Who knows? They never last that long around here.*
The soufflé inspires dread in many a cook, probably because we all grew up with images of soufflé disasters. Chefs bursting into tears because someone opened the oven on their soufflé. Delicate soufflés deflating because someone makes a loud noise. Housewives bawling because the piéce de resistance of their dinner party is a big fat fail. So it is no surprise that soufflés have a formidable reputation as a classic, only achievable by the gifted.
But oh, the French, they are so very good at tricking people into believing their cuisine is complicated, when, in reality, it relies on simple processes that require little technical knowhow. If you read a French cookery book it would bang on about pâte brisée or roux, but you don’t need to know about those things. A souffle is nothing more than a white sauce, with some stuff added for flavour, and foofed up with some egg whites. That. Is. All. The best thing about them is you can make the sauce and the egg whites before your guests arrive and assemble the whole shebang quickly after opening the plonk, then drink quite a bit before blowing their minds by serving up something that tastes incredibly luxurious and clever. Which it is, because it is so simple.
Now that I’ve demystified the soufflé, it’s time to share this recipe, which I was asked for after boasting about it on twitter. It incorporates a few tasty tricks I’ve learned from a blissful year of making soufflés for friends and family. Try it, enjoy it, vary it.
Smoked Salmon Soufflé for four
A bit of polenta, about 100g of butter, flour (gluten-free is fine), a cup of normal or low fat milk, a finely diced onion, four or five finely sliced spring onions (scallions), 70 grammes of grated parmesan, 4 eggs (separated – you only use three yolks), a pinch of cream of tartar, 200 grammes of smoked salmon (shredded roughly) or drained tinned salmon, a tablespoon of chopped dill, chervil or parsley, salt and pepper.
First, prepare the oven and the dish. Heat the oven to 180C and warm the dish. Melt some butter in the bottom of it and spread it around. Tip in a small handful of polenta, flour or semolina, and shake it over the butter so it dusts the bottom and sides of the bowl. This will form a tasty crust later (if you made a sweet souffle, you would do this with sugar).
Second, make le sauce. Put 50g of butter in the bottom of a solid saucepan and get it bubbling gently, but NOT browning. Add two heaped tablespoons of flour or gluten-free flour and stir it all about so the flour cooks (expands) in the butter (gently, no browning – this is called a roux and you can see, it doesn’t hurt a bit). Then add a cup of milk. Get a whisk and blend the flour mixture into the milk. Cook it until the whole mess thickens (no lumps!). You just made white sauce. (It’s also called bechamel, but you didn’t need to know that.) Mix in the parmesan and cook a little more. Now you have cheese sauce. Set it aside and let it cool off a little.
Next, le flavourings. In a separate saucepan gently fry the onion and garlic in butter, until soft. Add the spring onions then add the onion mixture, take it off the heat and chuck in the salmon. Let it all sit. Beat THREE egg yolks into the not-very-hot cheese sauce. Feed the extra egg yolk to the cat or compost it. Mix the onions and sauce together. Taste the mix and add the herbs and some salt and pepper. Take a break and cook the other things you want to eat. Talk to your guests.
Penultimately, ouefs. Get a good clean glass or metal bowl, add the four egg whites and a pinch of cream of tartar and get beating. Make really good stiff peaks with lots of air in them as it’s the air that creates the rise and the volume of the soufflé. Let it all sit until you are thinking you would like to eat.
Finally, assemblage: Get a big spoon full of the egg whites and stir it into the cheese/salmon saucy mix. This will ‘lighten’ the mix. Then tip the mix into the egg whites, and fold it in with a spatula. Don’t beat it or the air will leave the whites. You’ll end up with a rough looking mix. Cool! Spoon it into the soufflé dish and pop it in the oven. Cook for between 35 & 40 minutes and you’ll have a fluffy body with a cheesy sauce; 40 minutes and she will be cooked mostly through, 45 minutes and you’ll have a savoury sponge. Connoisseurs like the first option, others don’t. It will rise! You can open the oven and slide a skewer in under the top crust, to see how it’s going. Do it many times. You’ll be right! (Don’t bang the door though, at least not hard).
Before serving get everyone to sit down so they can see your majestic, high top creation. As soon as you crack the top with a spoon it will fall into a goopy mess of marshmallowy topping and saucy bits. Your guests will fall on it with ravenous passion. Everyone will be happy. Eat with bread, salad, spuds and other things. Never be afraid of a soufflé again.
* Actually, a soufflé doesn’t rise twice but is really good reheated in an oven, with a dollop of cream to make them even more sinful. You can also do this mix in 6 ramekins, which makes them even easier to reheat. Cook for 15-20 minutes only.
** This recipe is easily adapted for use without the salmon. Rule of thumb is one cup of additional flavours, be it spinach, peas, grated veges, herbs, more cheese. I often add paprika.
*** Some would add cream to the white sauce. I don’t, but if you do, reduce the milk accordingly.
**** Sweet soufflés are the same, but without the salt, pepper, veges or cream of tartar, and with caster sugar, chocolate etc. If you make one, the white sauce is sweetened, in which case it’s called a pate thingummy. Bon appetit!