Ever since I got the Anova Precision Cooker, I’ve been fantasizing about all the cool things I could cook with it. So far I’ve cooked eggs, fish, and chicken. I’ve yet to do octopus, pork belly, steak, and chair leg, but that will come soon enough.
I recently read a post on Epicurious by my Twitter pal, Josh Scherer of Culinary Brodown fame, where he sous-vides a bunch of random food. Check it out here. It looked like fun, so I thought, why not? Also, you seriously need to check out his website. He just made Ramnuts, which are ramen donuts. I died.
Inspired by Josh, I thought, well, what other things can you shove in the water bath?
Then I had a magical idea: Taco Bell.
And I had another thought, which was, “What the hell is wrong with you, Dannis Ree?”
Before I go on, I’m going to tell you guys something very important. Taco Bell is one of my favorite restaurants. During my tenure as a food writer, I’ve eaten at Michelin-starred restaurants and wonderful holes-in-the-wall. But Taco Bell is still a masterpiece in my eyes. I’ve never seen a restaurant take the same ten ingredients and make wonderful creations from the same things, over and over, with such panache and grace. Basically, Taco Bell makes love to your face. You may scoff, but you’re just in denial. Taco Bell is the greatest restaurant on the face of this planet. Also, in the science-fiction movie Demolition Man, which is an excellent piece of cinema, Taco Bell is depicted as the only restaurant remaining after the historic Fast Food Wars, far into the future.
Also, remember their old slogan, “Make a Run For the Border?” That was hilariously racist.
I told my friend Nick Kindelsperger, former editor of Serious Eats Chicago, about this scientific project. He said, “For the record, please tell everyone that I think this is a bad idea.”
Then I emailed Kenji Lopez-Alt, Managing Culinary Director of Serious Eats, to see if immersion circulating Taco Bell might make me sick. This was his response:
“Anything above 135 is totally safe.”
Green light, dickfaces.
My two favorite items on the menu might surprise you. My first favorite item is the 7-Layer Burrito. It’s basically 7-Layer dip in a tortilla. Taco Bell says it’s “A warm, soft flour tortilla wrapped around premium Latin rice, hearty beans, a three cheese blend, crisp shredded lettuce, diced ripe tomatoes, reduced-fat sour cream, and chunky guacamole.” It’s absolutely delicious — you can actually taste each layer distinctly. Douse that shit in Fire sauce and you’re good to go, drunk, stoned, or sober. Plus, if you’re missing all of your teeth, don’t worry. There’s only one texture to this magical burrito: Soft.
“But Dannis Ree,” you ask, “what about the bag meat? Don’t you like the bag meat?” The answer is a resounding yes. You see, my other favorite item is the Crunchwrap Supreme. Taco Bell says this creation is made of “A warm, soft, flour tortilla filled with seasoned beef, warm nacho cheese sauce, a crunchy tostada shell, reduced-fat sour cream, lettuce and tomatoes and then wrapped up and grilled for maximum portability.” Maximum portability! Taco Bell even considered edible ergonomics! And unlike the 7-Layer Burrito, this bad boy has some texture; it’s not only grilled perfectly on the outside like a quesadilla, but it also has a crunchy tostada frisbee inside that gives it an amazing crunch. Sorry, Grandma, you need your dentures for this one. The bag meat is, uh, consistent, and the gooey nacho cheese sauce lubricates each bite as it slowly crawls its way down your throat.
I wrote all of this with pure glee.
So, these are my babies. 7-Layer Burrito on the left, and the Crunchwrap Supreme on the right. One meatless tube, and one Mexican-Ninja Star of satisfaction.
Whoever constructed these items did a terrific job. You can see all the layers. Mmm…layers.
I chose the very scientific temperature of 183° F. It seems really specific, but hear me out. 183° F is the temperature at which pectin in vegetables breaks down. Once pectin breaks down, the vegetables become deliciously tender. Because I had an entirely vegetarian burrito, I had to consider its feelings too.
I let the experiment run for 48 hours. Yes, 48 hours. This was completely arbitrary. Some sous-vide recipes call for meat to be in the water bath for 72 hours, so 48 hours isn’t out of the ordinary for this style of cooking. Also, I really need to clean off that kitchen counter. It’s totally out of control, just like I am.
It didn’t take long for the apartment to smell like the inside of a Taco Bell sauna. I couldn’t tell if that was a good thing.
Once I removed the bags from the water, this is what I saw. No water leaked into the Ziploc bags, which is something I was initially afraid of.
The 7-Layer Burrito leaked a ton of water. It was basically in a pool of its own sweat when it came out. If you imagine throwing a wet pancake against the floor, that was it sounded like hitting the plate.
And, well. Here’s the interior shot. The lettuce was wilted and melted, the tomatoes lost their color, and the refried beans turned into a weird pancake. I don’t know what happened to the cheese and the sour cream. I’m assuming it vaporized.
I really, really, wanted to try eating this. But I chickened out. There’s very few things I won’t eat. But a sous-vided 7-Layer Burrito? I just…couldn’t. I’m sorry, everyone. I failed you. It smelled like a wet tortilla (because it was) in a really weird way. I actually gagged, not because of the smell, but because of the whole concept. I’m stupid.The Crunchwrap Supreme came out kind of the same way, but a little firmer, probably due to the extra layers of folded flour tortilla. It slipped out of the Ziploc bag silently, just like I slipped out of your mom’s back door this morning.
The top part looks like a Spanish tortilla, which is basically a Spanish potato omelet. The bottom half simply deflated like I do every time I get rejected on OkCupid. Overall, though, it didn’t disintegrate as much as I thought it would.
Again…I couldn’t bring myself to try it. I guess I’m not Andrew Zimmern. There goes another potential career path. I’m sorry, everyone.But…a bonus! I also sous-vided a Steak Quesarito! This was a last minute decision. Taco Bell’s description describes it as, “The NEW Quesarito is the best of a quesadilla and burrito rolled into one! It’s filled with seasoned beef, premium Latin rice, Chipotle sauce, reduced-fat sour cream, and then wrapped up in a grilled quesadilla loaded with melted cheeses.”
Yes. A grilled burrito that is wrapped in a quesadilla? I love America. Yes, Chipotle also serves a quesarito, but Taco Bell actually came out with it first. Eat a dick, Chipotle!The Quesarito retained its grilled color on the outside surprisingly well; I thought the browned surface of the tortilla would have steamed itself off. But it didn’t. It looks like a steamed mummy version of its former self. That might be a new way you can preserve dead bodies. By sous-viding the shit out of them.
And this time, I actually tried a piece of the steak. I thought that the steak would be fall-apart tender, and maybe even juicy. I was half-right. The steak sure did fall apart. But I’ve never had a drier piece of meat in my entire life. As soon as I ate it, my mouth turned into the Sahara Desert. It tasted suspiciously like cat food. And yes, I’ve eaten cat food before. I would have preferred the cat food — just because it was more moist, but that is 100% my fault. Not yours, Taco Bell. The steak did have an extremely concentrated beef flavor, kind of like beef jerky. There’s that, at least.
Taco Bell, I will always love you. Sorry I mistreated you.
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