Food writer Robert Courtine devoted a whole book (Madame Maigret’s Recipes, 1975) to composing recipes for the dishes served to Inspector Jules Maigret by his devoted wife Louise in Georges Simenon’s mystery novels featuring the Belgian detective . One dish for which Mr. Courtine provides a recipe is a savoury soufflé (similar to the one described in this post)–which, in one of Simenon’s books, requires everyone to rush to the table, else the first course will be ruined. (In the United States, ‘entrée’ has come to mean the main course of a meal, but in the French order of service it is the first course.)
Soufflés have a reputation for trickiness partly because of the timing question. Once one comes out of the oven, it has got to be eaten right away. The baking time of small, individual soufflés, however, is a matter of 20 – 25 minutes, an interval which gives everyone time for a drink and ‘a little something’ to go with it. Even the cook in charge of the soufflés can sit down while they bake because, once a soufflé is in the oven, there is nothing to do about it except wait for the timer to tell you it’s ready. At that point, there’s still no need to fly to the table. (Soufflés are going to begin to deflate a little almost immediately in any case.). But no need to saunter either.
Timing Note: The soufflé mixture (with the exception of beating the egg whites and folding the mixture into them) may be put together a day in advance, covered and refrigerated. Bring it to room temperature before folding it into the beaten egg whites and baking them. The 6 shrimp for garnish may be sautéed shortly before the soufflé mixture and egg whites are combined and kept warm on a plate on the back of the stove. The egg whites may be beaten a little in advance of the time guests are expected to arrive, and once all have arrived, folded into the seafood and put in the oven.
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- about 200 grams of Cod fillet or any other white-flesh fish–for example, Sole or Flounder fillets (about 8 ounces). Other substitutes are Julienne (aka Ling), found in Northern European waters and Merlan (aka Whiting)
- 12 shrimp, shelled and deveined, plus 6 shrimp (optional), shelled and deveined to place on the tops of the baked soufflés when they are served
- 50 milliliters of dry White Wine (1/4 cup)
- 1 Tablespoon of fresh Lemon Juice
- 3 eggs, plus 1 White of an Egg
- 100 milliliters of Heavy Cream (3 liquid ounces)
- 1/2 teaspoon of Thyme Leaves, dried or fresh
- 1/8 teaspoon of Cayenne Pepper
- freshly ground Black Pepper and Salt
- 250 milliliters of cold Milk (1 cup, plus 2 Tablespoons)
- 30 grams of Butter (2 Tablespoons, or 1 ounce), plus some more to butter the ramekins
- 30 grams of Flour (1/4 cup)
- about 1/2 cup of grated Gruyère cheese (Emmentaler could be substituted)
- about a teaspoon of Olive Oil in which to sauté the optional six shrimp to place on the finished soufflés
- a Food Processor or Blender
- 2 small Mixing Bowls and 2 large Mixing Bowls
- a small, heavy-bottomed Saucepan
- a Slotted Spoon
- a Mixer, standing or hand
- 6 1/2-cup size soufflé dishes (aka ramekins)
- 6 strips of Parchment Paper (each about 6-inches wide and folded in half to make long, double 3-inch strips) and 6 Paper Clips: to make collars for the soufflé dishes
- a small pan in which to sauté the six shrimp to garnish the baked soufflés
2. Preheat the oven to 425 F.
3. Peel and devein the shrimp. Chop 12 of them into large-ish bits and add them, the 6 whole shrimp, the wine and lemon juice to a small mixing bowl. Set them aside.
4. Run your fingers down the length of the fillet(s) to check for bones and remove any you find with tweezers. Cut the fish into chunks and place it in the food processor with the cream and process it into a fine mixture. Transfer it to a large mixing bowl.
5. Melt the butter over medium heat in the saucepan. Add the flour and cook the roux, stirring, for a couple of minutes without browning it. Add the cold milk all at once, stirring all the while, and bring the mixture to a boil. It will thicken quickly. Remove it from the heat. Grind black pepper and salt into it and set it aside.
6. Separate 3 eggs, placing the yolks in a small mixing bowl and the whites in a large one. Separate the 4th egg, reserving the yolk for another use, and add the white to the others in the large bowl. Beat the yolks and set the bowl aside. Place the bowl of whites in the refrigerator, covered, if you are not baking the soufflés as soon as the seafood mixture has been prepared.
7. With a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp pieces to the bowl containing the fish and cream mixture. Add the egg yolks, several grinds of black pepper and salt, the thyme leaves and the cayenne pepper:
8. Just before you are ready to bake the soufflés, heat about a teaspoon of olive oil in a small pan. Remove the 6 reserved whole shrimp from the wine and lemon juice and sauté them. (They are done in a matter of a few minutes.) Transfer the shrimp to a plate. Lightly cover them, and set them on the back of the stove where they will not cool too much. Discard the wine and lemon juice.
9. Beat the egg whites until they form soft, firm peaks–just until they no longer slide up the side of a tilted bowl:
10. With a spatula, fold the whites into the seafood mixture. Take the soufflé dishes from the refrigerator and divide the mixture among them. Sprinkle some grated cheese over the top of each soufflé. Wrap collars of parchment paper around them and fasten each collar with a paper clip:
11. Bake the soufflés in the oven at 425 F for 20 minutes. By then, they will be puffed and golden. Remove them from the oven, take off the paper collars, place a whole shrimp on each soufflé and serve them right away.
A Note: Seafood Soufflés are served as the First Course of the Lunch Menu: Fish and Chicks: a Long Leisurely Autumn Lunch. The recipe is adapted from one that appeared in the French cooking magazine Cuisine Actuelle (April 2009).
A Last Note: These soufflés, with a salad, form a nice Light Lunch–for 4 people if baked in 8-ounce size ramekins, or, in the smaller version shown in the photos, a Light-er Lunch for 6.