people say make scrambled eggs a couple of times a week. So you do a lot of repeated tests, which means that as long as you’re sort of keeping track of what you’re doing, it’s very easy to do, like very simple science experiments at home, in the kitchen. Also, you know, the the end results are tasty. Usually, if you’re doing it right, the ingredients are inexpensive. And it’s also one of the few places where we we practice some level of precision. You know, most people have measuring cups or a scale thing, things like that in their kitchen, which makes it really easy to do to do science.
You tell your readers at the outset that they shouldn’t trust you. Why not?
I mean, you know, I always tell people don’t don’t trust don’t trust what you read unless it’s backed up by evidence. So the whole point of science is that it’s not a final answer. It’s never you know, you never you can never say anything with 100 percent certainty. And that’s sort of one of the basic principles of science, is that you’re right. You know, it’s it’s a path. And you’re and you’re getting closer and closer to what might be the truth. But, you know, you can never say that. This is the final answer. There’s no more discussion after this. There’s always more information to be discovered, you know, more tests to be done. So even, you know, even even in the book, if I try and explain something to you there, there’s a good chance that there are some factual errors in the book in that, you know, somewhere down the line someone is going to discover them or maybe run some more tests and figure out that, you know, a theory that I had in there that I thought was pretty thoroughly proven is actually false. And that happens with all science.
You’ve changed your mind in the course of your own career as a cooking expert. What are some cherished food beliefs that you’ve given up in the face of disconfirming evidence?
Well, let’s see. So I completely changed the method. I, I boil my eggs multiple to conservatives over the past 10 years or so. Actually, you know, I used to be under the impression that if you if you put your eggs in cold water and put that on the stove and keep them up, that that’s the best way to boil eggs because it heats them up gently. And you could you could be more evenly and you can save yourself from having those sort of rubbery weights and overcooked yolks. Lesser actually maybe like a year and a half ago, I did a bunch of tests for, you know, where I cook a few hundred eggs and I had three different methods. And then I had people peel them without knowing how the eggs were cooked. And then I counted how many of the eggs peeled easily versus with difficult you know, how many of the eggs came out with blemishes or or holes in them. And I discovered that the strongest correlation. And it’s like it’s like night and day that the best way to make sure that your eggs feel well and easily is to start them in boiling water. So and I can now I could my eyes completely the opposite way that I used to lower them into boiling water than what I do that while cooking in boiling water for about 30 seconds. And then I have like a handful of ice cubes to the water just to just to drop the temperature down a little bit so they can finish cooking more gently. So it’s a kind of fast method of making boiled eggs, but you end up with eggs that are perfectly cooked and really easy to peel.
He talk a lot about the idea of biases and the biases that we bring to you, assessing whether we like what we get at the end of these experiments or not. What are some of the biases that people bring to assessing food quality and what are some of the techniques that testers have developed to get around them and compensate for them?
I mean, everybody brings different biases in, and it’s all a lot of it is about how, you know, the way you were raised. So, you know, for instance, people might believe that, like, organic food tastes better than non organic food or that eggs from their their neighbor’s backyard tastes better than the eggs that they buy at the supermarket. And so, you know, sometimes these things are true, but but very often you find that, you know, once you eliminate these biases, once you once you give people a really true blind taste test, that it turns out that a lot of these things that people believe are not necessarily true. For instance, the egg thing. If you give people eggs and you tell them that they were raised by the chickens next door, they’re gonna think those eggs taste better. Whether or not they really were raised that way. And then once you get people to take them blind, it turns out most eggs taste pretty much the same and they’re not really they’re not really distinguishable from each other. And another bias when it comes to eggs is a really strong bias, actually, is color. And people seem to think that, you know, when eggs have a deeper orange color, it also gives them a better flavor. So you can do this test at home, you know, just just if you want if you want to serve your brunch guests the best scrambled eggs they’ve ever had. Just take just out a few drops of orange food coloring for scrambled eggs. And they and they’re going to taste a lot better, you know. And that’s obviously I mean, that’s not so I really think you should do. But, you know, these devices are built in. But it doesn’t mean that they’re not that they’re not real. You know, it’s not like, you know, you do taste things on your tongue and you smell things with your nose. But a lot of what we perceive is insider is inside our heads. And it’s how it’s how we interpret that information. So, you know, just because seeing a darker egg yolk makes it taste better to us. It’s not like that’s a fake thing. You know, it really does taste better to you. It’s not for you perceive on your tongue, but it is something that you perceive in your head. And, you know, and I think that’s actually just as important as what you can. That’s what you can physically taste in your tongue, because nobody nobody goes to a restaurant or eats dinner at home with a blindfold on.
You’re really big on the whole concept of blind tastings and especially issues with controls. Why is a control so important in setting up a good wine tasting?
Well, I mean, any any kind of scientific experiment you need you need a control because you need a baseline to tell you that the experiment is working the way you want it to. So, for instance, if I were to let’s say I was doing a taste test of yogurt from the supermarket. And I have five different brands of yogurt, I want to make sure that the people tasting those yogurts really are thinking critically and are able to actually tell the difference and taste them in a way that is actually effective. So what you would do is you would double up one of the brands. You would you would put the same brand in there twice. And that would you know, that, you know, if it’s the same brand, get sort of similar results and similar notes, that means that people are tasting thoughtfully. But if the results are completely random, well, then you know that maybe all of your results are random.
This is the only cookbook I think that I’ve ever read that has a detailed discussion of the clever Hants phenomenon. What does that teach us about how to set up a rigorous taste test?
Right. So clever. Hun’s was it was the famous counting horse. It was a horse that people believed could do math. And what did she what it teaches you is actually the importance of not just a blind study, but a double blind study. And what, you know, the sort of clever Hines’s that someone would come and ask you, you know what, what is seven plus five? And then he would, you know, tap his foot 12 times. And as it turned out, the horse wasn’t actually doing math. What it was doing was he was taking very, very small visual cues from its trainer. So his trainer would look, you know, a little bit worried. And then once you once he got to the right number, he would give some sort of physical cues and the horse would stop. But what was interesting was that the trainer wasn’t even doing it on purpose. The trainer, the trainer, you know, he was completely out of it. I mean, he thought the horse was doing that, too. But for some reason, you know, his his body motion is something that the horse is picking up on, was giving him those clues. So, you know, that’s the whole point of it, is that when you’re doing a double blind study, you know, when you’re doing a regular blind study means that the testing subjects don’t know what they’re being tested for. But the test administrator doesn’t know what they’re being tested for. So if you’re doing you know, if you want people to test two pizzas side and side by side made two different ways, you have to make sure that the person serving them the pizzas is not going to give them a clue one way or the other, even if it’s a subconscious clue. And that’s the point of a double blind study where the person, the people tasting it are blind and the person administering the test is also blind.
Yes, there’s always the possibility if the test if the person writing the test knows and the people who are testing the food don’t know, the test could suddenly be cueing them to say that one dish was better, according to the testers. Exactly. Exactly.
That’s not that’s also why it’s important. You know, if you want to do a very rigorous test test, that’s that’s why it’s also important to make sure that people are not talking with each other during the tests because, you know, one person making a comment can have a huge influence on the way other people perceive the food.
Can you tell us the story of the great Motorino New York City tap water pizza test?
Yeah. So the idea, you know, and you I’m sure you’ve heard this a lot, people say that, you know, one of the reasons why New York pizza is great is because it’s made with New York City tap water and that you can’t make great New York pizza outside of Burke because you need that tap water. I know there are restaurants. I think there’s one like in Utah. There’s one in San Francisco that actually import bottled New York tap water to make their pizza. So this idea sounded a little crazy to me. So I tested it a few years ago. We did a double blind test. So what I did was I got, you know, the difference between tap waters around the country mostly comes down to the total dissolved solids, the mineral content in them. So I got seven different water, seven different types of water ranging from pure distilled water with no dissolved minerals all the way up to I think that one with the most dissolved solids was never run out of water. Seven thousand bottles of water. I put them into unmarked containers and then passed them to a pizza chef, Matthew Bombino, at Motorino and had him making pizzas out of it. So he didn’t know what water he was using. So so that was the first layer of blindness. And then afterwards, he made pizzas out of them and we served them to a panel of tasters and pastries. Also didn’t know what they were eating. So both the person making the pizza and the people eating the pizza in evaluating them didn’t know. So there are no biases at all. And as it turns out, the you know, the water mix basically no difference at all. It’s a negligible difference compared to all of the other factors that can affect the pizza. And, you know, he was able to make great pizza out of every single water that we gave him, which, you know, I think it’s it’s good in a way, because it shows that people can make great pizza, great near pizza anywhere. I think it’s bad for some people because I think that, you know, it no longer gives you the excuse. You know, you can’t if you make that pizza, you can’t just say, oh, well, because of the water.
And it’s going to put those aspiring entrepreneurs who would just, you know, give you packets of the dissolved solids to use and then send in the mail at his place. Right. Right. Let’s go to put some Pseudo-Science to rest with that one. In the book, you talk a lot about the difference between heat and temperature. How does that play out in the kitchen and sort of practically meaningful ways?
So, again, the difference between energy and temperatures of heat versus temperature, so a lot of people think about the temperature of what they’re cooking things at. But really the important part when it comes to cooking is not specific temperatures, but it’s more about the transfer of energy from one from one place to another. And the way that I mean, for it, for a sort of extreme example of this, if you think of a pot of boiling water, that water is at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. So it’s. It’s at a certain temperature. But there’s a lot of energy in there because water soil is very dense. So that means there are a lot of molecules in there and each one of those has energy. It also has a very high a very high coefficient of heat transfer, which means that the energy inside that water can get transferred to things in the water very effectively. So a pot of boiling water, you stick your hand in it. You burn your hand very quickly at the same time. You can take an oven and set it to 212 degrees. So it’s it’s the same temperature as the water, but there’s much less energy in that oven because air is far less dense and there is also not as effective at transferring energy from one place to another. So so people talk about temperature a lot. But really the important thing is to think to think about is the means by which energy gets transferred from one place to another.
And how is that relevant, say, in selecting a pot or a pan to do a particular job in the kitchen?
Well, yeah. Different different different materials have different properties that that affect the way they transfer energy. So, for instance, aluminum is very efficient that he has a very high coefficient of heat transfer, which means that energy can pass through very quickly. Meanwhile, something like steel or KATHARYN is much lower. But at the same time, aluminum is also less dense than an iron steel. So in a given volume, it won’t be able to hold as much energy. So cans that have a loop, him and them with a very high coefficient of heat, transfer that heat very evenly because, you know, when you when you place it over a burner, the heat from one section of that burner will travel all around the pan and it’ll heat very evenly. On the other hand, as a cast iron pan or steel pan. You develop hot and cold spots on it because it’ll it’ll have a very low coefficient of heat transfer, which means that energy doesn’t travel very quickly from one part of it to another. So then you develop hot and cold spots. So cast iron pan, if you place it over, say, a star shaped burner, it’s going to develop a star shaped pattern of hot and cold spots inside it. So a lot of modern pans. What they do is they’ll combine both materials because, you know, steel is great because it holds a lot of energy for its volume. Aluminum is great because it transfers energy quickly from one place to another. So, you know, like when you hear about a triple cloud 10 or, you know, five ply pan, what is what it is a layer of aluminum or sometimes copper sandwiched between steel and that. And that’s what gives you the best of both worlds. You know, the choice of cooking materials can can have effects when you’re when you’re baking as well. For example, you know, a lot of people use pizza stones. Stone has a it’s not particularly dense and it has a relatively low specific capacity. On the other hand, steel is very dense and it has a high specific heat capacity. So if you have a steel plate inside your of it versus a stone plate, even even given the same temperature, say it’s at 450 or 500 degrees, a steel plate will actually transfer energy much more efficiently to whatever you’re baking on it, which is why now you see a lot of like these, the stones are being replaced like steels.
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This is a very contentious question, I know. But Tom, what have you learned about the best way to get the optimal sear on the outside of a steak when you’re making steak at home? Well, keeping the inside seriously rare. Medium rare.
Well, OK. So when you place a steak or anything in the pan, the number one thing that’s restricting it from Browning is actually not it’s temperature, but its surface moisture. It takes about 500 times more energy to evaporate a gram of water than it does to raise the temperature of that water by one degree Celsius. So when you put it when you put a steak inside a hot pan, the first thing that’s happening is all the energy from the pan is being sucked up in order to just evaporate the surface moisture on that steak. And until that surface moisture has evaporated, you can’t really raise the temperature of the steak above the boiling point of water. So it’s limited to 212 degrees until that surface moisture has evaporated. So really the most efficient way to sear a steak and to get a really nice brown crust on it. It’s not about the temperature, but it’s about the dryness of that crust. So first of all, what would I recommend with steaks is letting them sit uncovered in your refrigerator, at least overnight and after a couple days. And then you sort of develop a really nice dry crust and that’s going to see very quickly.
The other thing I recommend doing is you want to turn them at some point. So a different side is up.
So what I do is I’ll I’ll put them on a unlike a rack, a wire rack set in a they can so that they’re elevated, you know. Yeah. They’ll dry out evenly on all sides. When you do that, you don’t really have the tournament. The other thing I recommend is to actually cook them gently first in a low temperature oven or under the sort of the cooler side of Israel. And that way it cooks very evenly. So, you know, really nice even to center, medium rare. And at the same time, the exterior dries out that way when you go to Syria, fears much faster, much more efficiently, and you can steer it without running the risk of overcooking it.
Can you talk a bit about how they coagulation of proteins enables you to make an optimally gooey mac and cheese? This is the first recipe that I tried from your cookbook and your stovetop. Mac and cheese is outstanding.
Yeah. You know, the trick to making like a really creamy, gooey cheese sauce is I mean, it’s all about emotions. You know, it’s about making sure that the fat, fat elements and the water based elements sort of play nicely together. So when you’re making a cheese sauce, if you try to just melt straight up cheese, it ends up breaking. You find that the fat separates out, it becomes greasy, the perugia’s coagulate very firmly and become very tight. And meanwhile, the moisture evaporates away. So you have these sort of three different elements. So when I make my stovetop mac and cheese, I add basically as many as many emulsifying agents as I can to help it stay really nice and gooey. So I use a combination of cornstarch, which is a physical emulsifier. It it it adds viscosity so that, you know, you’re fat molecules don’t bump into each other quite as much and so they don’t separate into into a layer of oil. I also add extra proteins in the form of evaporated milk. So evaporative milk is milk where basically just the moisture, a lot of the moisture that the water has been taken out and you end up with a really concentrated source of milk proteins, which can help with emulsions as well. And then finally, in that recipe, I also use some egg yolks, which again thicken everything while it does two different things that it can do. And it also adds some lecithin, which is a chemical found in egg yolks and lecithin, is a very, very powerful emulsifier. It’s what you know, it’s what you use to stick in mayonnaise, for example.
A lot of us were taught that in order to get really good Eldon Dontae Parsi had to drop it into a huge amount of fiercely boiling water. But you take a different approach with the mac and cheese. Why do you do that?
Yeah, so I was taught the same thing I was taught. When you’re cooking pasta, you want to start with a huge amount of boiling water, about a gallon per pound of pasta. And, you know, I was told the reason you do that. Well, there’s a couple of reasons. The first one was that a large pot of water will return to a boil faster when you add pasta to it.
And then the other reason was that it helped the pasta to stick less because there’s more room for it to move around. It turns out both both of these things are not true. And you can do this very easily at home. Just get yourself a box of pasta, split it in half, half pound on each side, and then set up a pot with a gallon of boiling water on one side, a pot with a quart of boiling water on the other side, and then drop the glass into them and watch which one returns to a boil faster. And you’ll find that actually the smaller pot returns to a boil faster than the larger pot does. And again, this comes down to understanding how energy works. And when you add when you add your pasta to a pot of boiling water in order for it to return to a boil, the energy you need to add to that, to add to that sort of pot of water and pasta system, is the amount of energy that it takes to take the pasta from room temperature up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. So that’s the same amount of energy regardless of the size of the pot that you’re using.
The smaller part, though, actually has a little bit of an advantage because it has a smaller surface area. So the larger pot is losing a lot of energy to the atmosphere. It’s heating up your kitchen more than the smaller pot is. So it’s not the pot actually returns to oil faster than a large pot does when you add the same amount of. Hostage to it. And then, you know, the final thing is that in either case, so long as you stir a little bit at the beginning. It sticks to itself or sticks to the bottom of the pot. When the searches are still raw. And then when everything’s still raw. As soon as the searches have started to absorb some water and the perkiness started to set, it’s not going to stick anymore. So as long as you stirring it a little bit at the beginning, it’s not going to be a problem.
And as it turns out, you can actually even cook pasta starting in cold water if you put your pasta in a pot of cold water and just throw it on the stovetop.
Heated up, started a couple of times while it’s heating up so it doesn’t stick. At the end of the day, when once you’ve drained it and cooked it, it’s pretty much indistinguishable from pasta that you’ve cooked in a large amount of water. So using a small amount of water, I mean, it saves water, it saves energy, it saves time. Your path to actually even comes out tasting better because you have sort of you know, when you when you when you add your pasta and your sauce together, you’re always told to add a little bit of the pasta water to the US. And the reason you do that is because you’re adding it adds a little bit of starch, which helps the sauce to bind the pasta and cling to it nicely. If you go to an Italian restaurant and I used to work in a restaurant where we had a pasta machine at the beginning of the night, the water is completely clear and it’s really poor at binding sauce and pasta together. By the end of the night, the water is really starchy. So if you’re going to an Italian restaurant, this is actually a trick. Just make sure if you go later in the night, you’re going to get served better pasta than if you go early in the night. And it’s because that pasta water gets starchier as the night goes on. So when you use a small volume of water, you end up with much more concentrated starch in that water. So it makes your pasta actually better as well.
You have a really interesting method for poaching eggs. I used it a lot this summer. I had two root canals and gum surgery and I was eating a lot of soft food. But what makes your a poached egg recipe work so well?
Well, first of all, I don’t want to claim credit for that. It was I thought first Heston Blumenthal from from England, from the fat duck. I saw him do this method first. But the idea is that when you crack open an egg and put it into a bowl and take a look at it. So there’s the obvious two parts of it. There’s the white and the yolk. But if you look more carefully, you see that the white is actually two different parts. There’s that there’s a sort of tightwire that inside a membrane. And then there’s the loose weight, which is sort of the watery white that surrounds it. And as an egg gets older, the ratio of loose weight to take weight changes. You get more and more of that lose weight. And it’s that loose weight that causes problems. That’s the stuff that sort of clouds up your water, makes it a little wispy bits.
Exactly. Exactly. It’s what makes the poached eggs ugly. So what I do is I take the egg and I crack it into a stranger like a fine mesh strainer and just kind of swirl it around a little bit. And you find that the loose weight completely drains away, but the tight weight and the yolk stay. And from there, you can just lower the strainer directly into a pot of water that’s not quite simmering, but you just lower directly in the water, comes up through the strainer and helps set the shape, the shape of that egg so that you can then kind of just very gently tip it out and you end up with the poached eggs that are perfectly shaped every time.
And this eliminates the need to put vinegar in in the cooking water, right?
It does. Yes. You don’t need to pour vinegar vinegar in your poaching liquid. People do it because it helps the egg whites coagulate faster, which is important. If you have that lose weight, you want to coagulate fast so that it doesn’t really have time to spread around. But I find that it actually gives the poached eggs like a sort of chunky texture on the exterior. It makes them quickly, too tightly. So I prefer to use no vinegar at all, just salt in the water and use this method. And you get, I think, a much more tender, better texture at the end when you go to the supermarket and try and buy eggs.
There’s all this verbiage about cage free and free range and omega three. Which of those descriptors are things that we should be paying attention to and which are just promotional?
Well, I mean, I think it really depends on your stance. You know, it depends how much you care about the politics of chickens or how much you buy into the into the health aspects. You know, I tend to try and buy eggs from food. For me, the most important factors that is that the chickens are treated nicely because, you know, the battery commercial egg industry is about as bad as it gets as animal cruelty goes. So I was trained by eggs that are either pasture raised at the very least organic, because it it does guarantee them a little bit more space than than a non nonorganic egg. And, you know, I also try and look for the third party verification that, you know, it will vary from state to state and region to region. The third party is to verify them for humane standards. But, you know, for me, for me, the most important elements are although the ones that guarantee a humane living.
Are there some some, though, that are just total puffery, the salesman that really have nothing to do if you see it on nagu carton, you can just ignore it because it doesn’t guarantee you anything.
Yeah. Yes, but I don’t have. Forgive me if I can’t remember.
So let’s talk about Mommy. What is it? And how do we get more of it in our food.
So mommy is. I mean it’s it’s savoriness. So in the same way that sugar and triggers are sensation, sweetness. That’s sodium chloride triggers our sense of saltiness. Glutamic acid and a couple of other amino acids trigger a sense of savoriness.
Now, this is a literal taste that we have taste buds for.
It is a literal taste. Yes. Yes. It’s something. It’s not just smell.
Yes. It’s not just something in your head. It’s it’s literally something you you taste on your tongue. Yes. And so. Yeah. So it’s you know, it’s what gives a sense of savoriness or Wickens. It gives us a sort of sense of meatiness. So a lot of the recipes in the book I try to you know, I find it’s important to balance or enhance that sense of mommy of savoriness in the same way that it’s important to make sure that acidity and salt and sweetness are all balanced. So there are some ingredients you can use that you can find in the supermarket to sort of manage mommy flavor. I mean, obviously, the easiest one is straight up monosodium glutamate. I don’t really colford in the book because it’s. Well, first of all, because a lot of people are scared, scared by the word.
I have a large container, but I keep it hidden in the cupboard when I use it. If I can put it away and just go over it. I insisted on Parmesan.
But the other thing is that, you know, MSJ, it’s sort of like adding pure salt to your food where it’ll improve the savoriness. But but it’s a very one dimensional savoriness that it’s adding. I prefer to use other sources. Marmite is one. It’s a yeast extract from from the UK Marmite. Soy sauce, fish sauce and anchovies are sort of my four primary. Go to mommy enhancing ingredients so you’ll find I use them either alone or in combination. And a lot of this is like like any kind of chili or stew or meat based braise. You can have a little bit like grind some anchovies into your hamburger if you want to increase the meatiness of them. Yeah. Using all those.
How does this sodium in those snails work along with the MSJ or the MSJ analogs to enhance WAMI since they show.
OK, so the primary thing that triggers our senses, savoriness is glutamic acid and amino acid. But there is also your inner cynic acid, which which helps if they actually work in tandem. And it has a synergistic effect where when you have them both together, it will actually taste even more savory than if you had them individually. And it’s acid. It’s something that you find particularly strongly in cured or preserved fish products. So you’ll find it in anchovies and you’ll find it in fish sauce.
And that’s why, you know, when you when you add if you like, I make my boneyards, which is an Italian recipe, but I add a dash of fish sauce at the end of it. And it doesn’t make it. It’s fishy, but it makes it taste really extra savory.
What his SUV did and why a restaurant chefs and home cooks getting so excited about it.
So severe to them is a method that was developed in the 70s. Originally, it was developed as a means of cooking in commercial kitchens. And the idea is that you place food inside a sealed plastic bag and then you submerge it in a waterbed that’s circulating water that’s held at a very, very precise temperature. And the idea is that you typically you’re gonna be cooking food at the same temperature that you’re gonna be serving. So, for instance, a steak is medium rare at around one hundred and thirty degrees. So when you’re cooking with a traditional method, you’re cooking, you know, you’re cooking it probably in a surface that’s 400 or 500 degrees. And you have a very short window of time between when the steak is perfectly cooked to when it is overcooked. And it’s because you’re cooking at such a high temperature with Sevy, you cook it at exactly 130 degrees.
So basically the window of time from perfectly cooked, overcooked stretches out to infinity. You know, this is very, very difficult to overcook a steak when you’re when you’re cooking at Sufi’s. What would the one big disadvantage of Soviet is that it doesn’t typically you don’t look hot enough to provide any color. The measured reaction. So most foods that you cook SUV after you cook them, you will also sear them in a more traditional way, either, you know, either in the skillet or on a grill. Some people like to cheer with the torch, but but something that will add color and texture to it.
And you don’t need a fancy water circulator at home to do this, right. You can do it in a beer cooler.
Yeah, that’s that’s true. You know, when I started writing the book about five years ago, Holmes, who viewed the SUV devices, cost about a thousand bucks or so, maybe 500 bucks. These days, they’re down to under 200 dollars, you know, which is not to me, it’s about the cost of a really fancy tan, for instance. But but you don’t actually don’t even need a Soviet device for most SUV applications that you can you can cook directly inside a cooler, which, you know, coolers designed to keep things cool, but it’s well insulated. So it also actually keeps things hot, hot things hot. So what you do is you you fill up the cooler with hot water, use a thermometer and adjust the temperature of the coolers that, you know, for instance, if you’re cooking a steak, you fill it up, too, with water to 130 degrees, maybe a couple of degrees hired account for heat loss as it sits. Then you place your meat inside. You close the lid and you just let it sit. And about 45 minutes later, you have like a perfectly cooked steak or chicken breast.
I’ve tried this at home and it really does work. Yeah, it’s fun. You can get your steaks perfectly rare with none of that nasty sort of gray Grady. And so you’re on the outside. What do you say to people like Laura Miller of Salon who say that by focusing so much on these quantitative tested aspects of cuisine that we’re stripping it of its its emotional content or something like that?
I, I think she’s totally wrong. I think I think I mean, I think a lot of people do have this idea that sort of science and, you know, soul or tradition or history are at odds with each other. And I and I completely disagree with that.
And, you know, it is possible to take things to an extreme and to get so caught up with the process that you sort of lose sight of what the dishes. And I think that happens, you know, sometimes in fancy restaurants or maybe in some of the some of the really modern cookbooks, that things get deconstructed so much that they lose sight of what the dish originally was. But so long as you’re careful and respectful of the tradition and the history of the dish, I think it’s very possible to incorporate both. And, you know, science is not like an end. It’s not it’s not an end point. It’s really just a path. And it’s a way it’s a way of understanding how things interact with each other. And the more you understand those things, the more freedom it gives you, you know, to take that path and to enter and to take it to where you want it to lead you. So, yeah, I don’t think they’re at odds with each other at all, really. And, you know, one of the big parameters I had when I was writing this book and any sort of recipe I developed, you know, was the goal with any recipe is never to let the science get in the way of the end result. So if I’m working on a recipe for meatloaf, my first step is always to go and talk to people and really think about what meatloaf means to people. And so I want to make sure that the end result is something that is still very recognizable as meatloaf. So I use the science to try and enhance the meat loaf, Fenice of the meatloaf and not to actually distract from it or change it.
That’s all the time we have. Kenji, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Yeah, of course. Thanks for having me.