I’d be happy just to eat all of the new-season’s asparagus steamed or grilled with some butter or some parmesan – maybe with some hollandaise, some truffle oil or a squirt of lemon juice. But every now and then it’s nice to gussy things up a bit, so here is a downright swanky way with one of my favourite vegetables.
Don’t be scared of either the filo pastry crust or the beurre blanc. Both can appear to be quite intimidating ingredients, but filo (which you can buy ready-made at the supermarket) is actually very, very easy to handle; and if you follow the instructions below you’ll find the beurre blanc a breeze to make.
To serve 4 as a main course or 6 as a starter you’ll need:
10 sheets filo pastry
150g unsalted butter
500g salmon, or a mixture of salmon and another firm white fish
1 teaspoon tarragon
Salt and pepper
225g unsalted butter, cold from the fridge
2 shallots, sliced
1 bay leaf
5 tablespoons white wine
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon creme fraiche
4 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
Salt and pepper
Start by infusing and reducing the wine and vinegar for your beurre blanc. In a small pan, combine the wine, vinegar, the sliced shallot, the bay and the peppercorns. Over a medium heat, reduce the contents of the pan until you have only a tablespoon of syrupy liquid left. Remove the pan from the heat, discard the bay and peppercorns, and reserve the shallots.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF) and steam the fish for ten minutes.
While the oven is heating, assemble the croustade in a metal baking dish about the same size as a single sheet of filo. Melt the butter and brush the bottom of the dish with a layer, then place the first sheet of filo on the buttered surface. Brush the top of the filo sheet with butter, add another layer of filo and butter the top of that, until you have built a stack of five buttered sheets.
Flake the steamed fish into pieces and chop the asparagus spears (discarding the woody ends) into pieces about the length of your thumb. Scatter the fish flakes and the asparagus over the filo. Dice the shallots from the beurre blanc mixture with the fresh shallots, and scatter those over too, along with a little salt, plenty of pepper and the tarragon.
Layer the remaining five pieces of filo, buttering each one as you go, over the top of the asparagus mixture. Use a knife to score the top sheets gently into squares in the size you want for serving. Put the croustade in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the top is crisp and a dark gold colour.
About 15 minutes before the croustade is ready to come out of the oven, make up the beurre blanc. Chop the cold butter into pieces about the size of the top joint of your thumb (there are lots of finger measurements in today’s recipe). Stir the creme fraiche into the wine and vinegar reduction you set aside earlier, and put it over a medium heat.
Drop three of the butter pieces into the reduction, and whisk until they are half-melted. Drop another three in and continue to whisk until the original three pieces have melted completely, then add another three. Continue to add the butter pieces three at a time, whisking hard, as the ones you have put in before melt, until the butter is all incorporated. Remove from the heat and stir through most of the chives, reserving two teaspoons to garnish. Taste for seasoning, adding extra salt and pepper or a little lemon juice if you think it needs it.
Use a sharp-edged spatula to divide up the croustade along the marks you made earlier, and spoon some of the beurre blanc over each serving with a little sprinkle of chives. Serve immediately.
I kind of wish that supermarkets wouldn’t sell asparagus out of season – we’re all familiar with the tasteless, slightly limp kind whose sugars have long turned into starch, because the spears themselves have been bussed in from South America. Nothing’s going to taste good after that long in a cargo hold. It’s enough to make you forget just how good a sweet, fresh English stem of the stuff can be. The English season is short, but it’s worth ignoring asparagus for the rest of the year and waiting for early May. From now on, we’ll have about eight weeks of tender local asparagus in the shops.
I’ve got two great asparagus recipes for you this week. This tart is a doozy; it takes advantage of the lovely affinity between asparagus and goat’s cheese, and can be served hot or cold. I haven’t called it a quiche because I know some of you are squeamish about quiches…
To make one 20cm tart, you’ll need:
Shortcrust pastry – either buy a pre-made roll or make your own with:
A little water
3 banana shallots
50g pancetta cubes
200g fresh English asparagus spears
120ml creme fraiche
1 heaped teaspoon thyme leaves
200g goats cheese log (I used Neal’s Yard Ragstone, which is pretty strong – for a milder flavour use a younger cheese)
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper
If you are making your own pastry, rub the fats into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, and add just enough water to make everything come together into a ball. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll out on a floured surface.
Use the pastry to line your 20cm tart dish, and pop the whole thing in the freezer to firm up for 30 minutes while the oven heats up to 200ºC (390ºF). While the pastry is chilling, fry the finely chopped shallots with the pancetta cubes in the butter, until the shallots are golden.
When the pastry has had 30 minutes in the freezer, prick the bottom a few times with a fork, line the base with greaseproof paper, pour in some baking beans to hold everything down, and blind bake (this is just a way of saying part-bake; you’re doing this so that the crust is crisp and cooked) for 20 minutes.
Remove the tart case from the oven and turn the temperature down to 180ºC (350ºF).
Arrange the raw asparagus spears, chopped into pieces, to cover the bottom of the pastry case. Sprinkle over the pancetta and shallot mixture with the thyme. Use a fork to beat together the eggs and crème fraîche with half a teaspoon of salt and plenty of black pepper until smooth, and pour the egg mixture into the case. Finally, slice your cheese log into ½ cm pieces and lay them on the top of the tart.
Bake in the cooler oven for 30-40 minutes, until the filling has set and the top is golden. Serve hot or cold.
The Kitano, a few blocks south of Grand Central Station, is one of my favourite places to stay in New York. The hotel is Japanese owned and run, and stepping off the Park Avenue sidewalk into the lobby is a bit like stepping through a teleporter, straight into an Asian hotel. There’s Japanese floral art, a service ethic imported straight from Tokyo, a green tea machine in every bedroom – and it’s wonderfully, extravagantly clean. Best of all, there’s a simply superb Japanese restaurant in the basement; one of those inexplicable well-kept secrets, which you won’t read much about in guide books or online. I am assured by a Japanese friend that given the decor, kimono-swathed waitresses, and lacquered tableware, it is very easy to mistake Hakubai for somewhere similarly swanky in Kyoto before you even get to the food.
I was there for the food rather than the hallucinatory experience of being in another city, but I have to admit: going from a view of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings to a restaurant that feels half a world away is a great sensation.
Hakubai was on my list of must-eats in New York because it is one of the very, very few restaurants in the city that offers a kaiseki menu. Kaiseki is a bravura food-as-art performance of a meal. This isn’t hyperbole; a kaiseki meal really is regarded as art, and like other kinds of art, it has a formal structure. You’ll find many exquisitely prepared tiny courses, which are carefully chosen to reflect the season. Looks and taste are equally important here, and there should be a very wide variation in textures between the courses. Modern kaiseki usually proceeds with an appetiser, sashimi, a simmered dish, a grilled dish, and a steamed course (not necessarily in that order), perhaps with additions from the chef. The courses are served at carefully timed intervals on decorative lacquer and porcelain dishes, decorated with real leaves, flowers, and tiny pieces of edible garnish. This sort of thing doesn’t come cheap, of course; Hakubai offers two kaiseki menus, one at $170 a head, and an oknomi kaiseki (what-you-like kaiseki, which is what I ended up ordering) at $95.
Because a kaiseki meal is meant to appeal as much to the eyes as it does to the mouth, the best way to take you through what I ate is through pictures. This is a meal worth saving up for if you happen to be visiting the city. We had the excuse of a couple of celebrations – a birthday, the end of a university course – but if I were you, I’d do my very best to make up some reason to celebrate, sell the car, and use the money to hotfoot it to Hakubai.
While recovering from flu, I’ve found myself turning to the wok even more than usual. It’s the perfect cooking implement when I’m feeling under the weather; there’s not too much washing up, you can get dinner on the table very quickly (you should be able to prepare this stir fry in under half an hour). Stir frying invites the use of powerful aromatics and savoury, fiery ingredients like soy and the chilli bean sauce I’ve used below – just what you need if you’re feeling a bit bunged up.
If you’re in a Chinese restaurant in the UK, you’re most likely to see cashew nuts paired with chicken. I prefer them with pork, which gives you a denser and more interesting flavour, and to my mind works much better with the sweet cashews. You’ll need raw, unsalted nuts. Most supermarkets seem to sell them these days, but if you can’t find any there, your local health food shop should stock them.
To serve three, you’ll need:
500g pork fillet
75g raw, unsalted cashew nuts
10 spring onions
3 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon chilli bean sauce (I like Lee Kum Kee’s sauce, which you’ll be able to find in any oriental grocer)
2 fresh red chillies
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon cornflour
2 tablespoons ground nut oil
Salt and pepper
Chop the cylindrical pork fillet into bite-sized slices measuring about 4 cm by ½ cm. Put the slices in a bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the rice wine, 1 tablespoon of the light soy sauce, the sesame oil, the cornflour, a large pinch of salt and several grinds of the peppermill until everything is well mixed. Leave to sit on the working surface to marinade quickly 15 minutes while you put together the rest of the ingredients and have a cup of tea.
Cut the white parts of the spring onion into thin coins, and put in a bowl. Chop the green parts finely and set aside. Chop the chillies finely, and make sure that the other ingredients are all within easy reach of the stove top.
Heat the oil to a high temperature in your wok, and stir fry the pork for three minutes. Remove the pork to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Add the cashew nuts to the wok and stir fry until they are turning gold (about one minute). Now add all of the other ingredients except the green parts of the spring onions. Return the pork to the pan and stir fry everything for another two minutes. Serve immediately, sprinkled with the green parts of the spring onions.
That little episode was, I think, the longest break from blogging I’ve had in about six years. I read somewhere that we are due to get flu every ten years or so, and I managed to have this decade’s dose while on a flight back from New York (scratch one week’s blogging, while I was having fun on holiday) a couple of weeks ago. It’s been exactly two weeks today (scratch another two weeks’ blogging, while I was lying in bed staring at the ceiling and wishing I was dead), and I’m still not better. But at least I can look at a monitor now without splattering goo all over it and getting a blinding headache from the backlight.
So. To the Essex/Suffolk border, where about a month ago, I was invited over to the Rose and Crown in Great Horkesley (01206 271251) for a lazy Tuesday supper. Chef and patron Ed Halls set up shop in the sort of place that estate agents describe as having a “wealth of beams” almost exactly a year ago, after spells cooking at starry places like Morston Hall in Norfolk, and Pétrus under Marcus Wareing. (And, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that I discovered half-way through my meal that my buddy Krista from Passport Delicious is a part-owner of the Rose and Crown.)
Ed marks a very clear line in the fuzzy territory between the pub scampi-in-a-basket menu and the sort of fine dining that might intimidate your gran. This is an accessible menu that you can easily put in front of the family; but it’s also full of little un-pubby gestures like a little amuse bouche – in our case, a little cup of dense and pepper-hot white onion and thyme soup – some exceptionally good olives, and ingredients like quail’s eggs, shallot confit and polenta. (Lady at table next to us: “What is this poo-len-ta on the menu?” The staff are brilliant, and had her all set in no time; and yes, she ended up ordering it.)
Alongside the less pubby flourishes, you’ll find all of the things you’d hope to find on a pub menu: stellar onion rings made with a beer you can get on tap at the bar; proper, twice-cooked chips; gargantuan portions of calves liver; and the thing that really drew me to the Rose and Crown in the first place: dry-aged Dedham Beef steaks, cut thick and chargrilled perfectly (in my case) medium rare. Don’t be put off by the slightly George Foreman Grill-looking char marks on your steak. My bone-in ribeye really was a great-tasting piece of meat, raised properly, fed with grass, like cows should be, and cooked simply and well. (Witness the fact that I polished the whole thing off; I am almost never able to finish a whole steak.) Ribeye, especially with the bone, is far and away my favourite cut of steak, and you don’t see it on menus as often as it deserves. It’s tender from extensive marbling, and full of wonderfully beefy flavour: this is a muscle that gets used a lot, and the proximity to the bone adds flavour and sweetness.
You can choose saucing for your steak from a short list, and I heartily recommend the chunk of Stilton offered as a kind of hard sauce.
The quality of the cooking shines through in little details like the breathtakingly rich fish stock making a base for the scallop risotto, and the desserts, which were shockingly good. Not at all what you might expect on a pub menu: here was an orange and passion fruit crème brulée, topped off with bitter macerated oranges and a spectacularly creamy white chocolate ice cream. Those bitter, sour oranges paired with sharp passion fruit were such a good foil to the dense, rich custard that they made my head spin. Dr W interjected that the head-spinning may have been caused by the Greene King ales we were drinking. The brewery, at Bury St Edmunds, is only 25 miles away, and there’s a definite, and very positive, difference to the taste of the beer when it’s not had to travel too far.
Great Horkesley is just outside Colchester, and near all of those lovely day-out places like Long Melford and Lavenham; it’s also a great place to stop for lunch if you’re out on your way to the Suffolk coast. It’s great to see more pubs taking food seriously, and Ed is a really interesting guy to chat with; if you’re in the area, it’s well worth a visit.
A short post to let you all know I’m not dead – I’ve just been stuck without much of a sense of smell or taste for a week and a half now (much of that time spent sweating, choking and swearing in bed), having caught some incredibly virulent and unpleasant thing from one of the unhygienic souls I was sharing a plane with back from New York.
Normal service will, I hope, resume later this week, but for now I’m huddling in a dressing gown and necking Covonia.
Is there any food whose “proper” preparation gets people more worked up than America barbecue? Regional styles differ all over the continent, but most dedicated barbecuers you meet have a strong opinion that their favoured way of doing things is the only right one – witness Yelp reviews on pretty much any barbecue restaurant in the country, where arguments on vinegar sauces versus sugary ones, Memphis versus Texas, wet versus dry brining and mesquite versus oak rage beyond all relevance to whether the food’s actually any good or not.
Austin’s a great place; it’s very unlike the rest of the state, in that it’s leafy, humid and green rather than dusty and dry, and packed with hipsters rather than cowboys. It feels a bit like a West Coast college town plopped in the middle of Texas. With added barbecue. Passions run high – my friend G, for example, complained at the top of his voice on finding I’d booked us lunch somewhere other than the Salt Lick, a small barbecue chain which, he says, “does a proper sauce”. All traditional Texas barbecue sauces are sweet, tomato-based, thick and spicy, but there’s a world of variation within that definition.
No amount of asking would get G to tell me what he meant by “proper”; every barbecue joint in town has a different saucing and rub, which is also on sale at the counter so you can anoint the food you grill at home with it. I’ve a good, and pretty faithful, Texan barbecue sauce recipe you can use here if you want to have a go yourself; use it as a marinade, or pour a dollop on the side of the plate for dipping.
I found that there are two ends of the barbecue spectrum in these parts: traditional, pile-em-high casual eating where you use your fingers and get sauce on your elbows; and “fancy barbecue”, with cutlery and (whisper it) salad. Everywhere we tried offered a regular sauce alongside an extra-spicy one; some also made their own sweet mustard. And there are standard accompaniments on offer everywhere: potato salad is a must, often sweetened and gussied up with a bit of the in-house sugary rub. You’ll also find baked beans everywhere, sugary, spicy and seasoned with bits of smoked brisket end.
Beef’s the standard in Texas, but most restaurants also offer some smoky porky bits and pieces alongside the traditional beef. Beef – brisket, ribs, or a good old-fashioned steak – is usually your best bet here. This is, after all, where longhorn cattle come from.
For casual barbecue, all paper plates, chequered tablecloths and sticky fingers, my favourite in town was The Ironworks, on Red River St. This is one of those restaurants with celebrity endorsements plastered all over the walls. If it’s good enough for Chewbacca and The Fonz, it’s good enough for me. I was lucky enough to go for the first time in a group of 12, so we were able to order a sample of everything on the menu – which is to say, a honking great mountain of meat. Fat beef ribs, crisp, smoky and sweet from the rub, are the restaurant’s speciality, and were, to my tastes, the very best thing on the menu. These are a bit of a challenge to eat politely, but persevere. There’s a great home-smoked hot sausage on offer, pork ribs (much less good than the beef ribs), halved chickens, pork loin, wonderfully smoky ham – you can order these meats by the pound, or, if there are fewer of you, you can each get a platter of one of the meats with some traditional accompaniments heaped alongside on your paper plate. Potato salad mixed sweet, like so much food in Texas; pickled cucumbers; pickled chillies; slices of raw onion; baked beans; and a big slice of Wonder Bread are more than you’ll probably be able to manage in one go, but they’re great to browse on. There are big, ice-filled coolers out front, where you can pick up a local beer, a bottle of root beer (awesome, as they say out here, with the beef ribs) or a Budweiser if you have no tastebuds.
After something a bit more spiffy and shiny? You need to head to Lambert’s Downtown Barbecue, in the new Second Street shopping district. There’s a little stage upstairs where you can listen to live music, a fabulous Sunday brunch that’s part buffet, part waiter service, and a simply superb lunch and evening menu. And cutlery. And cloth napkins.
My first visit to Lambert’s was an evening one, when I was served a ribeye steak cooked with a mustard and brown sugar crust, much like you’d find on a crème brûlée. One made of solid meat. I know I’ve been complaining all week about the sugariness of Texan food, but it was hard not to notice that this was the first time in my life I’ve finished a whole ribeye. This steak was cooked over oak chips, served with a roasted head of garlic, and was so good that I’d have married it if I could. Dr W (to whom I am married, making any potential steak-marriage impossibly bigamous) ordered a slab of brisket, rubbed in brown sugar and coffee, and smoked until blissfully tender.
Staff here are impossibly hip. There are enough tattoos on the restaurant floor to upholster a really creepy three-piece suite. Everybody’s as nice as pie (specifically, a lovely little crescent-shaped, deep-fried apricot pie, served with some excellent ice cream); and in common with many places with ultra-hip servers, there are some ultra-good cocktails on offer. Try the tart cucumber gimlet, which is a great foil to the sweetness of some of the food.
We were back again for brunch, which gave me a chance to branch out into the rest of the menu a bit. There are actual salads on offer – asparagus vinaigrette, great coleslaw packed with coriander, the ubiquitous potato salad and a fruit salad for any health nuts who have stumbled through the wrong door. Great gravadlax, cured to a nutty tenderness then gently smoked, so the outside is barely cooked, is served with a Texan favourite, crisp fried capers. There are devilled eggs topped off with farmed caviar (I am a sucker for a devilled egg); grits, home fries, macaroni cheese and all the American carbs you could wish for; and a butcher’s block manned by a fella with a big knife who will lovingly slice some of the restaurant’s smoked meats for you. There’s also a long list of small plates you can order fresh from the kitchen, and a groaning table piled with patisseries. The coconut profiteroles, chocolate pie and a blueberry muffin so densely filled with fruit that it was more blueberry than muffin would have beaten a less dedicated group of diners, but Dr W, G and I manfully made our way through it.
After a week’s serious eating, Lambert’s comes out as my top Austin pick by far. Happily for me, more trips to the city seem to be in the offing; next time, I’m planning on ordering their cold-smoked, stuffed quail, and a slab of their thick strawberry Texas toast. It’s beyond me how anyone in this city can stay slim.
I write this at the Oasis, a café with an enormous terrace overlooking Lake Travis in Austin, TX. The sun is beating down, the water is blue, turtles (actual turtles) plash beneath me, and a nice man is coming in a few minutes with my bowl of guacamole. My mission here has been largely barbecue-oriented, and I’ll have a whole list of barbecue tips for you here next week. Last night, though, I realised I couldn’t take any more in the way of brisket, at least in the short term, so I headed out to Hudson’s on the Bend, a cottagey little restaurant out near the lake, famous for its game and rare meats.
My husband used to live in Austin in the summers when he was a student, and has always held Hudson’s up as a pinnacle of his early restaurant experience – the rose-tinted spectacles of nostalgia are a powerful thing. Enter through the back, from the car park, where you’ll find a patio strewn with white fairy lights, carpets laid out on the rock floors to soften things underfoot. And some very pretty food, some aloof and indifferent service, and more obnoxiously sugary glazes than I’ve ever encountered in one place.
(Oo. Here is my guacamole.)
Hudson’s menu is a positive circus of wildlife. It opens with a rattlesnake cake (“coiled atop a spicy chipotle cream”), taking a schizophrenic route through the plains of Africa (yak), America (buffalo) and Canada (elk) via a French flowerbed (escargots). You’ll be disappointed to learn that I simply couldn’t face that much meat after a few days’ hunting down the city’s best barbecued beef ribs, so I ended up with a portion of foie gras (I have still to meet the level of protein consumption that will stop me from finding a chunk of foie appetising) and a quail salad. Dr W also remained untempted by exoticism, and there’s plenty on the menu for those not up for a slab of yak, like the lobster risotto and Nieman Ranch pork chop he eventually settled for.
(Bleedin’ awful guacamole, this. I will give the Oasis café a bye; the view is good, the friend I’m with claims to be enjoying his veggie burger, and they do make a reasonable cup of coffee. There’s also a mural depicting twenty chihuahuas being served drinks by a longhorn cow, and a larger-than-life fibreglass parrot wearing a Hawaiian shirt, which is so fantastic that I’m hard-pressed to be down on them.)
Things started well, last night. A Margarita, puckeringly and curiously sweet, and some complimentary spring onion and dill bread with flavoured butters. The bread had reached great puffy, yeasted heights, thanks to a very generous amount of sugar in the dough. Sugary butters, too – chipotle-honey and some sweet herbs.
In concerningly short order, our waiter, facial expression suggesting his best friend had died recently, rolled out with starters. The foie came on a plate shaped like an artist’s palette; weirdly annoying, shaped plates and whimsy, but something I’m prepared to forgive. As it turns out, cornbread and foie is not the best textural combination – the gritty nature of cornbread, especially when, like this bit, it’s been drenched in oil, is compellingly wrong alongside silky, buttery foie. The richness of foie is a no-brain match with sweet accompaniments, but this cornbread, dense with sugar; the slippery, syrupy crust on the foie; and the red strawberry and balsamic sauce alongside were too overwhelmingly sweet to support this teeny a slice of liver.
I can’t comment on the lobster, thanks to an allergy in equal parts deadly and annoying. Dr W says “Toothsome, with plenty of saffron, and very sweet”. You may see a theme emerging here.
Quail, on a bed of spinach leaves. Hopelessly pretty, gently smoked, nicely boned, cooked to a lovely tenderness. And so tooth-hurtingly, pancreas-winceingly sweet, that I was hard-pressed to work out how, honey aside, the little bird had been flavoured. This was a dish so sugary that the baby tomato halves in the salad cringed into sourness against the sticky, sticky meat. I stole a chunk of Dr W’s chorizo-stuffed pork chop, and blenched. I’ve eaten ice creams more savoury.
This is all such a shame, because the plating is gorgeous (as you can see from the pictures), and the environment at Hudson’s is so green, twinkly and romantic that you find yourself willing them to buck up a bit. I couldn’t face the dessert section of the menu – sculptural glasses full of custardy-looking concoctions kept coming past on the way to other tables, but my teeth were already vibrating with desire for a toothbrush, so we called it a night.
Perhaps this is not Hudson’s fault. Perhaps it is a Texas thing. After all; this is a place where sugary barbecue rubs and sauces are sold on every corner. Maybe after a while, your palate slips, and high-sucrose seasoning is merely standard. (I did have a steak at another restaurant a few nights ago – of which more later – with a crème brulée crust, which actually managed to be very tasty indeed.) All the same, If I succumb to some sort of diabetic crisis before I manage to get home, you’ll know who to blame.
It’s been a deceptively quiet couple of weeks on this blog – it’s been very busy here at Gastronomy Domine Towers. Those of you who enjoy the posts on food travel are in for a treat: I found out yesterday that I’ll be in Texas and New York for two of the next three weeks. As far as I’m concerned, this is great news, but I’m extremely sorry if you’re one of the people I’ve had to cancel appointments, meals and get-togethers with at the last minute, and grovel accordingly.
In the meantime, here are some pictures from Ottolenghi in Islington, where I went to meet some other bloggers (big wave to Niamh and Ailbhe) and the lovely ladies from the Irish Tourist Board a couple of weeks ago. The way things work here is tapas-like: everything on the menu comes as a small plate priced around £10, and you’re encouraged to try about three of these dishes per head. There are fifteen of these small dishes on the menu, which changes nightly, and as fortune had it, there were five of us, so we had one of everything on the menu and stuck them all in the middle of the table to share. No commentary here – I was enjoying myself too much to stop eating and talking to take notes – just be advised that it was every bit as good as you’d expect from Ottolenghi, and a very, very fine evening was had by all. I’ll try to make it back for another visit where I’m paying a bit more attention later in the year.
I’ll be posting from Texas next week, in search of barbecue.
There’s a reason you don’t see souffles on blogs very often. It’s not because they’re particularly difficult or prone to failure (to be honest, I find making a souffle much less of a faff than making a quiche). It’s because unless you’re making a reinforced, twice-cooked, single-portion sort of souffle, centimetres of gorgeous puffiness will subside between your getting the thing out of the oven and focussing the camera on it. Move fast with a souffle, and for maximum impressiveness, make sure everybody in the house is clustered around the oven when you take it out so they can do the “Ooo!” thing in the three seconds before it starts to deflate gently.
It will only lose a few centimetres’ height, but I wish I’d got a picture in a bit earlier. It looked fabulous on exiting the oven, rather than merely very fine indeed, as it does in the photo above. And, of course, it makes for a particularly fine supper, light in texture and dense in flavour all at once. A lovely springtime dish.
To serve 2-3 with a sharp salad and some good bread, you’ll need:
Preheat the oven to 190ºC (375ºF). Put the haddock (undyed, if you can find it – I couldn’t) in a small dish, and cover it with the milk. Put the dish, uncovered, in the oven for ten minutes until the fish is cooked lightly. Strain the milk into a jug, remove the skin from the haddock and use your fingers to flake the flesh, removing any bones as you go, and set aside. Grease the inside of a 2l souffle dish very generously, and sprinkle generously inside with grated Parmesan, rolling the bowl around to make sure the cheese sticks all over its inner surface. Separate the eggs, the whites in a large, very clean mixing bowl (any grease on your whisk or in your bowl will affect the lift you can get into your eggs), the yolks in a mug or small bowl.
Combine 50g butter with the flour in a saucepan, and melt them together into a roux. Make a white sauce by beating in the flavoured milk a little at a time over a low flame. Add the creme fraiche, mustard, 50g Parmesan, herbs and flaked haddock to the sauce with the separated yolks. Stir well to combine.
In your large, squeaky-clean bowl, use an electric whisk to beat the whites into glossy peaks. You’ll know when you’re there; tip the bowl. If the eggs are not whisked enough, they will move when the bowl moves.
Use a large metal spoon to add a spoonful of the whisked whites to the haddock mix in the sauce pan to loosen the mixture. Stir well. Now add a spoonful of the loosened sauce to the egg whites, folding it in with the edge of the spoon rather than stirring; you want to end up with as much air still in those whites as possible. Repeat, spoon by spoon, until all the haddock base is folded into the egg whites.
Pour the mixture into the greased and cheese-scattered souffle dish. Sprinkle the top with a little more Parmesan. Slide into the oven and cook for 35 minutes, until puffy, golden on top and a little creamy inside.