And so, the egg whites have been folded in ANGER!!*
Once again, it’s hot as balls in New York City.
Between that and the Tour De France – as I’m sure you all know today is the first mountainous stage, and the Tour chooses its champions where the mountains bear the snows of winter – I didn’t want to tackle something overly complicated or arduous. But I did want to do something new, something I’d never made before. I was flipping through Chez Panisse Cooking when it hit me:
More specifically, crab souffle with leeks and green onions, with a simple veggie saute on the side. It’s light, it’s French and it’s somewhat risky, like an edible cabaret. And it’s Alice Waters, so I’m pretty sure you can’t go wrong.
*I know: this sounds nonsensical (more so than usual). Please refer to this post and it’s paean to Tour de France commentator Phil Liggett for a full explanation.
I dug these out of my suitcase of leeks.
None of my normal after-work grocery haunts had live dungeness crabs, so I picked up half a pound of jumbo lump crabmeat instead and hid it in the back of the refrigerator while I started prepping so I wouldn’t munch the foundation of our dinner away. This also meant I got to avoid the ordeal of boiling tiny live creatures to death in my kitchen, sparing the dogs from having to hear the high-pitched little crabby squeals I assume they issue as the water heats up.*
Instead, I moved directly to preparing the SOUFFLE!** base starting with leek-washing, which, while quieter, is time consuming in its own way. Those leeks are gritty motherfuckers.
*“Aiiiiieeeeeee! This hot tub, she is broken!”
**I’m pretty sure it needs to be said like this every time.
The black specks are NOT BUGS. SERIOUSLY.
The leeks met up with their old pal celery in a saucepan, along with water, a splash of white wine vinegar, salt and pepper, and are cooked following some very precise directions: bring to a simmer, cover, cook for 10 minutes, uncover, cook until all the liquid has evaporated, add milk, bring to just below a simmer.
Actually, the instructions were written in Julia Childese and said to bring the milk just below “the” simmer. Not just “a” simmer like you normal slobs would do. Jeez.
While the veg simmered, I prepped some ingredients I’d be needing later. I separated the eggs that would eventually go into the SOUFFLE! base and chopped some more leeks and sugar snap peas for a simple veggie saute.
Butter: Tour de France champions SWEAR by it, I’m telling you.
With the veggies done, I moved on to one of my more favoritist things to make: a roux and bechamel. I love the meditative process of stirring, stirring, stirring as a thin liquid morphs into a thick luscious sauce. In this case, the roux used butter and flour – not in the one-to-one ratio I normally use, making for a loose roux* that concerned me a little – and the liquid was the milk, leek and celery mix post an exciting visit to Mr. Blender.
I needed have wasted precious mental energy fretting over a loose roux: as soon as the hot milk hit the hot roux, the whole thing seized up faster than half-naked teenagers in the back of his mom’s Ford Explorer when the cop shines his light through the back window. (Note to self: When Alice says “gentle heat,” she really, really means it. Really.)
Low heat, some more milk and a few minutes of stirring and cussing saved the day, as they usually do.
*A loose roux is the dregs of French culinary society. Immoral and shameful, say I.
Delicious things piled on top of other delicious things.
I took my now-smooth but unusually thick bechamel off the heat and quickly beat in the egg yolks before turning to the real star. I added a heaping pile of crabmeat (yes, more than the recipe actually directed IF YOU MUST KNOW), chopped scallions, lemon zest, cayenne and a pinch more salt and folded it all together.
At this point, it looked like eggy crab pudding* and I could have eaten it straight away. I’m not an infant, elder or tuberculosis patient, and I have no problem with consuming raw eggs. And look, Alice TOLD me to taste it and adjust the seasoning, so I had a little nibble and knew how good it was; why would she tell me to do that if she didn’t want me to eat it? But I held back. (Barely.)
*Doesn’t this sound like some kind of British holiday dish? IS this some kind of British holiday dish?
Behold: the FIRST TIME I have ever successful beaten egg whites to firm peaks rather than “weepy separated mess.”
It was time for the beating heart of SOUFFLE!: the egg whites. Egg whites and I have a love-hate relationship, and we’ve exchanged heated words on several occasions. In some incarnations – fried up for breakfast, or mixed with sugar and whipped into a silky Italian buttercream – we’re total BFFs. But when it comes to simply beating naked egg whites to any kind of peaks, I seem congenitally unable to do anything but go straight from “slimy mass” to “weepy and slightly puffy slimy mass.” (For those who don’t know, overbeaten egg whites will eventually reach a breaking point where the liquid separates out.)
Since SOUFFLE! has no life without properly beaten egg whites, I watched the stand mixer like a goddamned hawk, refusing to look away, concentrating all my will into catching the egg whites at the right time. One of the dogs could have walked up and peed on my leg or stolen my credit card to go on an online shopping spree at PetCo.com and I would not have moved. Possibly one or both of these things actually happened and I should be calling Equifax right now.
Although I started to move beyond firm peaks into stiff peak territory, (Or does stiff come first? Too much jargon.) I stopped things in time. My egg whites were full and fluffy, fairly glossy, and not dissolving into a pile of coagulated proteins and egg white water. Huzzah!
I folded the whites oh-so-carefully into the SOUFFLE! base in three batches and gently spooned the mixture into buttered ramekins, which went into a 425 degree oven. I forgot to take a picture of them, but wasn’t about to open the oven door on a newly-installed SOUFFLE! to take a photo for the likes of YOU. No offense.
I RELLY REALLY REALLY wanted a close up of those three little peas in the pod in the center of this shot. Alas, twas not to be.
The SOUFFLE! spends a scant 12 minutes in the oven, so I put a knob of butter into a saute pan and added my leeks and snap peas to cook ever so slightly. I worked on my one-handed pan toss and only threw about 40% of the vegetables into the gap behind the stove. Getting better!
Who is your SOUFFLE! daddy?
In between pan flips I peered into the oven, ecstatic to see my SOUFFLE! rising majestically like little crab-filled hot air balloons.
Scratch that, what a terrifying mental image.
In any case, they puffed perfectly under my anxious eye and stayed up while I gingerly removed them from the oven and quickly styled a plate for photos all willy-nilly. I broke into the top of one to add a few more lumps of crab as garnish, and the texture looked just about perfect.
You SO WISH you were my upstairs neighbors, who got the remaining two SOUFFLE!
As it turns out, I love SOUFFLE! SOUFFLE! is awesome! I would like to eat all my meals in SOUFFLE! form.
Everything about this SOUFFLE! was wonderfully delicate, from the just-set texture of the SOUFFLE! base to the tender chunks of crabmeat to the sweet leek undertones. The simple vegetables were the perfect accompaniment, adding some color and crunch to the plate without drowning out the lilting flavor of the SOUFFLE! I’ve never met a half-pound of fresh jumbo lump crabmeat that I didn’t like, but in this form it becomes something else entirely; sweet and elegant and ethereal. And somehow also filling; I thought I’d scarf down more than one of these little guys, but we ended up bequeathing the other two to our neighbors.
Vive le SOUFFLE!
Final Score: Us, 1; SOUFFLE!, 0