Cheese Grits Soufflé. I guess it really is true that you can take the man out of ‘Bama but you can’t take ‘Bama out of the man.
When you cook a big dinner for 10 hungry beachcombers every weekend, some of whom frequent your table every other week and almost all of them at least once a month, coming up with a different starch every week can be a challenge. Potatoes can be mashed, roasted with rosemary, baked au gratin or made into a salad on barbecue days – and rice has all sorts of variations – but after about the fourth or fifth week, the rice/potato/rice monotony begins to get old, and you start looking for something else; maybe even something unexpected.
Which is why, some twenty-five years ago, or so, I decided to serve a traditional southern dish found at almost every Alabama dinner table at one time or another to my Yankee diners: Cheese Grits. (An idea that, more recently, has gained even greater traction as nearly every tablecloth restaurant within three-hundred miles of the Gulf Coast has decided to place a few sauteed shrimp on top and make “shrimp and grits” their featured favorite entree, but I digress.)
This idea was somewhat successful, but I was not entirely pleased since, made in the usual way, the grits were just a little too heavy for a mid-summer meal, so the next time I considered the cheese-grits option, I thought: why not whip up lots of egg whites and turn it into a soufflé? Now that, I thought, would check all the boxes: a truly creative way to serve carbs that was not only delicious and satisfying, but also light and airy enough to serve on a hot, muggy night.
Well, that was about 24 years ago, and over the years, as you might imagine, the recipe has refined itself and the number of eggs has kept growing until, today, I actually use nine or ten, depending on the size (but then, I’m also filling two soufflé dishes to satisfy the demand at a table of ten. For one big soufflé like the one in the photo (which is in an 8″ dish), you should be able to halve this recipe.)
Now, three points: ALL SOUFFLÉS FALL. Which means that the success or failure of your presentation is very much a function of timing. Be sure your diners are already sitting at the table when you present your soufflé. It deserves an entrance.
Secondly, use the stalest eggs you have. Older eggs hold their shape better than fresher ones.
And thirdly, you should prepare your flat sided soufflé dish with, first, a good buttering on bottom and sides, followed by a sprinkling of finely ground white corn meal on the sides to give the soufflé a ladder to climb. (To do this, turn the dish sideways, sprinkle a little line of meal into the lowest point of the well-buttered insides from base to rim, then rotate the dish like a Ferris wheel as the meal falls forward till the entire inside wall is dusted. Turn dish upside down over the sink to discard any excess meal. Do not use yellow cornmeal since it is usually too coarsely ground and will make the edges of your finished soufflé unpleasantly gritty (no pun intended).)
INGREDIENTS: (This is for two 8″ soufflé dishes to serve ten to twelve people (it goes quickly; you’ll see). Halve amounts for one dish. Could also be made in ramekins for individual servings.)
Have all ingredients at room temperature.
1/2 cup Instant Grits
1 1/2 cups Water
2 cups grated Cheese (Any combination of cheeses will do as long as you start with a strong well-made cheddar. I usually combine with some Jarlsberg and, from time to time, have also added some crumbled Danish blue when I had it on hand, though just cheddar will do nicely, too. Measure the two cups after shredding.)
10 Eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon Cream of Tartar or a few drops of Lemon Juice
3 Tablespoons Butter cut into pats
1/2 cup Half-and-Half
1/2 teaspoon Salt
Pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350°.
Set up electric mixer to whip egg whites when the time comes.
Prepare ingredients all ahead of time since you will want to assemble the soufflé quickly once you get started (and remember, don’t even start the assembly until an hour before you intend to present to your seated guests). 1) Grate the cheese, place in a large mixing bowl (I use stainless) and set aside, 2) separate the eggs and place whites in bowl of mixer and yolks in separate small mixing bowl and set aside, 3) cut butter pieces and set aside, 4) place cold grits and water in quart-sized Pyrex measuring cup and stir, 5) measure out half-and-half and have it and the salt and pepper at the ready.
Now, place grits mixture in microwave and cook for one minute, then stir, cook for another two minutes until done (total of three minutes, in my microwave, fully cooks the grits. Adjust for your own appliance if needed).
While grits are cooking, whip egg yolks vigorously with wire whisk for a full minute, then add the half-and-half to them, stir and set aside.
Once grits are done, take immediately from the microwave while very hot and add to the cheese in the mixing bowl. Add butter pats to this mixture and stir until the cheese and butter are melted and well combined with the grits. Let rest while you beat the egg whites.
Begin beating the egg whites and once they begin to froth, add the acid (either cream of tartar or lemon juice) to help the eggs hold together. Beat until stiff peaks form (at just the point where the shiny egg whites begin to go matte).
By now, the hot grit mixture is cool enough to add the egg yolks mixture, so stir in and mix well. Add salt and pepper until it is just a tad too salty and the pepper is easily tasted (once diluted by the egg whites, this over-spicing will disappear).
Now, carefully pour the cheese grits mixture into the bowl with the beaten egg whites and fold gently to combine. Do not over fold; streaks are fine, as long as the mixture is well mixed. (Watch out for any heavy cheese mixture that may have settled on the bottom as you fold, but stop folding the instant it seems consistent in resistance throughout.)
Pour mixture into your prepared soufflé dish. Jiggle just a tiny bit to level the top and place in the oven. DO NOT OPEN OVEN as it cooks and try to keep noise and disturbances in the vicinity of the oven to a minimum. After 35 minutes, you can sneak a quick peak to check on doneness, but do so very, very gently. Cook for 40 to 45 minutes or until the top looks golden brown (like the photo). Remove and serve instantly. You won’t believe how good it is.
As always, sending this recipe with love!
© 2015 George Thomas Wilson, all rights reserved