Recipe for crab souffle and brioche trifle
- Credit: Archant
After cooking her way around the world during lockdown, Frances digs out her kitchen diaries and opts for the English culinary nostalgia of souffle and trifle
In normal times we might be looking back with pleasure on a short trip to Paris or eagerly anticipating a birthday visit to Bilbao. But Eurostar is hardly running, Bilbao’s Semana Grande has been postponed and we are feeling sorry for ourselves.
Yes, I know, first world problem, typical Hampstead champagne socialists. So for me it’s time to bring out my kitchen diaries, dating back to 1974, and travel notebooks, and indulge in some culinary nostalgia.
We have eaten Portuguese – home-salted cod with potatoes and onions in bacalhau a Bras, accompanied by a high-grown white wine from Pedra Alta, crisp and minerally. With a chilled white port to begin with – from the same quinta – we could pretend to be eating in Lisbon’s Baixa. Poulet Charles Barrier, a creamily comforting chicken dish took us back to Tours, accompanied by a Foreau Vouvray Brut. I’ve cooked Sri Lankan vegetable curries to remind us of Galle in the south of the island and pasta Genovese to remind us of spring in Liguria.
Fortunately, shopping locally provides everything I could possibly need; turbot and John Dory, scallops and red mullet have been wonderful from Hampstead Seafood, lamb, organic chicken, Scotch beef, even sweetbreads (to order) from Patrick and Farida at Meat Naturally have featured in our Sunday lunches, Spanish and other continental cheeses and delicatessen from Victoria and Eva at Montadito, fruit and vegetables from the Jenkins’ top and tail our meals, and all from Hampstead Community Market.
Like everyone else, it seems, I have started baking bread again since my kind neighbour was able to get yeast in one of her on-line deliveries. In fact I have baked more loaves in four months than I have baked in forty years. Though in an emergency I recommend Tesco’s sliced sourdough, very dense and flavoursome; perfect for French toast and pan con tomate. I also like their brioche loaf, which I cut in thick slices, freeze and use for desserts such as trifle, tiramisu and pain perdu, as well as toasting it for breakfast and slathering with home-made jam.
Whatever I cook will be seasoned with various gastronomic gems brought back from earlier travels; sun-dried Gozo sea salt, paprika from the Central Market in Budapest, a bottle of Valdespino sherry vinegar from the family reserve, thick, dark and powerful. Vinegars from this solera were entered as aged vinegars in the 1904 World’s Fair. I have been using one bottle since 1996 – very sparingly –, when it was drawn out of the barrel for me in the bodega. When it became almost too thick to pour, I refreshed it with a younger sherry vinegar, so that it became ‘educated’ by its elder. Almost finished now, there is one bottle left which I reckon will last the rest of my life.
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But this weekend, as I fancy preparing an ‘English’, a first course of tomato and hyssop or basil salad will be enhanced by a few drops of this elixir. Next, I will serve some fresh crab with brown bread and butter, or a crab timbale. To finish, an ‘instant’ trifle using the brioche loaf.
For summer a freshly boiled crab is the height of luxury for me, far more than lobster. It takes time to prepare, pounding and cracking and painstakingly extracting the meat, but it is worth it. A large crab will produce white meat for four people, and the soft meat makes a soufflé for four, or a crab soup. I buy the crab from Hampstead Seafood, ordering a couple of days in advance, and collect it soon after it has been boiled. Once it has cooled down, I set to work, carefully collecting any juices. Larger crabs are easier to pick than smaller ones, as the body cavities are larger. The shells are usually harder however, and you will need a solid cleaver and nutcracker to break open the heavy claws, and a small fork and skewer to pick out the meat. Alternatively buy ready prepared crab meat.
The white meat can be lightly seasoned, and eked out if you wish, with a little mayonnaise, crème fraîche or whipped cream and chopped herbs, but I think it is best left plain.
For the crab timbales, I simply pack the white meat into a metal baking ring placed in the middle of the dinner plate, surrounded by cucumber salad, or boiled new potatoes, and plenty of vegetables, perhaps small artichokes, broad beans, French beans, raw carrots and radishes, whatever is available. To go with it, I make a bowl of garlicky mayonnaise. Just before serving, I carefully remove the metal ring, and the crabmeat stays in a neat circle.
I usually plan my menus so that I can use the remaining soft part of the crab, the brown meat the next day, as, like all shellfish, crab has a short fridge life; use it in a soufflé, a soup or a Parmentier. A Riesling is the perfect accompaniment to luscious summer crab, in both hot and cold dishes. Some might prefer a Mosel, crisp, fresh and relatively low in alcohol, others will prefer the weightier Alsace Riesling. A recent summery find is the Paul Mittnacht Crémant d’Alsace, from Oddbins.
Crab soufflé (Serves 2- 4)
Fine breadcrumbs - see recipe
25 g butter
2 tablespoons plain flour, sifted
Soft crab meat, whisked to a cream with a stick blender
Milk – see recipe
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
5 eggs, 2 of them separated, plus 1 extra egg white
2 tablespoons of white crab meat – if you have any left
Fresh dill, chives or tarragon - optional
Butter a soufflé dish, or dishes, and dust with fine breadcrumbs.
Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour. Cook until pale gold, then stir in the creamed crab meat. You may need to have a little hot milk to hand, in case the mixture is still stiff. In all, you need about 400 ml creamed crab and milk. Stirring continuously, cook the mixture until smooth, and add a little salt, pepper and nutmeg. Remove from the heat and stir in the whole egg, then the remaining egg yolks. Add chopped herbs if you wish, and stir in the white crab meat.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff and then fold the two mixtures together. Pour into the prepared dish, or dishes, and bake in a preheated oven at 200 C for 12 to 22 minutes, depending on the size of the dishes.
If you want to make a hot dish with the white crab meat, then I suggest this delicious potato topped pie – good for a late supper if the weather turns cool.
Parmentier of crab (Serves 4)
1 kg potatoes, peeled, cut up and boiled
Butter, milk or olive oil for mashing
Finely chopped spring onion or chives- optional
Finely chopped chervil or tarragon
350 to 400 g white crab meat
4 tablespoons crème fraîche or mascarpone
Mash the potatoes while still hot, with your chosen addition. For a plainer mash, simply keep back a little of the cooking water from the potatoes. Season to taste, then add chopped herbs if you wish. I would choose one or other flavouring, not both. Line a pie dish with half the potato. Mix the crab and cream and spoon into the lined dish. Cover with the rest of the mashed potato and bake in a pre-heated oven at 200 C for 15 minutes.
Almost instant trifle (Serves 2)
1 thick slice brioche – diced
Liqueur or syrup – see recipe
200 g berry fruit – see recipe
200g rich vanilla custard
Whipped cream - optional
Toasted flaked almonds – optional
Put the diced brioche in small glass bowls. Splash on some liqueur or syrup, which you might choose to match the fruit you are using. I like strawberries or apricots with elderflower syrup or liqueur or blueberries with sloe gin. Add the fruit, fresh or poached as appropriate and smother with thick custard; whipped cream and toasted almonds to gild the lily if you wish. This is best made an hour or two in advance for the flavours to blend and the brioche to get nicely soaked.
© Frances Bissell 2020.