Tristan Potter

2020-01: All the sous vide

Jul 14th, 2020

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

The Menu

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.

The Planning

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:

The Day

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.

The Problems

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 Meal

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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.



Lessons learned:

  1. I wrote the first-draft of this post shortly after hosting, but because of over-editing and then the pandemic, I lost steam. So, it’s 6 months late… oops. 

  2. The dogs had fun too!

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