MENU Endives with Goat Cheese and Savory Rock Cornish Hens Cooked in the Manner of Quail Individual Potato Puddings Saute'ed Cabbage and Bean Sprouts Hot Vanilla Souffle's
THIS meal was inspired by remembrances of things past, specifically the quail my husband's French aunt Jeanne once prepared for us in Paris. It occurred to me that rock cornish hens, which are more available and less expensive than quail, could be cooked according to her recipe. The result was so felicitous that for once my husband didn't react to a chicken dish with a wrinkled nose.
The meal starts with a bed of tender belgian endive slices topped with fresh, mild goat cheese impregnated with a fruity olive oil and gently touched with savory. This is served with warm french bread. Next come the little birds, which are first browned, then cooked with two kinds of cognac-saturated raisins plus juniper berries and finally sauced with their delicious braising liquids enriched with some cream. The masquerading hens are served, appropriately, with quail accompaniments: individual potato puddings, baked to a golden brown, and shredded cabbage quickly saute'ed with bean sprouts. The meal ends with the grandest dessert puffery, a pair of hot vanilla souffle's.
The first course offers immeasurable returns for the minimal effort involved in finding the ingredients. Endives, which are generally available in supermarkets, should be tightly headed, pale yellow or white. Those with green tips will be bitter and are not acceptable. Of the fresh goat cheeses, montrachet buche is my preference for this recipe because its small cylindrical form can be cut into neat slices that are most attractive on the endive leaves. However, boucheron or any other goat cheese can be used as long as it is fresh. A fresh goat cheese has the slightest bite but no hint of rancidity. It is stark white, creamy in texture and light in density, all the better to absorb the oil in which it is soaked. Some of the montrachets come with a gray-black sprinkling of ashes on the outside that some claim keeps the cheese fresh. I think of the ash coating as a frame on a picture, particularly when the cheese is cut into slices. The best extra virgin, fruity olive oil is not too good for this dish.
Very small (less than one pound) rock cornish hens make lovely individual servings and are my choice, but I also have used larger hens split in two with equally delicious, if less elegant, results. The method and cooking times are the same, whichever is used. Plain raisins can be substituted if seedless muscats cannot be found, but the inclusion of yellow or golden raisins, with their distinctive flavor and color, is essential. Juniper berries can be found in many supermarkets as well as in food cooperatives and specialty food stores. The necks, wing tips, backbones and gizzards should be saved for stock and can be frozen. This dish deserves the best homemade stock.
The grating disk of the food processor is marvelous for grating potatoes, especially for those of us with a predisposition to bloodying knuckles on the hand grater. Rendered chicken, duck or goose fat is perfect in these little puddings, but butter is also good. The unbaked potato mixture can be refrigerated for an hour or so in the prepared muffin tins. Covering the tins tightly with plastic wrap will help keep the potatoes from darkening. The cabbage can be shredded early in the day. The cabbage and sprouts are best when saute'ed just before they are eaten, but for the convenience of preparing the dish earlier in the day and then reheating it quickly, the price is very small in terms of taste or texture.
I prefer the time-tested, foolproof, worry-free method when it comes to hot souffle's. The classic recipe I use is prepared with a safe base consisting of flour, milk, egg yolks, butter and flavoring. The base can be made in the morning and the molds can be buttered and sugared well in advance. Despite rumors to the contrary, the egg whites can be beaten and the entire souffle' assembled a good hour before it goes into the oven if the souffle' is kept in a cool part of the kitchen and is completely covered with a large mixing bowl or a pot. The two critical steps are beating the egg whites and folding them into the base. The whites must be beaten just until they hold stiff peaks when the beaters are removed; the test should be applied early and often to avoid overbeating. After a large dollop of the beaten whites is stirred into the base to lighten it, the remaining whites are quickly folded, never stirred, in. A rubber spatula is held vertically to the bowl and cut through the whites until it reaches the bottom, where it is angled slightly, brought to the edge of the bowl nearest you and lifted up and out of the mixture. Each time the motion is completed, the bowl is rotated slightly. Not every last particle of foam need be incorporated. This is a case where it is better to be quick and not deflate the whites than it is to be thorough.
There is also the matter of timing. Six-cup dessert souffle's require a total of 35 minutes in the oven, so to be safe I place them in the oven five minutes into the main course. Five minutes later the oven is turned down and the souffle's finish cooking. This timing may mean that guests will have to wait for the souffle's, which is as it should be, since souffle's wait for nothing.
In my experience, two 1 1/2-quart souffle's are not too much for eight people. A charlotte mold works as well as the traditional souffle' dish, so if you have one of each with a six-cup capacity, as I do, there is no need to buy additional equipment.
I start a souffle' at each end of the table. The top crust is broken with a serving spoon and then two serving spoons are used to pull apart the portions. ENDIVES WITH GOAT CHEESE AND SAVORY (8 servings) 1/2 pound fresh, mild goat cheese, preferably in cylinder form 1 teaspoon dried savory 1/2 cup olive oil 1 pound belgian endive 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Up to a day before it is to be served, cut the cheese into eight slices and place in a fairly deep, flat dish. Pour the oil over the cheese and sprinkle with savory. If the kitchen is warm, refrigerate the cheese; otherwise leave it out. Whenever you think of it, baste the cheese with the oil and savory.
A few hours before serving, remove the leaves from the heads of endive and discard the cores. Pile several leaves on top of one another and cut them horizontally into 1/2-inch slices. Repeat until all the endives are cut. Divide them among eight salad plates, place a piece of cheese on each center, spoon the oil and savory over the cheese and drizzle a few drops of vinegar on each slice. ROCK CORNISH HENS COOKED IN THE MANNER OF QUAIL (8 servings) 1/3 cup seedless muscat raisins 1/3 cup seedless yellow raisins 1/2 cup cognac 8 rock cornish hens, each weighing less than 1 pound, or 4 hens, each weighing about 1 3/4 pounds 3 tablespoons butter 1 tablespoon oil 16 juniper berries 1 1/2 cups homemade brown chicken or beef stock or canned beef bouillon Salt and pepper to taste 1/2 cup heavy cream
Place the raisins in a bowl, pour the cognac over them, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for three or four hours.
Leave small hens whole, reserving wing tips, gizzards, hearts and livers for stock and other purposes. Split large birds in two by cutting them up the backs and removing their tails and backbones, which can also be reserved. Clean the cavities of loose organs and pat the birds dry.
Melt butter and oil in a heavy casserole, preferably enamel on cast iron and large enough to hold the birds in one layer. It may be necessary to use two pots, with all ingredients divided between them. Brown the birds on all sides, one or two at a time, and remove as they are done. Return them to the casserole and add the raisins with cognac, juniper berries, stock and salt and pepper to taste. The dish can be prepared to this point an hour or two in advance. To complete the cooking, bring the contents to a simmer, cover and place in a 350-degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove the cooked birds to a warm serving platter, add the cream to the juices in the casserole and cook over high heat, stirring, for a few minutes. Spoon the sauce, the raisins and the juniper berries over the birds. INDIVIDUAL POTATO PUDDINGS (Makes 14 to 16 puddings, for 8 servings) Softened butter or rendered chicken, duck or goose fat to grease the muffin tins 4 eggs 2 1/4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled 1/2 cup flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon salt Pepper to taste 4 tablespoons melted butter or rendered chicken, duck or goose fat
Beat the eggs thoroughly and set aside. Grate the potatoes in a food processor fitted with a grating disk. Strain out the excess liquid. Stir the potatoes into the beaten eggs along with the remaining ingredients. Spoon into greased muffin tins, about two-thirds full, and bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the puddings are golden brown. SAUTEED CABBAGE AND BEAN SPROUTS (8 servings) 2 1/2 pounds green cabbage 1/4 pound fresh bean sprouts 2 tablespoons peanut oil 1 medium onion, minced 2 cloves garlic, minced Salt and pepper to taste
Quarter the cabbage, discard the core and shred finely. Wash the bean sprouts and discard the little roots if you wish. Heat the oil in a large saute' pan, add the onions and garlic and cook over low heat until soft but not brown. Add the cabbage and cook, stirring, for about 4 minutes until the cabbage is wilted but still crisp. Add the bean sprouts and cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes. This dish can be prepared in advance and reheated quickly over high beat, stirring constantly. HOT VANILLA SOUFFLE (8 servings) Softened butter to grease 2 6-cup souffle' dishes or charlotte molds and granulated sugar to line them For the base: 6 tablespoons flour 1 1/2 cups milk 9 tablespoons sugar 8 egg yolks 4 tablespoons butter, softened 4 1/2 tablespoons vanilla To complete the souffle': 10 egg whites Pinch of salt 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar 2 tablespoons sugar For the sauce: 1 1/2 cups heavy cream 2 tablespoons sugar 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla cognac or 1 1/4 teaspoons cognac plus 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Prepare the souffle' dishes or charlotte molds by buttering them generously and swirling sugar around the bottoms and sides to coat the butter. Set aside. The molds can be prepared several hours or even a day ahead and refrigerated.
To make the base, gradually whisk the milk into the flour to make a smooth paste. Stir in the sugar and cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil and is very thick. Remove from heat and whisk in the egg yolks one at a time. Beat in all but 1 tablespoon of the softened butter and the vanilla. Rub the remaining tablespoon of butter over the top of the mixture to coat it and prevent a film from forming. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set aside. The base can be made several hours or even a day ahead and refrigerated.
To complete the souffle', beat the whites with the salt and cream of tartar in a large bowl until soft peaks are formed when the beaters are removed. Add the 2 tablespoons of sugar and beat only until the whites make stiff peaks. Do not overbeat. Stir the base to incorporate the butter coating and add to it about 1/4 cup of the beaten whites to lighten the base. Turn the base into a large bowl and then turn the whites onto the base. Carefully and quickly fold the two together. Divide the mixture between the prepared pans and rap each pan on the counter to settle the mixture and get rid of any air pockets. The unbaked souffle's can be held for an hour before baking if they are placed in a cool place and covered with large, clean, empty bowls.
Just before baking, use your finger or the handle end of a dinner knife to make a 1/2-inch-deep circular indentation in the souffle' mixture 1 inch from the edges of the molds. This will make the souffle' rise higher and more evenly.
Place the souffle's in a 400-degree oven for 5 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 375 degrees and bake an additional 30 minutes. Serve immediately with the whipped cream sauce.
Prepare the whipped cream sauce a couple of hours in advance. Whip the cream until it holds some shape, add the sugar and vanilla cognac or cognac and vanilla and whip a bit more. The cream should be thickened but not stiff. Store covered in the refrigerator.