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Planet Oeuf

planet-oeufI recently witnessed one of the most disturbing food-related crimes I’ve ever seen on TV . I had tuned in to the hilariously named ‘Master Chef Goes Large’ and watched open mouthed as one of the contestants was talked through how to stuff a hollowed-out duck egg with a mousse of lobster, black truffles and a whole quails egg. I kid you not, this was being passed off as a legitimate test of somebody’s culinary prowess and was nothing short of car crash TV.It reminded me of the phrase “Life’s too short to stuff an olive”. Good God, if it’s too short to stuff an olive it’s certainly too short to start messing around with lobster mousse and duck eggs! The humble egg has been a stalwart of the British diet for many centuries and lots of the world’s classic dishes would not exist without them. You could forget a slice of cake with your tea and your Full English wouldn’t be quite so full without an egg now would it? Most of us have quite rightly put to back of our minds the debacle of 1988, when Edwina Currie put her foot in it regarding the safety of eating eggs and now know that decent eggs are full of essential vitamins and minerals. Having single handedly reduced the egg industry to a shuddering halt and brought about the subsequent destruction of 400 million eggs, I was most amused to see that Ms Currie had been asked by British Lion Quality (The industry bench mark of safety in egg production) to contribute a recipe for ‘Crack an Egg Month in 2004’ on their web site. You just couldn’t make it up could you?
The thing is, in this country, whilst fresh eggs used within their ‘use by date’ are perfectly safe, not all eggs are made equal. I’m not going to bang on about this but suffice to say, in this day and age there is no good reason to buy any eggs that are not free range, caged hens should become a thing of the past as soon as possible. Waitrose were the first British supermarket to only sell free range eggs and as ever blaze the trail by now carrying the most bewildering range of free range and organic eggs. There are Cotswold Legbar eggs, Burford Browns, ‘Intelligent Eating Eggs’ (enriched with brain enhancing omega 3) duck eggs and quails eggs, the list stops just short of free range dinosaur eggs but given time you never know! My favourites are the Cotswold Legbars as they have the most amazing deep yellow yolks and are deliciously rich in taste as well colour. If I’m really nice though, I sometimes get given half a dozen duck eggs by a friend who keeps ducks and hens in her garden. These are such a treat not least of all because they come from happy ducks with actual names (Emily and Angelica if you must know) now that’s what I call traceability! Of course the list of dishes you could create once you have got your hands on some spankingly-fresh eggs is endless and there’s certainly not enough room in this column to mention a even fraction of them, but if you want to create a classic dish (that doesn’t involve lobster mousse) you can’t beat a deliciously cheesy soufflé.
If you have never cooked one before, forget all the rubbish you ever heard about soufflés being tricky, they are not. The recipe that follows is in fact a twice-baked version which along with the advantage of being prepared in advance, will perform every time, removing any dinner party jitters you might have otherwise had. Simply make them in the morning, bung them in the fridge and then pop them in the oven 10 minutes before you plan to eat them.
Twice-baked Vintage Cheddar Soufflés
Ingredients (makes 4):
150gm Strong vintage cheddar, grated
4 large free range eggs, separated
25gm unsalted butter plus extra for greasing the
25gm plain flour
250ml full-fat milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
2 tablespoons fine dry breadcrumbs
4 tablespoons double cream
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 210°C / Gas 7
Butter 4 individual soufflé dishes with the extra butter and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs. Melt the remaining butter in a heavy-based saucepan and sprinkle in the flour. Cook gently for 3-4 minutes. Add the milk and whisk well to prevent lumps, cook gently until the mixture is thick and lump
Add 2/3 of the cheese and mustard powder. Stir until well combined. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before beating in the eggs and season well with salt and pepper. In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold the whites into the cheese sauce and divide between the prepared dishes. Place the dishes in a roasting dish and pour boiling water in until it comes half way up the sides of the dishes.
Bake for 15 minutes without opening the oven. When cooked, carefully turn out of the soufflé dishes and place in an oven proof dish. When you are almost ready to serve them pour over the double cream and top each one with the remaining cheese, return to the oven for 5-6 minutes or until they are puffed up and bubbling golden brown.

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