I've always been hesitant to attempt a soufflé, for no sound reason other than it being one of those dishes you feel you should be afraid of. But a day at a French cooking class some years back debunked a lot of the mystery, and gave me more confidence in attempting to pull off what can be a bit of a tricky dish.
My instructor's advice was decidedly French: "get it right from the start and you won't have anything to worry about", which was to say that so long as your white sauce is nice and thick, and your egg whites have been whisked to a firm snow, then the mix can in fact sit for hours without spoiling the outcome of the dish.
Other useful tips were: the liquid doesn't have to be just milk (though avoid adding anything with lots of acidity as this will slacken the thickening power of the flour); the major ingredient can be anything so long as it doesn't give up water during cooking (making tomatoes a definite no-no); and incorporating the air slowly by hand-whisking the whites gives a more solid and voluminous mass than whites whisked on electric mixers (the high speed tends to stretch and snap the protein strands of the egg).
I may not have figured out how high to fill the ramekin for the perfect rise, and the impressive height gained lasted a mere 5-10 seconds before commencing its slow and deflating collapse (hence the stress on needing to serve it "immediately"), but the texture was excellent and, well, I guess there are worse things you could have to practice...
SOUFFLÉ AUX CREVETTES (Adapted from a recipe by Di Holuigue)
- 4 large prawns, raw
- 1 ½ Tbsp white wine
- 1 Tbsp water
- 30 g butter
- 30 g plain flour
- 240 ml milk
- 3 eggs, separated
- salt, pepper & cayenne, to season
Peel the prawns and put the heads and carcasses in a small pan together with the wine and water. Cover, bring to a boil and then simmer until the liquid has reduced to 1-2 Tbsp. Strain and set aside. Dice the flesh into 1.5-cm pieces.
Pour the milk into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Just before it reaches a boil add the prawns, poach for a moment, and remove.
While the milk is coming to a boil, in another pan make a roux with the butter and flour. Add the boiled milk to the roux and stir until thickened. Mix in the strained essence, and season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Remove from heat.
When ready, whisk the egg whites to a firm snow. Return the white sauce to the heat and add the egg yolks, one at a time, stirring each in turn. Immediately fold half the whisked whites into the sauce, followed by the poached prawns and then the remaining whites. Pour the soufflé mixture into 3-4 small, well-greased ramekins*, until three-quarters full. Place on a tray and bake at 190°C for 15-18 minutes, increasing the temperature to 210°C for the last 3-5 minutes to brown and solidify the soufflés. Serve immediately.
** Alternatively, use one medium-sized dish and increase the cooking time accordingly (around 30-35 minutes).