Making roast chicken is fun and surprisingly simple. Sure, there are those uncomfortable moments when you find yourself shoving chunks of herb butter under the chicken skin while making awkward Silence of the Lambs serial killer jokes, but that’s an optional step to maximise butter capacity. Generally, the roast chicken is an incredibly easy dish to cook.
The hard part comes when it’s time to stop the cooking. Just about everyone who’s ever prepared chicken has experienced that brief moment of panicked indecision over when to remove it from the heat. Overcook it and you’ve got a dry, stringy mouthful of something more akin to paper than poultry. Undercook it and say hello to salmonella and A&E. It’s a classic cooking conundrum – how do you accurately cook food to the correct temperature?
Enter sous-vide, a method of heating food within a water bath machine calibrated to an exact temperature: imagine a sleek silver appliance that prepares the ideal medium-rare steak every time with the press of a button. It may sound like space age science-fiction, but sous-vide cooking works by encasing food in vacuum sealed plastic bags which are then submerged in a precisely regulated ‘water oven’. The result is a steak heated exactly up to, but never over the temperature for medium-rare, even if you leave it in the cooker for hours.
Up until now, this futuristic technique existed primarily in the kitchens of famously creative chefs such as Heston Blumenthal and Thomas Keller, whose Michelin-starred restaurants push the boundaries of what we recognise as ‘cooking.’ These exploratory chefs have experimented with sous-vide to cook everything from vegetables to fish to, apparently, entire pigs in hot tubs, because they are gastronomic food geek-geniuses as well as debatably sane.