On Bonfire Night weekend, the good people of Great British Chefs set me the challenge to cook an entire dinner party in a SousVide Supreme. No mean feat, I can tell you. I invited seven hungry diners for a late Sunday lunch to sample the results of this lengthy experiment. I fed fellow food bloggers and writers, Rachel Walker of The Food I Eat, journalist and bon vivant, Dolly Alderton, professional chef extraordinaire Jane Carnall, Catalan cook and Kitchen Cabinet panellist, Rachel McCormack, caterer, author and my Milk & Sugar partner in crime, Milli Taylor, the hilarious comedian and writer, Chris Neill and his wonderful partner, actor Rory Murphy.
Cooking everything sous vide is not necessarily the most practical way to cater for 8 people. For starters, the home-use machines are fairly compact, so don’t expect to fit everything in at once. Also, most things need to be cooked at different temperatures, often for several hours at a time, so a fair amount of patience is necessary. Being organised would definitely make life easier and, in an ideal world, it would doubtless be prudent to work out a cooking timetable before heating up your water bath. Needless to say, I wasn’t organised enough to work out a timetable, but even for a last minute Larry like me, it all worked out OK in the end.
As a pre-dinner nibble, I made Spinach, Fennel and Cumin Ricotta Cakes from
Party-perfect Bites, the excellent new book by my friend and sous vide supper guest, Milli Taylor. I made the Ricotta in the sous vide the day before for this dish, which yielded excellent results. It might be too much of a faff to make it as an everyday staple, but sometimes it’s nice to push the boat out and make an effort.
I wanted to make a do-ahead sous vide starter, as I knew I’d need the machine working to cook other components of the meal while the guests arrived. I decided to make a game terrine after reading that James I couldn’t be contacted with news of the gunpowder plot for several hours because he was busy hunting. I chose guinea fowl (which was popular in 1605 and classed as game in this period), partridge, pheasant and pigeon.
I vacuum sealed the legs with salt, pepper, thyme and garlic to cure and left it overnight, before rinsing off the legs, patting them dry and sealing again with duck fat and cooking sous vide at 75°C for 12 hours. Once the meat was cooled, I flaked it and pressed it into a Serrano ham-lined terrine with the chopped raw breast meat of the birds and layers of leeks softened in butter. I melted some gelatine in reduced chicken stock and poured it over the meat before folding the ham over the top. I vacuum sealed the terrine and cooked it in the sous vide at 65.5°C for 3.5 hours. Once cooked, I left the terrine to cool, before placing it in the fridge to set. This course was my least favourite. The texture of the ham was almost gelatinous after a spell in the water bath and, although attractive on the plate, the cooking process enhanced the gameyness of the meat too much for my personal taste.
I made an alternative dish for pescetarian, Dolly Alderton, of scallops on smoked garlic and pumpkin puree with a few sprigs of watercress. For the pumpkin puree, I vacuum packed the pumpkin, cut into cubes, with salt, pepper and a knob of butter and cooked it sous vide at 85°C for 1 hour. At the same time, I roasted a whole bulb of smoked garlic in the oven. I was nervous of adding the garlic to the bag with the pumpkin after reading that garlic can give food an odd, metallic flavour when cooked sous vide. Once the pumpkin was tender, I transferred it to a pan with the squeezed out roasted garlic cloves and a splash of cream and used a stick blender to puree it. I tasted for seasoning and adjusted and left it in the pan to reheat later. I lined up the scallops in a row and wrapped them in three layers of cling film before cooking them at 60°C for 15 minutes. Once cooked, I seasoned and browned the scallops in a hot buttery pan.
The main meat course was a huge hit with everyone. I made belly of pork with liquid smoke fondant potatoes, toffee apples, more of the smoked garlic and pumpkin puree, kale and a pork and port gravy.
I cut the boned pork belly into portions and vacuum packed the meat on top of a layer of sliced onions, fresh thyme, salt and pepper and a chicken stock jelly cube (liquid gets sucked out during the vacuum sealing). I cooked the pork at 83°C for 10 hours. Once cooked, I quickly cooled the bag in ice water before pressing the meat between two baking trays with weights on top overnight in the fridge. I used the bones and the scraped out jelly, minus the fat, from the pork belly to make the gravy, which I made in the conventional way in the oven and in a pan as alcohol does not burn off in the sous vide. Once ready to cook, I patted the pork belly dry and placed them in an iron skillet with a few ladles of the gravy and popped them under a hot grill for crackling. The crackling wasn’t quite as crisp as usual, but tasted similar to the skin on a hog roast – no complaints there.
I’m not convinced the same results couldn’t have been achieved by slow cooking the pork in a low oven, but you would definitely have needed to cook the pork on the bone (or at least resting on the bones) to create the same succulent results. An unexpected bonus of the sous vide method of cooking, was the natural separation of the fat and pork essence. The fat clung to the textured interior of the vac bag, so that the lean pork jelly could easily be removed.
I made the fondant potatoes by vacuum sealing them with butter, a little chicken stock jelly, salt, pepper and a few splashes of liquid pecan smoke (well, it was Bonfire Night) and cooked them at 85°C for 90 minutes until tender. I cooled the bag in ice water and popped the potatoes in the fridge until ready to be reheated in a hot oven to brown the tops just before serving.
I made the toffee apples by halving and coring unpeeled apples (I used Pink Lady) and vacuum sealing them with light muscovado sugar, salt, pepper, chicken stock jelly, a nob of butter and a teaspoon or 2 of red wine vinegar and cooking in the sous vide at 85°C for 1 hour. When it was time to dish up, I caramelised the cut side of the apples in a hot, buttery pan. The main course was pure autumn on a plate.
For the pescetarian main I vacuum sealed a piece of hake with butter and seasoning and cooked in the water bath for 20 minutes at 56°C before crisping the skin in a hot, buttery pan. I served this with the veggie elements of the pork dish and sous vide samphire (simply vac packed with butter and a grind of black pepper which I cooked at 85°C (at the same time as the toffee apples) for 20 minutes, before quickly reheating in the same bath as the fish before serving.
The pudding was another nod to Guy Fawkes with bonfire toffee, ginger and rum crème caramels cooked using the sous vide as a water bath at 85°C fro 45 minutes. It’s important to wrap the tops of the dariole moulds with cling film before popping them in the sous vide to prevent condensation dripping on top of the custards. Once cooked, I left them to cool and refrigerated them overnight before dunking the bases in hot water, sliding round the sides with a knife and upturning them in bowls. The texture was extraordinary – creamy, smooth and velvety, without the slightest grain. I was so pleased with the results from the controlled temperature in the Sous Vide, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the oven again for baked custards.
All in all, the lunch was a success, but if you want to make your own sous vide supper, be prepared to plan ahead to accommodate the longer cooking times.
* Thank you to my guests for providing many of the photographs from the evening.