2020-01: All the sous vide
I had dreams of being a chef when I was young; now I create software instead of gastronomic masterpieces. Despite this, I sometimes take the opportunity to cook more ambitiously. In January, I challenged myself to a small dinner party with some high-school friends.1
|Spinach and tomato salad, served with a warm chevre|
|Muscovy duck breast with red wine jus, pomme purée, heirloom carrots|
|Lemon custard with homemade raspberry and white wine preserve|
When deciding the courses, I started with the preperation method: sous vide. It was a recent gift, and I wanted to use it for as much of the dinner as possible. Duck breast benefits from the controlled sous vide cooking, and would be a treat for my guests.
However, duck breast is very rich, so a good base was needed and a sweet vegetable to round out the flavour profile. I settled on carrots for their sweetness, texture, and colour (they are also known to be good sous vide). For the base I teetered between potatoes or yams, but fell on a soft and buttery potato purée – the carrots were going to be plenty sweet. The potatoes would be cooked sous vide in a solution of milk and butter.
Since the main course was three sous vide items, the starter and desert had to be stress-free. My dad used to make a goat-cheese salad that I enjoyed as a kid; I decided to attempt something similar, and while I was originally planning to have it with arugula, we ended up with spinach (which still worked great).
For the desert, a pot de creme seemed like a good idea; it’s a fairly light desert, which would be appreciated after the heavy duck breast and buttery pomme purée. I settled on a classic lemon custard recipe topped with a raspberry-white-wine jelly that we had made a few weeks earlier.
Getting everything on the table while still hot, with only one sous vide machine and 3 sous vide preparations, was really an excersize in planning. I spent some time planning out what needed to be done, and when.
To aid the planning process, I made calendar events for the time needed to:
- prepare the ingredients for each piece,
- cook the duck, carrots, goat cheese, and custard on the stove,
- cook the potatoes, carrots, and duck sous vide,
- keep the potatoes, and carrots warm in the oven
- cook the custard in the oven,
- keep the custard in the fridge to set.
I started just after lunch with the lemon custard, since it would need to chill in the fridge for 4 hours after baking. This was by far the least stressful course.
While the custard was baking, I prepared the ingredients for the pomme purée, duck breast, and carrots.
As I started packaging equal parts potatoes and dairy fats into sous vide bag, people arrived! Manuevering the weighty and floppy starch-sack made it difficult to focus on conversations, adding to my stress. This plus finishing up my custards and some tomatoes for the salad decreased my ability to entertain. Finally I managed to get my guests a drink (moscato), as well as some chips and chacuterie to munch on, but in the future I definetely need to incorporate snacks and music into the plan 😬.
With the guests happily drinking and eating, I finished the sous vide preperations, and then things started going wrong.
Problem 1: As the potatoes went into the sous vide, it quietly turned off! With the thin metal pot I was using, it quickly lost 20°C.
Solution: With the assistance of the burner on the stove, I brought temperature back up, (and insulated the pot with some aluminum foil).
Problem 2: In addition to the water getting cold, there was still some air in the potato bag, so it started floating as it heated up.
Solution: With the help of some metal tongs, a small bowl, and a lid, I weighed it down and it stayed submerged.
Problem 3: While manuvering the bag of potatoes back under the water, I punctured the plastic.
Solution: Cry (not actually). By the time the puncture was discovered, only starting over would fix it (and I was too hungry for that).
Luckily I’d washed everything, but the potatoes ended up a little runny 😅 and because the pot went cold they pushed dinner back by half an hour 😱. Using a calendar allowed me to adjust the times easily when things started going wrong.
With the main course mostly-done, I only had to prepare the appetizer. Initially, it was going to be plated 15-30 minutes into the duck’s sous vide time… but we served it right away – people were getting hungry!
The salad was served with a Beaujolais (red wine, Gamay grapes, pairs well with duck breast); however, some people were still drinking moscato, some beer. This was a good opportunity for people to switch to the red wine before the duck finished.
Once everyone was done the first course, we cleaned up a bit and went on a small adventure to find a lactose beer that my friend recommended. When we got back, the duck was ready!
After a quick sear, I served the sliced duck with jus on a bed (more like a puddle) of potato with some of the carrots.
Clean plates! We took a small break to clean up a bit and let people settle (and play with the dogs).2
The final course was a dream (the pre-preperation here was totally worth it). The light lemon desert was refreshing after the heavy duck and potato meal.
- Everything was cooked, and the duck was pink with a crispy skin. The carrots had good texture and flavour, and the potatoes tasted great. Nobody seemed to care or notice that they were runny.
- An easy-to-prepare appetizer allowed us to stretch out the eating time instead of waiting to start dinner.
- The lemon custard was delicious and really easy, which made the night move into a more relaxing tone.
- Fun with friends I hadn’t seen in a long time.
- Don’t use metal tongs with plastic bags.
- Make sure the bags have very little air in them, even a little is enough to make them float.
- Get a metal mesh that can go in the pot, both to prevent things from resting on the bottom and to make it easier to lift things out of it.
- Use a more insulated pot when using large amounts of water.
- Watch the sous vide more closely for temperature fluctuations, including to make sure it’s on!
- Rice potatoes into a large pot, be careful of spurts. Use a seive to pour out the liquid before ricing.
- Get a #50 seive to make the purée really creamy.
- Use less butter in the potatoes.
- The duck was a little tough, likely because it was cooked at too high of a temperature.