Do Try This At Home: Hacking Chicken Sous Vide : The Salt Sous-vide makes meat moist and flavorful, but can take up to 96 hours, not to mention a $500 machine. Chef Christina Tosi shares a technique she uses to cheat in her home kitchen: the "Bird in a Bag."

Do Try This At Home: Hacking Chicken Sous Vide

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Now, puzzle me this. What's the French term for sealing up food in a vacuum and cooking it in warm water? It's called sous-vide and it's a technique designed to preserve moisture and nutrients in food. Restaurants use these fancy machines to do this and the process can take days. You could do that in your kitchen, but let's be honest, you probably won't. Instead, you can do what Chef Christina Tosi does with a Ziploc bag, a straw and a pot of hot water. NPR's Ted Robbins says, do try this at home.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Christina Tosi wouldn't normally be at her Brooklyn apartment during the day to greet us.


ROBBINS: Tosi is the chef and founder of Milk Bar bakeries in New York. She writes cookbooks, she judges TV cooking competitions. So she doesn't have much time to cook for herself.

TOSI: I want to come home and eat, but inevitably then that means dinner is, you know, 11 o'clock at night.

ROBBINS: She calls those weaknight, W-E-A-K. Nights when she comes home with an appetite for something tasty, healthy and quick, same as most people with a job; except she obviously has a professional interest in cooking.

TOSI: You have the technique, and you use it all day long, and then you come home and you find a way to get the same, like, delicious flavors, but you've got to do it really quickly, and you usually have to do it on a shoestring budget.

ROBBINS: She likes sous-vide cooking, so she simplified it. She's going to show us how to cook a dish she calls bird in a bag.

TOSI: This is a chicken breast that's been pound down. You can also use a boneless skinless chicken thigh.

ROBBINS: That's the bird. The bag is any Ziploc freezer bag - freezer bag is thick enough that it won't leak. You could use two regular thinner storage bags as long as they can be sealed. Now season the chicken with anything you like. Tosi is using buttermilk mixed with a Mexican spice blend. You could even use bottled ranch dressing.

TOSI: So, chicken gets seasoned, goes straight in the bag, and then we'll fill the bag with buttermilk.

ROBBINS: You can keep the bag from tipping over by folding the top back like a collar. Once everything's inside, seal the bag except for one little corner. Now, here's the real trick - the hack to make it sous-vide, or cooking under vacuum.


ROBBINS: Yep, suck out the air with a straw.

TOSI: And remember you don't want to suck up the chicken juice buttermilk liquid, but if you feel like there's an air pocket that you can't quite get to, you'll (sucks straw) - can suck - try and suck as much of that air out as possible.

ROBBINS: When the bag is reasonably air-free, seal up the corner and plop it into a pot of water.

TOSI: And I've sort of brought it up to an almost boil.

ROBBINS: If you're worried the plastic bag might melt, take a doubled-up piece of aluminum foil and make a little hammock. Crimp the ends over the pot and lay the chicken in a bag in the middle of the hammock so it's underwater. Let the water steam, but don't let it boil. Sous-vide is about lower temperature cooking, along with the vacuum. The chicken stays in for five minutes if it's a thin butterflied strip to 20 minutes if it's an intact chicken breast.

But how do you know it's done? 'Cause it's inside a bag.

TOSI: We'll see - well, you can sort of start to see where it peeks out. We'll take a piece of that chicken and sort of edge it to the side of the Ziploc bag so that we can look at it and say, is it pink, isn't it pink. If it's a bigger chicken breast, you have to know that it's going to take you a little bit longer. Just like you're putting chicken on a grill.

ROBBINS: By the time it's done, it's not going to look so great inside that bag - buttermilk clotted with chicken juice.

TOSI: Yeah, it looks like it's in a bag of crazy because of what happens with the buttermilk when it hits the seasoning and the temperature, but that's all the flavor, you know.

ROBBINS: Here's how to improve the look. Take a pan and quickly sear the chicken brown on each side.

The chicken is really moist.

TOSI: It's moist. It's tender.

ROBBINS: And you didn't have to wait days to eat it. Ted Robbins, NPR News.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.