Friday, October 2, 2009

Sausage Soufflé

Today I'm going all out and combining Friday Flashback with Kids in the Kitchen...
You see, it all started over 10 years ago when I visited my great aunt and uncle who live in an old, old house in rural England (photo taken by my mum last year. I'll have to think up some more flashback topics related to my visits there, as while I was flicking through photos and writing this I am having to suppress so many memories and stories that are surging up!)

At the time of this particular visit, my great aunt was in her 80s, but she still used her giant Aga stove to cook the meals, one of which was Sausage Soufflé. It was simple- sausages suspended in fluffy egg, and I don't remember much of the specifics other than eating it on a cold February evening with a dab of hot English mustard. I returned home, and a while later thought it would be a good recipe to replicate, but couldn't find a recipe. A few years later my mother was visiting again, so I asked her to inquire about the the recipe, but my great aunt said that there was no particular recipe- it was just one of those things she used to make, but hadn't made recently. It was something I always thought I should try to nut out a recipe for, but never got around to... until recently!

Like many toddlers, Big Bro loves eating sausages. When preparing them for him I've often remembered my elusive Sausage Soufflé. I searched again for a recipe, this time online, and again came up blank (all the sausage soufflé recipes there use American "sausage", which I would call "sausage meat", not links). In fact, most soufflé recipes don't have any large chunks of filling in them- finely diced vegetables or purees are the norm. In the end I decided that I would try to suspend sausages in a simple cheese soufflé; if it didn't work then I would at least have a flat sausage omlette.

The final decision I made was to involve Big Bro in the preparation. "Soufflé" and "Kids" aren't often put in the same sentence, but I thought "why not?" Apart from realising that toddlers aren't great at folding when we made chocolate mousse, the rest of the non-stovetop steps seemed fairly friendly. And perhaps I was encouraged by all the recipes I consulted which made a particular point of stating that the technical challenges of soufflé-ing are overexaggerated.

And they were right: if a toddler can make a soufflé with a bit of help, it can't be that hard!

So, with those words of encouragement, here's my...

Sausage Soufflé Recipe
(adapted from cheese soufflé recipes in The Cook's Companion (Stephanie Alexander), I'm Just Here for More Food/Good Eats (Alton Brown) and the Nursing Mothers' Association of Australia Cook Book)

Grated Parmesan cheese (~1/4 to 1/2 cup)
30g butter
2 tbs plain flour
1 cup warm milk
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 tsp dry mustard
4 egg yolks
~1 cup diced vegetables, cooked if necessary (in this case, carrots, corn kernels and parsley)
4 flavourful chipolata-size sausages (or two thin regular), cooked and cut into ~5cm lengths
4 spring onions (green and white bits), chopped and fried with the sausages
7 egg whites (the recipes tend to go for one more white than yolk, but I happened to have 3 whites frozen together so decided to go for extra-fluff; I'm sure 5 whites would suffice!)

Preheat oven to 200C and ensure your soufflé will have enough room in there to expand upwards: remove the upper shelf if you have one, rather than have to tear your masterpiece from its rungs.

Thoroughly butter a 1L souffle dish: Alton Brown recommends holding a stick of butter "like a lipstick". Add the Parmesan cheese and seal the dish tightly with plastic wrap. Now shake! (These are obviously toddler jobs.) The Parmesan will stick to the butter, coating the dish. Place in the refrigerator.

As far as I know, all soufflés are a combination of a frothy matrix- here it's whipped egg white- fluffing out a heavier base- custard or a white sauce, the latter in this case. So to make the white sauce, melt the 30g butter in a saucepan and add the flour and mustard powder, stirring for two minutes (as timed by Big Bro). Add the milk gradually and simmer with stirring for five minutes, making the sauce thicken. (Alton doesn't bother with the simmering) Stir in the cheese and the egg yolks one by one, then transfer to a large bowl and stir in the vegetables.

Next it's onto the whites: whip them to firm peaks. This is definitely a toddler job, and distracted him from his exclusion from the subsequent step!

Now the critical step that determines whether you'll be making a soufflé or a frittata: the folding. Using a metal spoon, gently stir about a quarter of the whites into the white sauce-vegie mix to "loosen" it (fluff it up). Then dump in the rest of the whites (or continue gradually) and fold into the white sauce to make a big fluffy mess. Don't overmix!

Spoon about two thirds into your soufflé dish and then carefully arrange the sausages on this, and cover with the remaining mixture. Run your thumb around the rim of the dish to make a little "ditch" that should help the soufflé to rise up rather than out (tall rather than exploded) and sprinkle on the remaining Parmesan.

Now, without delay, pop it carefully into the oven (onto a tray that will catch any spills is a good idea), shut the door and leave it for 25 -30 minutes. Apparently the instructions to tiptoe around the house lest you deflate the soufflé are excessive, but I did take the boys outside to play at this point!

When your timer dings, remove your gloriously expanded masterpiece (ooh, ahh) and insert a knife to check that the middle isn't liquid. If it is, you can return it to the oven for 5 more minutes. Once the knife comes out clean, admire your handiwork, then serve as immediately as you can.

Pie in the Sky's Henry Crabbe sternly told his wife, "a soufflé waits for no-one", but in our case it waited long enough for a second slightly deflated helping and for B to come home and eat the leftovers.

And the verdict? I can't remember my great aunt's version closely enough, but this was a good enough replica for me- sausages suspended in fluffy egg. All involved enjoyed the construction and the deconstruction, which makes me keen to make more soufflés. And the boys will be welcome to help!

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