The Wife and I had a dinner party for two other married couples and a single friend over the weekend. But I did not have to miss substantial amounts of time, and found preparation significantly well relaxed, because of good planning and the magic of my sous vide oven allowing me to cheat on prep time.
Carroti con cippoli tostati — hunks of carrot, simmered in some butter, two crushed cloves of garlic, and a an onion, chopped and toasted dry — were sealed in one bag. Patate confit basilic — whole peeled russet potatoes, with rendered bacon fat, basil, parsley, salt, and pepper — were sealed in another. These were prepared a day ahead of time at 185 degrees for three hours each, and flash-frozen in ice water before being set aside.
The tri-tip roast — which is really a half of the bottom sirloin — received its own generous helping of onions, worchesteshire sauce, garlic, cayenne, black pepper, and assorted herbs. This was bagged the night before, and cooked at 128 degrees for six hours, achieving perfect rareness all the way through and melt-in-your mouth tenderness for which sous vide is so useful.
The day of the party, I prepared a chimmichurri to go with it, but finding myself embarassingly short of olive oil, I used grapeseed oil instead. My chimmichurri is simple: oil, garlic, oregano, and parsley, with a sprinkling of salt. That got done several hours before the party, as well. I know some cooks go all crazy and put in all sorts of weird stuff into their chimmichurri, but I already had enough flavors working in the meat anyway.
This left only an appetizer and a dessert, which was where I could spend the remainder of my actual cooking time. This was simpler than it seemed. Orange-and-peanut sauce is simple enough, and something I learned to really enjoy when I briefly dated an Indonesian woman shortly after law school. Emulsify some vegetable oil with some salt and red pepper flakes. Chop in some green onions, very fine, and set in a saucepan over medium heat. Add in a little bit more than a quarter cup of creamy peanut butter, or better yet freshly-ground peanuts, maybe a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar, and stir in about four ounces of orange juice. Keep stirring until the consistency is smooth and uniform, and keep it just at a boil. Then steam up some shrimp and you’ve got yourself a satay (if you put them on a stick), or a shrimp cocktail, which Google told me translates as “udang dengan kuah kacang oren” in Malay.
Dessert was chips and salsa. Those not-very-good-for-you cinammon crisps you get at taco-themed fast food restaraunts are easy enough to duplicate, and even exceed, at home. Buy some flour tortillas, and brush them with melted butter. Cut them into sixths or eighths using a pizza cutter. Then coat them with a mixture of cinammon and sugar, and bake at 350 degrees for about ten minutes. If that sounds like cinammon toast, except on a tortilla, well, that’s right. The salsa is an even better trick — husk out a bunch of strawberries and then macerate them with a flat-ended spoon. Soon enough, they get to looking like tomato pulp. Add in some finely-julienned apples and you get the look and texture of onions — and if you had the foresight to use green apples, that adds some color reminiscent of cilantro. I fished it up by mixing in some hibiscus-flavored pears, which made the whole salsa too purple, but had I exercised the prudence to leave well enough alone, the visual effect would have been really good. Granted, I’m far from standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Thomas Keller or Grant Achatz here, but this is my first nouvelle cuisine dish, taking the look and texture of one kind of food and delivering a different taste experience with it, and while I doubt the idea is particularly original, I did think of it all on my own.
But as proud as I was of taking a decent stab at an intermediate-level meal like this was my use of the many kitchen gadgets and tools to get it done at a relaxed, comfortable pace. I’d done half the work before I even started really cooking for the party. The tricky part was remembering to re-therm the potatoes and carrots in the same bath the meat was in. It only re-thermed to 128 degrees, but that turned out fine; the food was all warm and none of it lasted long enough to cool off. Turns out that seven people can demolish a tri tip roast even with all these other fixings along with it in no time, so the low re-therm temperature on my starch and vegetable dishes just never was an issue.