Name: Virginia Ross
Class Year: 1966
Country of Residence: UK
Why is this recipe great? What’s its backstory?
In the summer of 1965 Ruth Lawson arranged an internship for me with Britain in Europe, a political pressure group in London. My lodgings were owned by fascinating Russian émigrés – a delightful downstairs neighbour had been a friend of Anna Pavlova, the Russian prima ballerina.
As an 80th birthday supper surprise for my neighbour, I bought a crab from a Saturday outdoor market and, not knowing what to do with it, searched for a cookbook. Luckily in a local bookshop I stumbled upon Summer Cooking, by Elizabeth David, “Britain’s first lady of food”, as I discovered.
Elizabeth David “led British cooking from the greyness of austerity to an exotic world of fresh herbs and garlic”, beginning with The Book of Mediterranean Food, published 1950. French Country Cooking (1951) and Italian Food (1954) quickly followed, giving enthusiasts, weary of war-time rationing, “exotic delights such as moules marienières and fettuccine with fresh tomato sauce”.
Elizabeth David made cooking fun, not a tyranny of measurements, by getting to know and grow herbs and by using a handful of this and a pinch of that. Summer Cooking uses “seasonal meat and vegetable ingredients to make dishes for table, buffet or picnic: salmi of duck, raspberry water ice, sole au vert, zuppa ebrea, cockle soup, apricot cheese” – and crab soufflé!
My little crab introduced me to a new way of cooking and provided a delicious treat to celebrate my neighbour’s 80th birthday – which also included inevitable vodka shots and magical Russian ballet tales.
Serves 4 Takes approx. one hour
- 1 medium-sized cooked crab
- ½ pint milk
- 3 dessertspoons flour
- 2 oz. cream,
- 2 whole eggs & 2 extra whites
- 1 oz. butter
- cayenne pepper
- 2 oz. grated Parmesan.
Equivalent measurements: 1 oz. = 28.5 gms; 1 pint = 568 mls; a dessertspoon = 6 gms
Conversion: 284 mls milk; 18 gms flour; 56 ml cream; 28.5 gms butter; 57 gms parmesan
Make a thick béchamel sauce with butter, flour, and heated milk. Add all the meat extracted from the shell and claws of the crab. Stir in the cheese. Season fairly highly. Add the cream, then the beaten yolks of the eggs. Heat over the flame, stirring all the time, but do not allow to boil after the eggs have been added. Leave to cool. Immediately before the soufflé is to be cooked, stir in the four beaten whites. Fill a buttered soufflé dish with the mixture to within an inch of the top. Put in top of Gas mark 8 oven (preheated for at least 10 minutes. Cook for about 15 minutes.
You can nearly always tell when a soufflé is ready by the smell which comes from the oven. Unfortunately the perfect-looking soufflé, with that blown-up crust on the top almost separated from the rest of the dish, is not usually the perfect soufflé inside; by the time the top of the soufflé has risen that much, the inside is usually too dry. So it is best to be content with a slightly less spectacular look and have the inside of the souflé still a little creamy.
The extra white in this soufflé make it rise well and quickly; the cream helps it to remain moist.
A nice way to serve a soufflé is to cook it in small dishes, one for each person. Special small soufflé dishes are not necessary; any little fireproof dishes, about 2 inches deep, will do.
Experiment to find out the correct timing – this is essential. Every oven is different and much also depends on the size of the dish. A small soufflé for one person takes about 6 or 7 minutes.
Summer Cooking, Elizabeth David, Penguin, 1965
With acknowledgements to: Rachel Cooke (2013), ‘The enduring legacy of Elizabeth David, Britain’s first lady of food’, The Observer, 8 December. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/dec/08/elizabeth-david-first-lady-of-food