Friday, August 10, 2018

Super Fancy Potluck

I was scratching my head over what to make when I went to a potluck meal recently. A few friends came over to our place to eat previously with each bringing a dish over to share, and this time, we went for a repeat at a different venue with a few others to join for good fun, with no others than the culinary team of Caprice with the meal held over at the private room at the back of the restaurant after their lunch service.

It’s an interesting proposition but also one with some pressure. I wanted to do something suited for the venue and something I could prepare in advance and need only minor work just before serving, but then this may not be the time to “flex your French cooking muscle” given there’s some real professionals there - I don't wanna embarrass myself in front of them. At the end I decided to do a fish soufflé with a slight local twist. I know I know, these days most people thought of soufflé as more a dessert dish with the soft and fluffy texture served in a cute little ramekin, but it actually can be sweet or savory.

I am using a recipe loosely based on Julia Child’s one – the major variation being the choice of fish used. Hers used salmon (as Souffle de Saumon) while I opted for the fresh sea bream that I picked up from the fishmonger in the morning (yes, that means there’s an extra step of having to fillet the fish). And I served with some sauce for extra flavor, and this time, it’s a arugula-scallion pesto (with Kujonegi scallions that I picked up in Kyoto’s Nishiki Market just the week before). Took me just a few hours to get these done the day before, let them cool and pop into the refrigerator, and on the day of serving, all it took was 8 minutes in a 170C oven, then spooned on the sauce (also made in advance, kept in the refrigerator and brought it back to room temperature the night before)

And all of us had a great time – my friend J quipped this the fanciest potluck ever for a reason, with fine-dining table set up in the gorgeous room at the back of the restaurant with the perfect harbor view, and everyone brought their “A Game” to the table. M made a beef tartare mixed with parmesan cream and truffles (and a touch of elderberry flower), D brought the curry chicken which was the perfect stew to go with the baguette from the Four Seasons pastry kitchen, and then J made some ondeh-ondeh – the traditional Southeast Asian dessert made with pandan juice, glutinous rice flour, gula melaka (palm sugar) and coated with shredded coconuts and CYY brought a chocolate cake coated with sprinkles. That’s in addition to the veal with fregola and black truffles prepared by Chef Guillaume and the sumptuous dessert spread by Chef Vivien, and all these went with the wines prepared by Victor their sommelier. It’s a truly one-of-its-kind dining experience – and would be hard to beat a potluck such as this.

And one thing I learned? Fancy tableware did wonders to augment an otherwise ordinary-looking dish.

Recipe: Fish Souffle with Arugula-Scallion Pesto (serves 8)


Fish Souffle:
  • 300g fish fillet (bones and skins removed if needed), cut into small chunks (I took them from 2 sea breams bought at the market - you can use frozen white fish fillet if you want)
  • 2 cups of whole milk (500 ml)
  • 6 tablespoon of butter
  • 6 tablespoon of flour
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 0.5 cup of parmesan cheese, grated
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Pesto Sauce: 
  • 0.5 cup of loosely packed arugula, picked and washed
  • 1 cup of chopped scallions (mainly green parts)
  • 2 tablespoon of lemon juice (roughly juice from half lemon)
  • Lemon zest (from one whole lemon)
  • 0.5 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

1. For the sauce, combine all ingredients in a food processor fitted with a blade attachment, or a blender. Pulse until smooth – drizzle in additional olive oil if necessary to achieve the texture you desire. Keep in the fridge or refrigerator, and take it out the night before serving so it can be served in room temperature.
2. For the soufflé, preheat the oven to 210C and put chopped fish fillet in a bowl and mix with salt to slightly cure the meat for 30 minutes
3. With a small saucepan, warm up 1 cup of milk in medium-low heat until simmering. Dried the fish fillet with kitchen towel then cook the meat in the milk for 5 minutes. Take the cooked fish out into a bowl and gently use a fork to turn them into flakes. Set aside while saving the hot milk in the saucepan.
4. In a mixing bowl, whisk egg yolks and mix in with the remaining milk.  Slowly pour the hot milk from the saucepan into the bowl and mix completely. Then gently warm up the milk and egg yolk texture to thicken – do not let boil or the yolk will be cooked.
5. In another saucepan (or a small frying pan), make a roux by melting the butter over medium heat until it started to bubble, than turn down the heat to low setting and whisk in the flour to form a thick paste. Continue to whisk until everything is combined and it became smooth. Continue to cook in low heat until the roux color deepens slightly to light brown/golden.
6. Pour the warm milk and egg yolk into the roux and whisk continuously until everything is combined to form the Béchamel sauce. Mix in with the grated parmesan and the cooked fish flakes, wrapped and set aside at room temperature.
7. Meanwhile, place a round of parchment paper on each of the ramekins (you would need 8 of those or do it in batches) Grease the insides of the ramekins with butter and dust with flour.
8. In a clean bowl, put the egg whites in with a pinch of salt, use an electric mixer to whisk the egg white until soft peaks were formed. Gently fold in the egg white into the béchamel mixture – make sure everything is combined but do not over-mix.
9. Spoon the soufflé mixture into each of the ramekin up to slightly below the top edge, making sure there’s equal portion of cheese and fish in each. Smooth the surface if needed and slide a knife around the inside edge of the ramekin dish.
10. Place them into oven, turn the temperature down to 190C, and cook for 30 minutes until risen and top turned into golden color. Test with a toothpick to the center of the souffle to make sure it came out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool.
11. When the dish is cool enough to handle, carefully run a knife along the inside edge of the ramekin and turn the soufflé over into a plate (it should get off easily with the parchment paper underneath). Remove the parchment paper that lined the bottom of the ramekin, and put them on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and keep in the refrigerator overnight – don’t worry if the soufflé deflate a little bit, it will rise back up slightly on reheating
12. To serve, reheat in a 170C oven for 6-8 minutes until the soufflé was warmed through. Place them into a deep dish to serve with the sauce spooned underneath and around. Garnish with a light drizzle of olive oil and herbs on top if you wish. Serve immediately.

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