Snap, crackle and puff

FOOD

Snap, crackle and puff

ERRIEDA DU TOIT chips in about soufflés and discloses a red hot obsession.

SEVEN. That's how many dishes the average home cook has in their repertoire and makes repeatedly, according to a British consumer survey. We food sophisticates may look down on others' dull food lives too easily, without noticing our own set patterns.

I understand the need for routine. After all, it's one less thing to stress about if the answer to the never-ending question “what are we eating tonight?" is waiting in the pantry and fridge.

Think about it this way: if you only have seven things in your repertoire, let them be dishes that will bring endless joy. You can always temper the predictability with a few taste variations.

In my regular food contributions, I build on our repertoire and simply start with an egg dish. “Oh no, don't we already have enough egg recipes?" you might sigh. As if Louis Leipoldt had not already mentioned in Kos vir die Kenner that there are 600 ways to cook eggs. Eggs in purgatory, moonshine eggs or hard-boiled egg quarters with a hot parsley-onion sauce and the  elegant name of eggs à la maître d'hôtel. And so on.

Yet, Leipoldt's recipe for egg soufflé with cheese as still just as relevant as the “bear omelette” of the social media era. It's so short that it fits in X (the old Twitter), but it assumes we all have the finer nuances of cooking under our belt.


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Soufflé without worries

The thought of making soufflé without guidelines once paralysed my culinary efforts (despite my university papers), until Jacques Pepin's version slipped effortlessly into my repertoire-of-seven golden oldies.

Imagine: a soufflé with an imposing puff topping and ethereal texture without the intimidation factor. For a bit of whisking and grating, you are rewarded with a whirlwind of nutty melted cheese flavours.

The pluses:

You don't need to separate the yolk and white, and no pointy whipping of the egg white either.

No separate folding of the delicate, stiffly beaten egg white into the white sauce.

You don't even need one of those special soufflé bowls with upright ridges; I use my mother's oval Pyrex dish which chips and has a nice large surface area so that the soufflé emerges from the oven brown, crispy and puffy.

It's load-shedding tolerant (touch wood), because it is prepared in advance and can easily stand for several hours before it goes into the oven.

If the cooked soufflé does not go to the table immediately, it does not collapse and keeps the puff well.

It's versatile too: alternate the herbs and the cheese and add smoked fish, cubes of ham or finely chopped chorizo. For great excitement, add a spoonful of “crack" — chilli crisp — about which I'll tell you more later.

Cheese soufflé without difficulty

(enough for 4 portions)

Ingredients

  • 90 ml butter plus extra for greasing pan
  • 60 ml grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 90 ml cake flour
  • 500 ml full cream milk
  • 2.5 ml each salt and pepper
  • 5 extra large (or 6 large) eggs
  • 650 ml grated cheddar or Gruyère cheese plus (optional) three pieces of cheese in flat 5cm x 7.5cm “tiles” for garnish
  • 45 ml chopped spring onions

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 205 °C. Grease an oval ovenproof gratin dish (capacity 1.5 l) well with butter and sprinkle the bottom and sides with half of the grated parmesan. Keep the remaining grated parmesan to sprinkle over later.

2. Melt the 90 ml butter in a medium saucepan, stir in the flour (a balloon whisk works well), mix well and cook for 10 seconds.

3. Pour in all of the milk and whisk vigorously, continuing to whisk until the mixture is smooth and thick and begins to boil, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the salt and pepper.

4. Break the eggs into a bowl and beat very well with a fork. After 10 minutes, the white sauce should have cooled enough. Now work quickly: add the beaten eggs, grated cheddar and chopped spring onions to the sauce and mix through. Pour it into the baking dish. Now you can bake it immediately, or leave it until you want to bake it later.*

5. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan on the top of the soufflé, arranging the three cheddar tiles in a circle in the centre if using. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until puffed and well browned on top.

Tips for making now and baking later:

* At this point it can sit at room temperature for a few hours before you bake it; or if you want to bake it the next day, leave it in the fridge overnight, take out in time to reach room temperature and then bake.


Pantry smartness

Egg-buying tips:

Soufflé is luxury on a low budget, especially if, like me, you sniff around for good prices. I buy my free range eggs for R3 per XL egg from the farm through a contact on our neighbourhood's Facebook page.

Otherwise, order fresh farm eggs from Celia Myburgh of Homegrown Free-range Eggs, Fijnbos Farm, Stellenbosch. She delivers her happy chickens' eggs in the Cape Peninsula. Fijnbos Farm, Stellenbosch (083 207 6386) or e-mail homegrown@henhouse.co.za. 

I buy cheese for soufflé from cheese factory stores or surplus stores like Mad Foods in Monte Vista or Rosenpark, Tyger Valley. Track down a branch near you on Facebook and follow it for bargains.

Chilli crisp — the latest obsession

I readily admit my latest addiction to chilli crisp, a condiment with cult status that has spread worldwide. Not that I'm a big chilli nut, and don't bring sweet chilli sauce near my food. Chilli crisp is now at the top of my list of hot food tonics.

Chilli crisp with its irresistible flavour, moderate burn and extra crunchy texture has dethroned my other pantry obsessions such as gochujang, ssäm sauce, hot mango pickles and the golden oldie Tabasco. I eat it with almost everything, even just like that with a spoon from the jar. It's also the best thing that can happen to an egg dish.

What it is:

Chilli crisp or chilli crunch gets its deep umami flavour, crispy texture and smokiness from a variety of dried chilli flakes, which are fried in oil so deep red that they almost look black; the oil turns rusty red. Then crispy fried garlic, shallots and sometimes sesame seeds or peanuts are added, further balancing the flavours with sweetness and salt.

Where to find it:

After a tongue-tip test of a horde of brands and garagista versions for sale in supermarkets, markets and delis, one product stands out: Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chilli Crisp from southern China. The name means “old godmother" and the packaging is characterised by the red label with the serious face of the creator, Tao Huabi, on it. How the illiterate owner of a small restaurant for truck drivers developed into a global giant is an inspiring story on its own. Today, about 1.3 million jars are bottled daily for the world market.

The heated brand battle:

The selfsame chilli crunch has plunged the American David Chang of Momofuko fame into a public fight after he sued small businesses, which see it as a generic term, for trademark infringement. It damaged his own brand so much that he dropped the case.

Where and what to buy:

Taste and authenticity determine my choice, which in this case also offers the best price. Do your homework if you have to buy regularly.

Woolies' chilli crunch costs about R67 for a 120g jar, products at our local deli exceed R80, while chilli crisp and chilli crunch products on Takealot cost up to R129.

I now only buy the “old godmother's" Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chilli Crisp at R39.95 for the 210g jar and R89 for 700g at the L & Z Foods Chinese Supermarket.

Visit L & Z Foods Chinese Supermarket, Cape Grand China Shopping Centre, Racecourse Road, Milnerton. (Also drop by the Italian deli across the road for good cheese and other delicacies).

♦ VWB ♦


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