Does Ruth’s Chris Sous Vide?

Ruth Reichl was not always a food writer. In fact, she was working as a reporter for The New York Times when she first heard about sous-vide cooking — or “cooking vacuum sealed” — on an NPR show called On Being. It sounded like some kind of cult thing.

But after she tried it at home with duck confit, Reichl knew this wasn’t just any trend. She had found her calling.


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Anova Culinary AN400-US00 Nano Sous Vide Precision Cooker, 12.8" x 2.2" x 4.1", Black
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Anova Culinary ANVS01-US00 Anova Precision Vacuum Sealer, Includes 10 Precut Bags, For Sous Vide and Food Storage
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Her book Délicieuse won praise from critics and fans alike for its approach to recipes that are both innovative and accessible.

And now, Reichl has turned her attention to another area of culinary inspiration — using science to find new ways to cook delicious dishes.

Her latest project is Ruth’s Chris Steak House, which opened in 2016. It sold out within hours of opening.

In order to get such coveted meat cut into perfectly medium rare steaks, Reichl says she needed to explore all sorts of variables, from temperature to time.

That meant testing multiple methods beyond what you might expect in most restaurants.

For example, cooks generally use a steak house marinade before serving their dish, but Reichl wanted to see if there were other options.

So she tested different ingredients, techniques, and temperatures to determine the best way to create the classic steakhouse flavor profile without applying extra seasoning. (She also learned that one of her favorite things to eat is steak sauce.)

This level of experimentation required Reichl to learn how to calibrate a probe thermometer, which is something few people outside of laboratories do regularly.

But after mastering these skills, she could better understand why certain steakhouse classics, like dry-aged rib-eye, work so well.

At the end of the day, Reichl wants consumers to feel confident they’re getting the best possible experience at Ruth’s Chris.

For that reason, the restaurant offers three levels of service. First comes the simplest option, where chefs will bring your meal right to your table.

Next up is the more involved tasting menu, followed by “the ultimate,” where guests can watch their meals being cooked.

Reichl explains that each step is designed to make sure diners are satisfied, whether that means they like their burgers exactly as ordered or prefer the texture of a piece of salmon prepared in a slightly different manner.

This careful calibration makes sense given that many customers have never been inside a restaurant kitchen.

They’ve never seen someone slice a raw egg over a plate of calamari rings nor witnessed a chef prepare a meal in front of them.

That’s because sous-vide cooking requires precise measurements and constant monitoring; otherwise, the food is literally cooked in a bag.

If anyone who isn’t familiar with the process tries to replicate it at home, they risk undercooking or overcooking their meat.

“I think what I’m really trying to do is to give people confidence in the kitchen,” Reichl says. “They don’t need me to tell them how to cook.”

But while sous-vide cooking may be practiced in professional kitchens, it doesn’t require much skill. Anyone can throw together a simple recipe at home.

What does take time, however, is learning how to properly execute a technique that, until recently, was mostly unknown outside of select circles in the food world.

That’s part of what drew Reichl to sous-vide cooking in the first place. While she’d worked with the molecular gastronomist Chef Hervé Léonard and his team at Alinea, she was looking for something less academic. Sous-vide cooking seemed like a perfect fit.

Alessandro Strattoni, founder of Strattone, agrees. He runs a restaurant in Milan that uses sous-vide cooking to serve several courses of fish every week.

His team relies on the same equipment as professional sous-vide labs, though they tend to use larger bags.

Strattoni says he’s particularly impressed by how easy sous-vide cooking is to reproduce at home. You don’t even need a large cooler.

Rather, you can simply seal small portions of food in plastic bags and submerge them in water heated between 85 degrees Fahrenheit and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the type of food item.

Once the desired amount of time passes, remove the food from the bath, plunge it in ice water, and voila! Your dinner is served.

While sous-vide cooking sounds complicated, the basic concept is actually quite simple. Food is placed in a bag, submerged in liquid, and held at a specific temperature for a set period of time.

As long as the conditions remain consistent, the food stays safe, juicy, and tender.

Léo Aponte, owner and chef of Casa Luciole in Tuscany, Italy, says sous-vide cooking benefits him personally.

When he cooks meat, he knows exactly how long it takes to reach the ideal temperature. Plus, since he usually serves his meats sliced thin, he can easily monitor the progress of his recipes throughout the cooking process.

Aponte believes sous-vide cooking can help regular folks like himself to achieve success in the kitchen, too.
“You know how it feels when you’re starving?” Aponte asks.

“When you want to taste something special, anything tastes good… [with sous-vide] you just start thinking ‘what would happen if I did this?’ It gives you ideas.”

Of course, sous-vide cooking isn’t perfect. There are drawbacks. One problem is that it creates a lot of waste.

When you open the bag, the contents immediately begin to spoil. To prevent bacteria from spreading, you have to refrigerate the food and discard the water in which it was cooked.

Another challenge is finding enough time to devote to cooking. A typical sous-vide setup involves a huge container (think industrial size) filled with water.

Then you need to carefully add the food items, wait for everything to come to the proper temperature, and monitor closely for signs of spoilage.

Aponte understands the limitations of sous-vide cooking, but he still sees great potential. He’s currently experimenting with making pasta in a bag, for instance.

“Imagine that you put your dough in a bag, and you leave it in the refrigerator overnight,” Aponte says. “Then you take it out and knead it.

After 20 minutes, you turn off the heat, and let it cool down. Then you wrap it in cling film, and you press it, and you get fresh pasta.”

He’s excited by the possibilities.

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