If you know me, you know that when I decide to cook, I generally try to avoid “simple.” That’s not to say I don’t love simple – clean, fresh, straight -forward food is delicious. That just means that when I decide to cook something for myself, I take it as a challenge, picking out the most intricate, time-consuming recipes possible. Recipes from the French Laundry Cookbook? Bring ‘em on. Don’t get me wrong, after 2 hours of stuffing pasta I’m generally kicking myself (unless of course, wine is involved!), but at the end I reap the rewards of my efforts.
So, after coming home exhausted from long day at work on Tuesday, what do I decide to make for myself? Well, wild mushroom soufflé, of course!
Having never made a savory soufflé, I wasn’t really sure what I was in for, and to make it even better, I decided to basically make it from scratch. Okay, okay, so what’s my point? The point is this – when I first started making soufflés, I thought that it would be a long, arduous process with a high degree of difficulty (hence the reason I chose to make it). Turns out, it’s easy.
That’s the message I want to convey here – a message of hope. While I suppose there are a few pitfalls in making a soufflé, the overall process is easy. You, too, can make a delicious soufflé that will shock and awe, if you just follow these simple steps.
The first step in making a soufflé is understanding what the hell you’re actually making. A soufflé is essentially a celebration of egg – just some kind of base (made with egg yolk) added to whipped egg whites (where the airy, lightness comes from). Your base, a thickened sauce of sorts, is where the flavor comes from, and can either savory or sweet. So, if you’re making a chocolate soufflé, your base would be something like butter, cream, chocolate, sugar, and egg yolk. If you’re making a savory soufflé, you would make a roux (equal parts butter + flour, the more of each you use, the thicker your sauce will be), and add some kind of liquid – in this case it was whole milk as I was essentially making a béchamel base.
Another thing to keep in mind is that every egg you use represents 1 serving. So, if you are having a soufflé party for 4, use 4 eggs. It’s that easy.
For this particular recipe, start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees and taking out 3 eggs to sit at room temperature. Mince whatever wild mushrooms you are using – in this case 2 large yellow chanterelles were the fungus of choice. However, mushrooms contain a lot of water, and we don’t want a lot of water coming out in our soufflé, so we need to dehydrate them. Throw them into a hot skillet (no oil/butter necessary) and sautee them until water bubbles out and they brown ever so slightly. Then remove, place on a paper towel, and pat dry.
In a small saucepan, melt 2 tbsp of butter with 2 tbsp of flour. When that melts, add about 1 ¼ c. of milk, and bring to a boil. Boom! Now you have a béchamel sauce.
Remove from the heat, separate your eggs, and whip the yolks into this mixture, adding about 1/3 of the yolks at a time. PITFALL: since you’re adding yolks to a hot liquid, they want to curdle. Fear not! By adding the yolks slowly, off of the heat, and constantly whipping, you should be okay.
Now, add your minced mushrooms. Okay ready for my secret? I took dried morels, which are packed with flavor, chopped them up really fine, and added them to the sauce. Usually you have to soak dried mushrooms before using, but adding them to the base will allow them to take in as much liquid as they need to reach their full potential, without adding any extra water to the soufflé. Finally, add about 1 cup of grated gruyere cheese, if you dare.
Now, whip your egg whites until they form stiff peaks, and fold the base into the egg whites 1/3 at a time. Butter your soufflé ramekins, and fill them 3/4ths of the way up. Put them in the oven for roughly 20 minutes, or until the tops are nicely browned.
While that’s cooking, I made a sauce to go into the soufflé – in this case it was just béchamel sauce with sautéed crimini and shiitake mushrooms. Follow the same steps you made to make the béchamel sauce in the base, but only use 1 tbsp of butter and flour, to roughly the same amount of milk. When it’s at the thickness you want (enough to coat the back of the spoon), add your sautéed mushrooms, and voila! You’re done.
The soufflé will begin to fall as soon as you take it out of the oven, so make sure to serve immediately. Take out of the oven, place it in front of your guest, and with a spoon, make a hole in the center of the soufflé and fill it with your sauce. The result? A lighter-than-air, delicate creation celebrating the incomparable flavor of wild mushroom.