Wait a minute!” you think. “Souffles are notoriously tricky and difficult, aren’t they?”
Their reputation is terrible, but when you actually get down to making them, souffles are quite easy and forgiving – just don’t aim for spectacular, cloud like puffs like the ones in magazines. Those are made by chefs and food stylists who are, by their job description, perfectionists. But we are not talking perfection here, we are talking supper (or maybe lunch).
It was an individual cheese soufflé served in an ordinary little outdoor restaurant in St. Tropez that first opened my eyes many years ago. The hand written menu warned of a 15 minute wait and so there was. But what arrived was a perfect fluff of creamy soufflé in its own little white china dish. In 15 minutes. With a fresh green salad and basket of bread on the side. I can taste it now.
Later I began making my own cheese soufflés, referencing, of course, the grand dame of classic French recipes, the great Julia Child. And they turned out if not perfect, perfectly good every time, except they took almost an hour to bake as instructed in a standard 4-6 serving (depending on how many people you are feeding) soufflé dish. Good but not quick.
The solution came with another perfect individual soufflé (this time crab) served in 15 minutes in its own little white dish at the wonderfully traditional Garrick Club in London. The next day I bought a set of six individual white ceramic oven proof soufflé dishes and from then on I made 15 minutes soufflés (not counting prep time) whenever I felt like it. Which was pretty often. They are delicious.
Basically a soufflé is made with a white or béchamel sauce, to which egg yolks are whisked in off the heat. The whites are beaten to soft peaks and gently folded in after the separately prepared flavourings (grated cheese, chopped cooked vegetables, etc.) are stirred into the sauce mixture. Then you fill the large ramekins or individual soufflé dishes and put them in a pre-heated 200c oven for 15 minutes. That’s it. Not hard. While they are baking you can make the salad and cut the bread.
For a quick tutorial on How to Make the Perfect Souffle, go straight to Felicity Cloake in The Guardian. Rightly, she calls soufflés “the lazy cook’s best friend.” For the master recipe go, of course, to Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” But once you have mastered her instructions and turned out a few soufflés of your own, you can relax and have fun
Having said all this, one of my favourite easy suppers is a soufflé in technique and name only. It does not have a dramatically puffed head, nor a creamy, cloud-like texture. In fact it is quite solid, but no less tasty for that. The other thing it is not, is made with white sauce/béchamel – instead the base is bread crumbs and milk. See? Easy.
Easy Individual Fish Souffles with yogurt/cucumber sauce
(inspired by the Fish Souflle in my much used and loved Fanny Farmer cookbook)
ALL YOU NEED is tinned tuna or salmon, bread crumbs, milk, lemons and eggs plus yogurt and cucumber for the sauce.
Put in a bowl:
2 cups flaked tinned water packed tuna (or salmon with skin and bones removed)
½ teaspoon salt
juice of one large lemon (2-3 teaspoons)
In a medium saucepan cook together briefly on low heat until smooth:
½ cup dry bread crumbs
½ cup milk
Add the flaked fish mixture and
3 eggs yokes, beaten until thick and custardy
3 egg whites, beaten to soft peaks
Spoon into six buttered individual soufflé dishes (or large ramekins). Place these in a roasting pan and put the pan on the (preheated, 180C) oven shelf. Pour boiling water around the dishes. Bake for 15 minutes. Tops should be puffy and brown and give slightly when pressed - as in photo above right..
While the soufflés are baking, grate half (or more) of a small cucumber – skin on or off, as you prefer – directly into a bowl of full fat yogurt and stir. Serve with the soufflés. Note: a little chopped fresh chilli or dill can be added to the yogurt, too, if you have either on hand.
Note: these are good cold the next day, with or without the yogurt/cucumber sauce.