‘You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
‘They called me the hyacinth girl.’
— Yet when we came back, late, from the hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looked into the heart of light, the silence.

Oed’ und leer das Meer.

– TS Eliot, The Waste Land (1922)

I have just watched Michel Roux make a smoked haddock soufflé on television, with unfussedness and calm. Shortly, I am hoping Hugh Bonneville’s food heaven is the recipe of choice – oysters in beer batter…There is something very soothing and inspiring about watching good cooks at work.

When you have a confidence in what you’re doing, when you are relaxed into the thing, when you have flow, the end result can only ever be great, totally enjoyable, because that’s blended into it, through the creating.

Come back a step with me. The programme I’m watching (BBC 1’s Saturday Kitchen) has moved onto a piece about Charlie, a salmon fisher in Cornwall, who is known as “the fisher king”. Rick Stein’s no doubt about to grab his catch and do something magical.

And again, it’s all about the process, the journey. Charlie’s small movements, concentration, care culminate – sometimes – in a catch: what Stein calls “his treasure” that he brings into the restaurant to sell. These all play a part in the cycle. Because it’s not over with the eating, of course. Think of the meal, of the preparation, the serving, the eating, the conversation, the dressing up perhaps, smiles, laughs, thoughts that catch, sparks that fly, all part of the flow which in this case began with Charlie and the river and the salmon.

A wee something for any chefs: MR’s soufflé

Preparation time less than 30 mins; cooking time 30 mins – 1 hour

For the béchamel
30g/1oz butter
30g/1oz flour
400ml/14fl oz milk
For the soufflé
6 free-range egg yolks, beaten
salt and freshly ground black pepper
40g/1½oz butter, softened
110g/4oz gruyère, finely grated
125g/4½oz smoked haddock fillet
300ml/11fl oz double cream
8 free-range egg whites
1 tbsp fresh dill, roughly chopped

To serve
4 quail’s eggs, poached
4 sprigs fresh dill

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 190C/380F/Gas 5.
2. To make the béchamel, melt the butter in a small heavy-based pan over a medium heat.
3. Remove from the heat and stir in the flour (this is called a roux). Return the pan to a low heat and cook for two minutes, whisking continuously.
4. Remove from the heat again and add the milk, stirring constantly.
5. Place over a medium heat and bring to the boil, stirring continuously. Reduce the heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring continuously. Allow to cool slightly.
6. For the soufflé, beat the egg yolks into the béchamel and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover with cling film and set aside at room temperature.
7. Meanwhile, grease the insides of four individual soufflé dishes or ramekins (10cm/4in in diameter and 6.5cm/2½in deep) with softened butter.
8. Sprinkle a handful of the grated gruyère into each soufflé dish, rotating it to coat the insides.
9. Place the smoked haddock into a small pan. Add the cream and place over a low heat. When the cream starts to just come to the boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for two minutes.
10. Turn off the heat and leave to rest until cool enough to handle, then remove the skin from the haddock and flake the fish into a bowl with your fingertips, removing any bones you may find. Return the fish to the heated cream.
11. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt, until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed.
12. Place one third of the egg whites into the béchamel mixture and stir well.
13. Add the béchamel and egg white mixture to the bowl of remaining egg whites and fold in very gently, adding the gruyère and dill as you fold.
14. Half-fill each prepared soufflé dish or ramekin with the soufflé mixture, then spoon in equal amounts of the smoked haddock and cream mixture.
15. Fill the dishes with the remaining soufflé so that the mixture is slightly above the top edge.
16. Smooth the surface with a palette knife and run a knife around the inside edge of the dish to ease the soufflé mixture away from the side of the dish – this helps the soufflé to rise.
17. Stand the soufflé dishes into a deep roasting pan and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the dishes (this is a bain-marie).
18. Place into the oven to cook for 7-8 minutes, or until risen and golden.
19. To serve, top each soufflé with a poached quail’s egg and a sprig of dill. Serve immediately.

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