by John Ryan
I admit it. I avoid a lot of recipes, whole classes actually. Take deep-frying. I love French fries, fritters, and doughnuts, but I'm happy to let others deal with boiling oil. However, there are foods like pot stickers or whole roasted fish...I'd really like to make them, but I find myself passively ignoring them. It's like a person I'm attracted to but pretend to ignore. When it comes right down to it, I avoid these recipes because I'm afraid some culinary troll will ambush me and make me look stupid. After all, I've learned that every recipe has at least one unwritten trick (I call them trolls) that I was supposed to learn at my Granny's knee.
Soufflés were like that for a long time. And they were easy to avoid. First, they're French. Next, they're fancy. And except for Valentine's Day, pretentious French food went out of fashion 20 years ago. Besides, in my mind the soufflé was literally surrounded with smirking trolls just waiting for me.
But I was attracted to soufflés. Sooner or later I guess I knew that I'd give in and try one. So one Spring day, girded with lots of time and a coupon for pizza (should the trolls win and my attempt collapse and utterly fail), I went after my first soufflé.
That first one actually came out beautifully. It seemed like way too much work, but success has a pleasant feel, so a week or so later I made a second one. Then, once I realized that dinner (and my self-esteem) wasn't in jeopardy, I relaxed and began making them more often. Each new soufflé became easier than the last.
In fact, I soon discovered that the formidable soufflé didn't need a precise recipe. In fact, it was a spiffy way to polish off a stray end of cheddar and leftover vegetables.
But I still remember the trolls that stood in the way of my first soufflé:
Soufflés are tricky.
Not so. Actually, not much can go wrong. You can overwhip the whites, in which case they'll be dry and won't mix into the sauce very well. But even with dry whites the soufflé will probably still be fine.
You need special ingredients.
Nope. I mean, sure, if you're making a lobster soufflé with truffles you'll need lobster and truffles. But a great soufflé combination is ham and cheese. And for that you just need...ham and cheese.
They fall if you sneeze.
Any soufflé will settle a little as it cools, but they won't collapse unless they are way underdone or you do aerobics in your kitchen.
Soufflés are fou-fou food...fine for restaurants, but not for a real meal.
This is really a fear of not getting enough to eat. Yes, soufflés are light, but they're surprisingly filling. They do need a partner, however, such as a salad, which is easy to make while a soufflé is in the oven.
A wonderful thing about soufflés is that once you know the drill, you find yourself defying the trolls and making soufflés with the most unlikely ingredients...such as beets.
Both chef and musician, John Ryan wrote the Just Good Food blog from 1996 through 2001.
This page created March 1999
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