Sunday, 4 October 2015

Smoked haddock soufflés

A savoury soufflé is essentially a white sauce, what the French call a Béchamel, seasoned and flavoured with aromatics such as black pepper, bay leaves etc. This is enriched with egg yolks, and often with cheese, and finally folded into stiffly whisked egg whites. The mix is baked in ramekins, large or small, with the aerated albumen being the leavening agent. 

I don't know why soufflés have that kitchen magic mystique about them. Sure they can fail to rise smoothly and vertically but a domed souffle tastes as good as a towering one. Just check your expectations. That said, OF COURSE I want my eggy columns vertiginous. I suspect a lack of ramekins is as much a reason for not cooking them. You can bake a big one in a bowl. 

But first: egg whites. We've all been told to whisk the egg white to soft peaks or stiff peaks but not to over whisk. What does over whisked mean? I believe so many people are put off cooking by vague nonsense like this. That kind of instruction is only meaningful to those who don't need instructing.

So I've gone all domestic science teacher and prepared a hand out. I'll be referring to this in future blogs. 

I've made several cheese soufflés: goats and gruyere. Now it was time for fish. Egg and fish: it has to be smoked haddock - one of my five final meals. The reason for the change was a cheese course requested by Sue and Dan. You can't really serve that at the end after a cheesy thing at the start.

Again I trawled (ha) the internet. This recipe owes a lot to the Hairy Bikers.

However before we start, a word about the fish... and how to cook it. Here the haddock is first poached in milk, which is used to create the white sauce. Why you wouldn't do that I have no idea, although many omit this stage. Don't. 

My rule of thumb when poaching fish fillets such as haddock is to bring the poaching liquor to the boil with the fish in it then remove the fish. It will be cooked, unless it's more than a few inches thick. If it is, you must be a very rich reader and can buy your own advice thereafter.

But... this fish is to be twice cooked. So surely only a par poach is needed. Traditionally this would be tricky. But I have a sous vide machine. I know, I know, you don't. But you will. Within a decade, they will be as common place as pasta machines. And probably as well used. Gifted with that grimace of recognition of future failure: for the moment we'll pretend you'll use this more than once.

Boiled fish... with albumin
If you boil your fish this will happen. You've seen that icky white stuff, especially on salmon - its colour is more revealing. I've drawn red circles around it. When fish passes 60°C it starts to tighten so much that it forces out a white protein called albumin, actually similar to egg white. It's utterly harmless and tasteless so it won't ruin your Christmas but I'm fussy like that.  It does mean your fish is very firm though... and you're about to cook it a second time.

Whereas... with a sous vide, you can bag up the fillets in milk and cook them at any temperature. I did mine for 30 mins at 40°C. The result is a much better texture; one that's much easier to skin, bone and flake.

Whichever method you use, you'll need 250g of smoked haddock fillet cooked in 600ml of milk.

And you'll notice the fish is naturally white, not dyed yellow. You wouldn't would you? Please don't let's bring that up again.

Sous vide. 30 minutes at 40°C

Smoked Haddock Soufflés
This makes four or five, depending on the depth of your ramekins. A deep ramekin will give you a larger rise - or a bigger dome.

In a saucepan, melt 25g unsalted butter and add 25g of plain flour. Mix to a roux and chase it around the pan for a minute or two to cook out the flour. Add a good splash of vermouth and stir to integrate.

Now add the fishy milk (300ml), in small amounts, whisking in over a low heat until smooth. To this add a teaspoon of English mustard, 50g of mature cheddar cheese, grated, and a few twists of black pepper. Steady with the salt though. The cheese and smoked haddock may have introduced some already. Leave to cool.

Separate four eggs. Free range or not I leave to your conscience. Beat the four yolks into the fish sauce.

Break up the fish into small flakes and place them in the sauce. You want to preserve some structure. Fish paste is off the menu.

At this stage you can let everything rest until guests arrive. Push some cling film over the fish sauce to prevent a skin forming. Refrigerate the egg whites.

You need to prepare your ramekins. They need to be buttered and coated with a crumb of some sort. This acts as both a grip and a lubricant, allowing the soufflés to rise. if you don't prep your ramekins you may end up with dense eggy puddings.

Black bits are a mix of pepper and rosemary. The breadcrumbs are from my rosemary focaccia, y'see,

Butter your ramekins well, stroking up from the bottom to avoid egg impeding lines. Now roll around inside a mix of ground parmesan and dry breadcrumbs. Use a small blender or spice grinder to ensure a fine grain. This has the advantage of coating your soufflé with a delicious crispy filigree - basically very thin fried bread. I tend to keep a pot of this in the fridge - using the dry rind end of parmesan and any stale crusts together.

I use this nifty little Tefal. Had it for a few years now and the engine hasn't burnt out, despite my best efforts. Pro hint: stop when you smell plastic burning. Also great for chopping nuts, chocolate, olives etc; small, faffy stuff that goes skidding away from under-blade.

When you are ready to cook, transfer the fish base to a large bowl - it's easier to fold in the egg white. Whisk the egg whites to firm peaks and mix a third into the fish to slacken it. Now gently but completely fold in the rest of the egg white. It should be homogenous with no white blobs. You can't rush this but it should take no more than three minutes.

Brim the mix into the ramekins and level the tops with a knife. Now, important: take the knife tip around inside the lip of the ramekins to release the mix from the edge. This helps the rise. I suspect that otherwise the mix bakes onto the rim and then has to dome.

Bake at 180°C for about 18 - 20 minutes. The exact time varies with ovens and ramekins. A soufflé should be soft and fluffy remember, not set like an omelette  Actually, an omelette shouldn't be set either. Unlike this monstrosity.

The really difficult thing is getting the buggers onto plates - fast! Etien and I have a system which involves me swearing a lot and using an entirely unsuitable set of slippery metal tongs. If you find a better way, do let me know in the comments.

Served here with some watercress and chopped tomato vinaigrette


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