OK, I don’t care what anyone says, soufflés are really cool. But for some unknown reason, they have kind of gone out of fashion. And I don’t have the foggiest idea why that is. They are fairly inexpensive to make and could not be easier to prepare. The kind of cheese you use can be whatever you happen to have on hand, so there’s no reason anyone need even make a special trip to their local cheesery. And eggs, who doesn’t have eggs on hand? So what is preventing cooks from making this light and fluffy delicacy? Well I don’t know about anyone else, but I sure as heck know why I stopped making soufflés for about 10 years! I truly doubt anyone else out there has a similar excuse, but please allow me to tell you my true story about soufflés, a couple of cans of shrimp, my 4 kids, and why I disdained soufflés for such a long time.
When my kids were young, and their father and I were both working at good jobs, but paying a mortgage ($210 a month) that at the time seemed outrageous (remember I’m almost 71, so this was a long time ago), I made dishes like soufflés on a regular basis. Of course I didn’t use imported Gruyère cheese, but even with sharp cheddar cheese or inexpensive Swiss cheese, soufflés were delicious and actually quite inexpensive to prepare. Plus, everyone in my family loved them. So to kind of fancy up my soufflés, I would often make a shrimp sauce to go on top. Well, like I said, we weren’t rich, not technically poor by any means, but with 4 kids, baby sitter expenses, car payments, etc. we kept close tabs on our grocery dollars. And in those days, (the early to mid 70’s) canned shrimp was readily available and cheap, plus you couldn’t just go to your local grocery store and buy fresh shrimp and cook it yourself. Canned shrimp was just about the only way to go. And usually there was no problem with the quality.
But this one time, I made my usual basic sauce, opened a couple cans of shrimp, drained them off, and added them to the pot. We sat down to dinner, and the soufflé was perfect. But the sauce, OMG, there must have been more shell in the cans than there was shrimp. It was absolutely crunchy and absolutely inedible. I was so mad. Here I had made this perfect soufflé, and because of the sauce, the entire meal had to be thrown away. I don’t remember where we went to eat that evening, but it sure wasn’t our dining room! And I truly don’t think I made another soufflé for at least 10 years!
But as I got older and wiser, a) I stopped buying canned shrimp, b) I refrained from covering a perfect soufflé with a sauce, (what was I thinking?) and c) I forgave the soufflé, even though it wasn’t its fault in the first place!
So unless you have a reason as irrefutable as mine for not fixing a soufflé, give this recipe a try at your earliest convenience. You just won’t believe how lovely and creamy this soufflé feels in your mouth. It’s like eating a puffy bite of warm cheese. Just don’t try and dress it up with a fancy sauce. But if you must, just don’t use canned shrimp. Sometimes lessons can be learned at someone else’s expense. And I paid the piper already, so you have a free pass!
- 5 T. unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
- 3 T. finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 4½ T. flour
- 1½ c. milk (whole milk is best)
- ¼ tsp. kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper (not too much)
- ¼ tsp. paprika
- pinch of freshly grated or bottled nutmeg
- 7 large eggs, room temperature, separated
- 2 c. grated imported Gruyère cheese (5-6 oz.) or cheese of choice
Grease the inside of a 2 quart casserole dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Sprinkle the finely grated Parmesan cheese along the bottom and sides of the dish. Set aside.
Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter in a heavy saucepan. Whisk in the flour. Cook for a couple of minutes. Remove from heat and slowly whisk in the milk. Return pan to heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to burble until very thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add the salt, pepper, paprika, and nutmeg. Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time.
Place the egg whites in a mixing bowl and beat to stiff peaks. (Be sure not to get any of the yolk in with the whites when you are separating the eggs or the whites won’t whip up as light and fluffy.)
Fold a third of the yolk sauce and a third of the Gruyère into the egg whites. Do not over-blend. Add the next third of the sauce and cheese into the whites and again fold gently. Add the final third of sauce and cheese into the whites. Scoop the mixture into the prepared casserole. Bake the soufflé in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until it has puffed and the top is nicely browned and firm to the touch. (A long skewer inserted into the soufflé should come out fairly clean.) Serve immediately.