by John Ryan
1) A thick béchamel sauce starts with a roux (rhymes with Pooh).
Gently cooking roughly equal parts flour and butter for a few minutes makes a roux that is used to thicken most gravies, many soups, and a few sauces (béchamel sauce for one). Using roux is easy if you remember two things.
First, add the milk slowly and stir it into the roux before adding more. Many recipes say to add the milk all at once and stir vigorously. Don't do it! Too often you end up with lumps of roux floating around in a pool of milk. Yuck.
Also, some recipes have you heat up the milk before adding it to the roux. Don't bother. As long as you stir it in slowly, stirring cold milk into roux doesn't affect the sauce and you save yourself from washing yet another pan.
Second, roux does its best thickening at the boiling point. Once you've added all the milk, bring the sauce to a boil. Right after the sauce thickens, lower the heat so it doesn't scorch and let the sauce barely simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. During this time it'll get a little shiny and stop tasting pasty.
For soufflés, decorate boldly. For instance, a basic cheddar is good, but a sharp cheddar is better. You can sauté some onion in butter before adding the flour, or stir some curry powder into the finished sauce. A little nutmeg is often good. Don't worry, as you become more comfortable with soufflés, inspiration will strike.
3) Whipping whites.
Anytime you whip whites you want a clean bowl and clean whites. While a touch of yolk in the whites probably won't make that much difference, clean whites are worth being compulsive about.
For soufflés, you want to whip them until they are stiff, but still creamy. As you'll no doubt find out sooner or later, over-whipped whites get drier and drier until they are like styrofoam.
To fold whites into the sauce, use a rubber spatula and stir about a quarter of the whites into the sauce. This first bit is to thin out the sauce, so you don't need to be gently. But as you stir in the second, third, and last quarter, be ever more gently, using your spatula to bring the batter up from the bottom and folding it over the top.
4) Baking is a piece of cake.
Always have the oven heated to 375 degrees F. before you put the soufflé in. Plan on about 30 minutes for the proportions below. Some people like the center soft and creamy. I like them thoroughly cooked, so I let mine go another five minutes or so.
To tell if a soufflé is done, look at the top—it ought to be golden brown. Next, look at the center—it ought to be a little puffy rather than a soft depression. Then, if you want to, put a skewer or piece of spaghetti in the center. If the soufflé is completely done, the skewer will come out clean.
Last note: Buttering and crumbing the dish.
Smear a light coating of butter all around the bottom and sides, then dump a few tablespoons of plain bread crumbs in the dish. Tilt and turn the dish so the crumbs can stick to the bottom and sides. Then turn the dish over and shake out excess crumbs.
This serves four people nicely. You'll need a deep casserole or soufflé dish—one that hold 6 cups.
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 cup grated cheese
1 cup finely chopped ingredient, such as broccoli, spinach, ham, shrimp...
Two things to remember about the finely chopped ingredient:
1) The "ingredient" should be cooked. For instance, raw broccoli won't cook in a soufflé.
2) The "ingredient" should also be pretty dry. With cooked spinach, for instance, you should squeeze out as much water as possible before stirring it into the sauce.
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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