…and I did it the only way it should be done – by drinking most of a bottle of really cheap red wine first.
On my (ever-growing) shelf of cookbooks, I have the Granddaddy Bible Cookbook Of Them All – the incredibly unassumingly titled The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery by Georges Auguste Escoffier (sarcasm sarcasm).
It’s fucking huge, it has no pictures and there are something like a bajillion recipes in it. Obviously, with a name like Escoffier, the rules are all French, which means everything comes with a sauce made from cow’s feet that’s been reduced in a goat’s bladder for seven years over a temperature of exactly 72.32°F. Even the salad. As a result I honestly hardly ever look at it because frankly, I’d rather stab myself in the face with a spaniel. And besides, I’m a child of the modern world, to keep me engaged I need a large type-face, graphic design that someone has obviously paid vast sums of money for and massive oversaturated pictures to go with everything.
But the problem is that you can’t escape the French, they’re freaking everywhere – and their techniques have become entrenched. Hollandaise sauces, béchamel, rendered goose fat, reductions of everything – we have the French to blame for all of these things, and learning them is Required. And so when I finally wanted to pop one of my long-standing culinary cherries – I had to turn to bloody annoying Escoffier.
You see, somehow I have managed to never make a soufflé. Mostly because any conversation that involves soufflés inevitably includes how the bastard things never actually work, because they’re either flopping, catching on fire, leaving you for another man or stealing your money at gunpoint. If the collective myth-making of cooks around the world were to believed they’re nigh unto impossible to actually make, and so you wonder why anyone actually bothers to try. Well, I decided that I should add my legend to the collective and give it a bash, which is why I got liquored first, so that the shame of my failure wouldn’t sting quite as sharply.
Except for the fact that they bloody came out perfectly, maybe because of the drunkenness. And possibly because of the same principal that governs why first-time poker players Always. Fucking. Win.
I’m not boasting. I was shocked. And I now also know why everyone continues to try and make them: they’re more delicious than dunking your head in a bucket of …something really delicious that I can’t think of right now.
Savoury Baby Marrow and Cheese Soufflé
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
half a brown onion
2 tspn thyme
1 pack of small baby marrows, finely sliced
55g plain flour
250ml heated milk
4 eggs separated into 3 yolks and 4 whites
a handful of grated pecorino cheese (but you can actually use cheddar or whatever you have in the fridge really)
extra butter, to grease
What to do
Get the oven pre-heated to 180°C. Find a couple of what could be considered a ‘ramekin’, essentially a round, shallow cup of some kind – then grease them up good and proper with butter. Make sure you get it into the bottom and the lip of the cup as well, because that’s usually where the soufflé will stick, which is bad news for everyone
Finely chop the onion and the clove of garlic, slice up the baby marrows and heat some olive oil in a pan, then fry it together with the thyme. Keep the heat at a medium level and once they’ve browned and softened nicely, remove from the stove. Then, using a potato masher – smash it all up into a paste and put it aside.
Melt the butter in a pot, then stir in the flour and then slowly add the milk (hooray, you’ve just made a béchamel – congratulations). Stir vigorously while it bubbles for about 2 minutes or so, then remove from the heat and carry on whisking until it’s smooth and creamy. If it’s too thick, just keep adding milk until you’ve got a yellowish creamy sauce.
Then, toss that in with the mashed baby marrow, along with the cheese and egg yolks. Grind some black pepper over it all, add some salt to taste and gently beat it into a thickish sauce.
At this point you need to find a flat-based and oven-proof dish and fill it about three quarters full with boiled water and keep it at the ready.
Now, this is the crucial bit – everything you do will hinge on this next step, so maybe drink some more quickly. Whisk the egg whites until they’re stiff and properly aerated (it should look like stiff sea-foam), then gently pour it over the sauce you’ve just made, and carefully carefully fold it in.
Once this is done, pour it into your greased ramekins and the put those ramekins into the dish of water, and then put that whole thing into the oven.
Turn on the oven light and keep an eye on the soufflé from about 20 minutes of cooking onwards, because this should mostly be judged by the look. The tops should raise about 2-3cm above the lip of your ramekin and start to turn a lovely golden brown – that’s the signal to get them out of there.
Once they have, remove from the heat (desperately praying that they won’t flop like a miserable poetry-reciting teenager) and serve immediately.