p1: Cod Accra

My folks headed out on a Caribbean trip a little while back, which gave me the perfect excuse to make the only two Martinique items on my French 44 list. The dessert post should be up pretty quickly.

The Dish

Martinique and Guadeloupe certainly aren’t the first regions we think about when France comes into conversation, their culture still being heavily Caribbean in nature, though French customs do come into play. But it remains that Rum is the productive drink of choice as opposed to wine, with bananas and other uniquely Caribbean food products serving as the base of their economy, truly anything even resembling French ingredients needing to be shipped overseas. “Martiniquan Creole” is the main language, a heavy conflagration of French, Carib, African, English, Portuguese and Spanish, and something traditional French people refuse to try and understand due to its intense differences. Though I hear its syntax and other such things are slowly transverting closer to Standard French.

Both of these islands were originally acquired in 1635, after Columbus’ discovery and passing on (Spain wasn’t too interested in this either place). The French Company of American Islands told two of their men, Jean and Charles (their last names are too long for me to want to bother… though not as long as this little sideswipe, huh), to colonize any of the isles of Guadeloupe, Martinique, or Dominica. They chose the first, apparently due to “Martinique’s inhospitable nature,” yet oddly enough a Mr. Belain d’Esnambuc landed in the same year and claimed Martinique for the French King. Then again, he was driven off his own island of St. Kitts by the British, so he probably didn’t have much choice.

And from there, both islands swapped back and forth between the French and British due to various wars and whatnot. The two were finally traded back and settled as French owned at the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War (though they lost Canada… darn), and here we are. Okay, some more stuff probably happened before and after that, but I’m getting bored of history, food now!

enhanced-buzz-5151-1385795528-5I would have very much enjoyed writing something on the history of Salt Cod or the Fritters known as Accras, or Acra, or Akra, or… whatever, it’s got lots of name that all sound like the same damn thing. But for the life of me I couldn’t find ANYTHING in my books, online, my searches yielded nothing but recipes on the matter. Maybe it’s hard to quantify the proper path that fried batter dough has taken through various cultures, either that or most inland French people are too snooty to ever consider this Caribbean dish important enough to ever affect them enough or be apart of any interesting cultural event/situation.

Which is a shame, no matter the reason, for they are awesome and delicious and crispy and oh god I want to make more right now. But I have lawn work to do soon, so I should finish this up and get to it. Let’s start with the Fish!

A Word On…

Salt Cod:Heavily salted, air dried, this ingredient has held itself as one of the most important in history, at least for Europe, for its ability to keep over winter (and probably year round too) and over travel. I’ve been wanting to play with it for quite a while, but had yet to find the excuse to go to one of the good seafood/meat markets to grab the frozen pine wood box of goodness (frozen too, really? There must really be almost no one buying it if most places that have it need to freeze this as well… I mean I’ve seen videos of it sitting in open-air markets with no problem). Obviously I need to make more sopa verde.20140415_223843

Luckily it’s not that difficult to find outside of the most basic stores and markets (though no luck in Whole Foods or certain Co-ops either, depending). It’s preparing it that comes the trouble. There’s a reason it’s called Salt Cod… it tastes like salt. It practically is salt, with a bit of fish to hold it in. But when you get it out… one has a bundle of firm, nicely chewy cod fish that’s great for cooking in whatever. The task to turning it into this stage is simple, but long, taking at LEAST 24 hours to soak in cold water, which should be changed multiple times. After 24 hours, it should be ready for fritters, since we’ll be cooking it in a separate liquid bath before using, though if using for soups I would suggest lending it out another full day.

As a Minnesotan, I can’t help but be reminded of Lutefisk… only more of a firm texture instead of fish jelly.

What it is:Unlike other fritters, I’ve found the more traditional recipes for this in fact do NOT revolve around just mixing every ingredient together in a large bowl. Instead, a simple batter of flour and liquid (maybe eggs) is made on the side, mixed into the fillings, and then one folds in some heavily beaten egg whites, sorta like making a mousse or soufflé.

Now, there seems to be no real consensus on the use of other fillings; I’ve seen a simplified fritter of purely cod and green onion, and ones loaded with herbs, spices and strong aromatic veggies. I like using the cultural flavors to flesh it out, but I didn’t want to get bogged down in excess, so the question became what do we keep?

The few ingredients I keep seeing used in most fritter and Caribbean recipes are green onions, some scotch bonnets, a big thing of parsley, shallot or garlic, and of course limes. Spices vary, but the main flavor I’ve found in use is Coriander, aka dried Cilantro seeds. It’s so popular some recipes switch out the Parsley for the herb version instead, which I debated doing… but I stuck with both spice and parsley. As always, those making this should make it however they want, but I think the mix I got is pretty darn close to traditional flavors and balance.

Scotch Bonnets:Basically, Habaneros. One of THE staple ingredients in Caribbean cooking, you can find them used in many a recipe. As such I found that, if I were to mix various greens and aromatics and such into the fritters as I did, some habanero was a must; it gives an interesting fruity tart spice that I love with the green onions and other things. I definitely suggest playing with it in some form, at least in the side sauce.

20140417_164301The main note when doing so, though, is to be sparing and handle it carefully. If you haven’t heard the lecture about hot peppers yet, wear a damn pair of gloves. Or, if you can’t find any (I swear I had some, but… disappeared…) do everything possible to avoid touching the peppers directly; some plastic wrap or other item to hold the habanero while you carefully de-seed (some may argue the flavor loss with other peppers, but you really don’t wanna risk it with habanero and hotter level peppers) and slice. Oh, and don’t bite into it directly… ask Alton Brown, this is not a lollipop!

20140417_153620Milk and Water: One of my weirdest quandaries in figuring out the recipe I was to use for my fritters was the debate in using milk or water, for both poaching the fish and as the liquid in the batter. On the one hand, using the fatty milk does seem like quite the French go-to, but then again my main French book reference details a light poaching in a water steeped with bay leaf and other aromatics, also a pretty typical cultural technique and great expression of gentle cookery. Similarly with the batter, I couldn’t quite figure if a French milk enrichment or water purety was the better for structure.

Whatever decision you make is up to you, I guess on any old day I’d just stick with milk and maybe some cream too. But for this I decided to compromise; a typical stock-reminiscent water bath and some creamy milk batter.

Sauce:Well they’re little fried balls of fish dough, can’t eat it without lubrication! From what I can tell, there’s nothing particularly typical so long as it suits the Caribbean theme. Mojos, Jerk Sauce, Papaya coulis-thingy, a bottle of tasty hot sauce, whatever; though I’d say anything that’s nicely tart, a bit spicy, and not really “heavy” would work best. I decided to stick with the sauce recipe attached to the French 44’s Acras link, “Dog Sauce.” The ingredients and flavors matched the ones in my fritter, so it worked.

Cod Accra
½ lb Salt Cod
2 Bay leaves
3 Garlic Cloves
Salt and Pepper
2 Shallots
½ or 1 small Habanero
3 Green Onions
2 Tb Parsley or Cilantro
Juice and Zest of 1 Lime
1 tsp Coriander Spice
3 Eggs
1 cup Flour
¼-3/4 cup milk

Directions

  1. Soak Salt Cod in Cold Water at least 24 hours in advance, changing it a minimum 2-3 times throughout.20140415_224117
  2. Drain and lightly simmer in water bath with Bay Leaves, crushed Garlic, Salt and Peppercorns until fully cooked, about 10 minutes.20140417_151624
  3. Remove, shred with fork and/or fingers.20140417_160711
  4. Finely chop Shallots, Habanero, Green Onion, and Parsley, mixing with cooked cod alongside the Lime (juice+zest), Coriander, and seasonings.
  5. Separate the Egg Yolks from the Whites, reserving both. Mix two of the yolks with Flour and enough milk to make a THICK Batter.20140419_164015
  6. Heat oil for frying up to 375F, or 385-390F if using a smaller pot (it’ll drop fast anyways).
  7. While heating, mix the cod in with the batter.20140419_164339
  8. Beat all the egg whites, electric works easiest, to soft peaks. Fold into the fritter batter.20140419_170456
  9. Drop a few large spoonfuls of batter into the oil at a time, cooking until deep brown and crispy, 5-10 minutes depending. Turn halfway through cooking.
  10. Move to paper towels to drain oil, transfer to serving platter and serve alongside Dog Sauce (recipe follows) or other tart and/or spicy condiment.20140419_172246

Dog Sauce
2 Green Onions20140417_165201
1 Clove Garlic
1 Habinero
2 Tb Parsely
Zest and Juice of 1 Lime
¼ cup Water
2 Tb Olive Oil
Salt n Pepper

Directions

  1. Finely chop Onions, Garlic, Habinero, and Parsley, mixing with the Lime Zest.
  2. Boil water, pour over the veggies, mixing around and letting steep for 5 minutes.
  3. Add Lime Juice, Oil, and seasoning. Mix and serve, or chill overnight.20140417_170041

The Verdict

Surprisingly eggy, but in a good way; it wasn’t like the rubbery or other overcooked/otherwise too much egg flavor. It was noted, but small, adding a different flavor and texture than I normally think about with fried foods; a French flavor. It’s weird to say, but it’s actually my favorite aspect of the whole thing.

Though it’s a close 1st place, with the gloriously strong and complex Caribbean flavors of onion, scotch bonnet, and cilantro accompanying the tender and firm cod fish. It was glorious, and once again another dish to come in and make me debate it as my favorite so far. Then you add the tart and poignant “sauce” and we go to happy land.

20140419_173617The only downside is that I was unable to get that perfect crispy texture on all of them, or all over the ones I did for that matter. Always one of the issues when having to fry in a small pot while conserving oil… and trying to change batches quickly to cook them all (was serving them for a party, so had to make a whole platter of the fritters). Wasn’t able to hit the high oil temperature all the time sadly. Well, just take it as a lesson; there are consequences to not being able to hold that high temperature.

Not that they still didn’t taste amazing.20140419_173902

Primary Pairing Vinho Verde

Since the “region” of Acras’ origin is quite a ways off from mainland France, I think I’m definitely free enough to use non-French wines in the pairing. In particular, I like the idea of going off Spain and Portugal, what with their large historical trade importance and history with Salt Cod. That said, I just had to grab something from either Vinho Verde(in the North of Portugal) or Txacolina(an interesting set of regions in northern Spain). Though neither is known for any sweetness to battle the hot habinero notes, the razor-sharp and intense acidity of a high quality Vinho Verde more than makes up for it, dealing with both the fat while dancing with the spicy notes in an interesting fashion. With a naturally lower body, simple and singular flavors, and a bare and bright little fizz of effervescence (bringing a nice bit of tannin to go with the light fish texture), Vinho Verde has become well known as one of the perfect food wines. It’s a shame we rarely if ever get any of their Reds in (though I did see a rose at a tasting recently).

20140419_170655My Bottle:2011 Broadbent Vinho Verde

Most of the vinho verde one finds in liquor stores is really cheap, somewhat generic crap version that hasn’t helped to build it any reputation in the US. If one goes to any decent wine store, though, you should be able to find at least one really good quality. The great thing is even though good ones, like this Broadbent, clock around only $11-$14, depending (sota like the Greek Retsina, which also wouldn’t be too bad a pairing with accras).

Broadbent is just what I was craving; limey, strong and acidic wine that goes down easy, an almost gulpable affair to drink with the crispy, eggy cod fritters. I didn’t have to think about much, there was fun little frizz, and a bare bitterness also quite characteristic of the region, all the aspects contrasting the hot pepper-oniony-lime flavor in the food. Either way, it made me happy.

20140419_172859Secondary Pairing – Rum Cocktail

Cuz it’s the Caribbean! Need I say more?

Okay fine. Rum, besides being the distilled beverage of the islands, has a natural sweetness which counters the hot qualities nicely. And the caramelly notes in the darker and/or spiced rums goes well with the fried brown crust. Mix it with some ginger ale, coconut, pineapple, or other typical mixers, and you calm it down for easier pairing while increasing the “Caribbean feel” of the meal. Oh, don’t forget the lime!

 

p2: Souffle

Okay, how the heck is it that out of 44 different classic French desserts they could have chosen (3 of which are all some form of profiterole, 5 or more are different Tarts, and 2 of those tarts are some kinda plum), there’s not a single damn Soufflé!? Oh, well I guess they already have a souffle in the savory side… but wait, they also have a Savory Crepe paired with a Crepe Suzette, so that logic is thrown out the window! Well I say screw them, I’m changing it! This is now the “French 45,” and we shall have Soufflé!!imagesN8HN2EYL

The Sweet

The development of soufflé is likely long-lived but shortly-documented, its transition from fried egg to pastry most likely kicking off in Medieval Times, when Whisked Egg Whites started being incorporated into a variety of dishes. Though it wasn’t until the development of Meringue techniques in the 1600’s that the true potential in soufflé could be seen, but not yet realized.

Finally, new Ovens, heated by air drafts instead of coal, made their appearance in the early 1800’s, flagging in the first “true” soufflés (certain chefs such as Beauvilliers and Louis Ude had supposedly made very similar kinds of pastries less than 20-40 years prior, but they would be either unpublished or labeled), providing an even temperature for the pastry to cook properly. The first to make notable use and publication of the technique, and thus credited with its creation, is a certain Antoine Careme, the King of Chefs and the Chef of Kings, aka one of our personal Gods in the Kitchen. There’s much I could go into recounting about Careme, but that’s a post in and of itself.

untitledBesides perfecting the recipe, which he soon used to make hundreds more including the grand and famous Soufflé Rothschild (made with gold flecked liqueur-macerated-crystallized fruit), he also provided the inspiration for traditional Straight-sided cooking dish, using a similarly shaped Stiff Pastry Casing (as many oven-cooked things at the time were cooked in barely edible breads, pastries, and other handmade pots, it’s actually quite an interesting talking point, especially “chicken pot pie”).

And from there it’s history. Long years of refining old recipes and experimenting with new has lead to soufflés both precise and imaginative, along with a strong guidebook and understanding of the true “dos and don’ts,” and what we can get away with. There is of course much more to say about this and the soufflé’s history, of course, but I gotta save some material for the Cheese Soufflé whenever I get to it.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

Here’s the thing about soufflé: it’s a lot easier than people think it is. It’s not this super-long, extensive recipe based off exact measurements, extremely delicate poofy little pastry that’ll break at the slightest vibration. In fact, this weird little cliché of soufflés deflating for who knows what unseen force is just plain weird and unfounded. Any simply, properly made soufflé is very durable and stuSAMSUNGbborn; it’ll of course “shrink” a bit after it’s taken out of the oven (as it’s the warm air that causes it to rise up, so it’ll of course shrink down as it cools). But unless you actually stab it while cooking, its stability is guaranteed.

And it’s all based off of only Two components: Whipped Egg Whites, and a Flavorful Base/Batter. That’s it.

Again, simple. Before cooking, whip your egg whites to a very firm “stiff peak” stage; when you pull the mixer from the whites, there will be little horns that stand straight up when turned upside down (and stay that way if you tap it). You can use this as-is, or sometimes I’ll add in a small amount of sugar around “soft peak” stage and re-whip it to stiff peaks, sorta making a “light meringue” for a bit of stability (and it can make a fun crusty bake). Fold this into the base until it looks like foamy mousse batter thing, you be the judge of what looks right, and that’s it.

Of course, that’s not where people usually have issue grasping the concept, is it? Probably most of the caution and uncertainty comes through making this actual base, how to get in that flavor you want. What recipe do I use, what proportions of individual ingredients do I need to make sure it rises properly?

Well STOP. None of that stuff matters. The only things you need to know for making your base is that A: it’s Intensely Flavorful, and B: getting the right thickness is important. That’s it, it should be strong and distinct enough to survive the “thinning” of all the egg whites we fold in, much like when you make a mousse (which is basically what soufflé is, a baked mousse). And I like to think it should be somewhere in the range of “pan/cake batter” consistency, so long as its thick enough to hold flavor and stability, but thin enough “flow” and ribbon easily when lifting a spoon. There’s of course a general range here, it doesn’t have to be exact; can have something a little loose or a little thick. We just don’t want a firm, thick, cement batter that you can’t even fold egg whites in or a barely watery one where the foam will dissolve.

Now all you have to do is pick your flavor and find a simple way to make it taste good. Vanilla Soufflés are basically just made with Pastry Cream or a thick Anglaise; a Chocolate often made by melting the delicious goodies with a bit of milk and adding it to some egg yolks, sugar, and flour (similar to lava cake batter). If you wanted a Citrus soufflé, just make a Curd (lemon, lime, blood orange, whatever); Fruits you can just puree whole, maybe mix it with something (very classic recipes have you adding sieved fruit to sugar cooked to the “hard crack” stage). I’ve even read an article about a chef who just ignores any fats (egg, milk, whatever) and just thickens Juices and Flavored Water with Corn Starch.

There’s no real rules so long as it’s, again, flavorful and has a good, foldable thickness. Of course many chefs try and dissuade from the use of Fats (as just stated); which I do agree with, and I usually try and use only a little of those, the idea being that the fat will slide between the delicate network of the long protein strands in the whipped whites, thus taking it apart. But I just love the richness it’s able to add, along with the ability to make an ideal “batter” simply (most of the things I mentioned earlier are basic custards or cake batters), and so far hasn’t actually affected the soufflés I’ve made to any noticeable degree. Besides, the very classic soufflés are basically egg whites folded with the yolks, only flavored.

Just don’t use Butter. For the love of god, NO BUTTER; you’ll have enough on the baking dish as is. You can stick with milk and yolks, they’re a little more of an indirect lipid source. You’ll have enough on the baking dish as is.

Now we just have to fold in the egg whites. You can do this with the batter at room temp, or some recipes do it soon after MAKING a Hot base; though I don’t like the idea of folding egg whites into something HOT (too much risk for destroying the delicate air bubbles), having it “warm” wouldn’t be an issue, and can help in the rising qualities. Just don’t use the batter while cold, it will weigh things down (in a sense).

As far as cooking vessel goes, any bakeproof ceramic/porcelain/whatever (NON-METAL) thing works. Little ramekins are classic, or you could use a casserole (I saw Jacques Pepin make one in a long rectangle one). All it has to be is WELL BUTTERED, very thoroughly; get the rim too. After which, you can choose whether or not you want to “dust it with sugar,” giving a fine coating on the bottom and sides. People say this “helps it climb,” but really it’s just to get a little crunchy coating around the sides.

Oh, and fill it to or very near the top; there’s no reason to leave room for overflow, we want to give our soufflés the best chance to grow Straight Up. Actually, one of the ways toSAMSUNG help this, so it doesn’t sort of mushroom out over the sides, is to wrap a chimney of parchment paper around the dish.

Final thing, concerning cooking temperatures and time. Usually sticking to 350-375 is a good bet, I’m liking this one thing I’ve found of starting the oven at 425 and turning it down to 375 as soon as the soufflé goes in. Of course smaller ramekins will cook faster than the large ones; about 12-15 minutes, with 25-30-ish for large casseroles. Feel free to open the oven and give the dish a little prod to see if it’s set or jiggles; again, they’re sturdier than what we’ve been told.

Quite a lot of recipes also have one cooking it in a hot water bath, like custards… which I just don’t like. There doesn’t seem to be a NEED for it, and it just prevents it from any chance of getting a nice little texture on the crust.

There we go, Soufflé. With all I wrote you’d think it was difficult (I know, I tend to ramble incoherently and ongoing at times, my apologies), but if you look at the individual points made I promise it’ll now look a lot more approachable than it did before. So let’s bake one shall we!?

Banana Soufflé
2-3 Egg Yolks
2 Tb Flour
1 Tb Salt
1 Tb AllspiceSAMSUNG
1 tsp Cinnamon
2-3 Tb Sugar, plus extra
½ cup Brown Sugar
1/3 cup Rum
1-2 Overripe Bananas (depending on size)
5-6 Egg Whites
Butter, as needed

Directions

  1. Thoroughly whisk egg Yolks, Salt, Flour, Spices, 2 Tb of Sugar and Half of the Brown Sugar until pale and fluffy.SAMSUNG
  2. Move rest of brown sugar into sauce pan with Rum, heating to a simmer until melted. Remove to let cool.SAMSUNG
  3. Mash Bananas, whisk into Yolk along with the cooled rum syrup. Taste and adjust alongside consistency with extra flour, sugar, rum, banana, or whatever desired/needed. Reserve until ready to bake.SAMSUNG
  4. Heat oven to 425F.SAMSUNG
  5. Take Ramekin/Casserole dish, thoroughly rub Butter into bottom, sides, corners, rim, etc (I suggest twice). Sprinkle with leftover Tb of sugar, shaking and turning around to evenly coat the bottom and sides.SAMSUNG
  6. In Stand or Hand mixer, whip egg whites to Stiff Peaks. If desired, sprinkle and mix in a couple Tb of sugar on low speed, turning back to high to re-whip towards stiff peak stage.
  7. Gently fold the beaten whites into your banana base, 1/3 of the eggs at a time.SAMSUNG
  8. Quickly transfer to your cooking dishes, filling to or as near to the top as possible.SAMSUNG
  9. Move to oven, immediately turning the temperature down to 375F. Cook until Browned, lightly Crispy, fully Risen and the center is Set, about 25-30 minutes for larger casseroles and 10-14 for small ramekins.SAMSUNG
  10. Serve immediately alongside Rum Sabayon and Banana Ice Cream.

My Thoughts

So easy, so delicious, I really love making these soufflés. I don’t think the one I made turned out perfect, but that’s fine, it’s an easy fix. Which is another great factor to making this classic dessert: when something goes wrong, you know exactly how to fix it (and in an easy way), which is more than what we can say for other baked goods.

If it’s dense and doesn’t rise, you need more egg whites/a thinner batter; if it’s too big and delicate, less; spongy and shrunk, overcooked; still batter-y inside, cook more next time; if it doesn’t rise straight and “tents” instead, more butter on the sides (I think I needed some on the rim); if it seems too moist and tender (hard to describe what I mean, but you’ll know), reduce the liquids in the base, and so on and so forth.

I still have yet to “know” what the proper and classic soufflé is supposed to be like structurally; is it supposed to be cake-like, really moist, egg-white-y… there’s been a lot of results from different recipes I’ve tried out. But as long as it tastes damn good, and hits that comfort spot in your soul, and looks pretty, that’s all that matters.

Which certainly happened with the Banana. It was like everything right with banana bread, and custard, and warm cake… all together. Actually, with the Sabayon and Banana Ice Cream (super easy and tasty, just blend frozen bananas), it sorta reminded me of reconstructed Bananas Foster. Just needed some sea-salt caramel and a crunchy topping to complete the idea.

Despite the various rambles and unclear conjectures, I do hope this post may help encourage a few people to try making their own soufflé. If you do, you’ll have to tell me the results!

Possible Pairings

It all depends on what kind of soufflé you’re making, but a good “general” choice is Moscato d’Asti, or a Sparkling Demi-sec. Moscato is great with different chocolate dishes, is light in body to not override, and of course why not have bubbly with this air-pocketed pastry?

untitledAs far as my Banana one, I’m sort of craving something with botrytis, but I don’t want that thick, heavy syrup that a Sauternes can get. One of the simpler, more affordable St. Croix-du-Mont or Loupiac would be great (two regions near the legendary Sancerre, same style but less concentration), maybe a Coteaux du Layon from Loire, so long as one of them has Botrytis.

Though I don’t consider them on a regular basis, if you can find a dessert wine made from Chardonnay, that would probably be a good drink with the banana. Again just avoid anything heavy. Oh, maybe a Vidal Ice Wine would be good.Amontillado-sherry-287x300

A tasty, lighter sweet Rum to pair with the tropical fruit, brown sugary-ness, and of course the Rum Sabayon. Ties into the idea of bananas foster better too.

And in the world of fortifieds, I could totally go for a sweetened Amontillado Cream Sherry, so long as it’s made well. I do love a good sherry, and rarely do the cheaper sweet stuff, but this could work. Port wouldn’t really work, except maybe a “White Port.”