Do you know the story of Brigadoon? It’s a tale about a place that re-appears every 100 years then dissolves back into the misty moors. The story was based upon a much older German work by Friedrich Gerstäcker, about the mythical village of Germelshausen that fell under an evil magic curse. I do not know if this qualifies as an archetypal myth shared by our collective human unconscious, but the idea of magical places that appear and disappear through magic or the power of the viewer is fairly universal whether in Scotland, Germany or Oz. I’ve always longed to be under the spell of just such a place.
The island of St. Michael’s Mount, (like it’s older brother, Mont St. Michel in Normandy) is one such magical place and I was enamored the moment I set foot on its shores. Access appears and disappears with the tides.
St. Michael’s Mount at High tide when the way is lost, Circa 1900
The Island itself begins with a myth of the Giant named Cormoran who lived there and stole the livestock of the village. A local lad named Jack killed him by tricking him into a pit. When the Mount was damaged by an earthquake in the 14th century, the grave of an 8’ tall giant was found and whispered to be the giant of legend. On the Mount today there is a spot called The Giant’s Grave where Cormoron might be buried and the pit he fell in is also honored with a bit of signage.
There was a monastery on the site from the 8th to the early 11th century and more buildings were built in the 12th century but the foreign monastery (it was started by a Norman monk from Mont St. Michel) was suppressed in 1425 and sold to the St Aubyn family in 1659. It has remained in their hands ever since and the head of the St Aubyn family now the titled Lord St. Leven.
If a castle can be called cosy, this is cosy. The rooms are, for the most part not hugely proportioned.
Of course a household such as this must be fed. This dairy building looks like a diminutive version of the kitchen at Glastonbury Abbey(that I wrote about HERE), although it is much younger than the Medieval Abbey version -- probably late 19th century.
I thought what with the beautiful rich cream that the island’s Jersey Cows would have provided the dairy and the Cornish seafood that is legendary… a dish combining the 2 would be the ticket. I wanted something magical as befitting the place… a dish that would dwell in the mist between sea and land. Sea urchin and cream… a favorite celestial combination in a soup that lives in my memory was the first thing that popped into my mind and sea urchins abound in the Cornish sea. I have already written of my love for urchin HERE, but then I became bewitched by another dish… sea urchin soufflé, fickle me.
Twenty odd years ago, a book came out called Jeremiah Tower's New American Classics that was conceived by a patrician fellow named... Jeremiah Tower! You may not know his name, but you really should. He was one of the early chefs of Chez Panisse in Berkeley. He applied for the job with no chef experience after eating a berry tart that he liked there. With a master’s degree in architecture from Harvard, an encyclopedic knowledge of food, a brilliant creative mind and limitless self-confidence, he did much to shape the legend of Chez Panisse but left the restaurant to go out on his own in ’78. From there he opened Stars Restaurant in San Francisco and launched such chefs as Mario Batali. He is now enjoying life in Mexico. I do hope he writes more cookbooks!
I was reminded of this book a while ago and got myself a new copy (where the old one went, I do not know!). It was as good as I remembered it to be. One of the recipes that blew me away was one for sea urchin soufflé. Tower had made it for James Beard the first time he cooked for him in the mid-seventies with great result: “… a wonderful ocean smell began to waft into the kitchen and best of all, the soufflé mixture had risen above the shells, puffy, pink-beige and beautiful. I rushed them to the table. Jim tried a spoonful. No word was said. He looked up slowly, aware of the theatrical effect, rolled his eyes slowly, and said, ”My God, that is the best thing I have ever tasted.” How could you argue with James Beard… he was not wrong.
This took a few trials. My sea urchin was as good as it gets from Catalina Offshore Products, plump and fresh… it was in the ocean the morning before it arrived!
The original 20 minutes was too long (it was originally cooked in urchin shells… this would be a substantial variable) and the extra egg white combined with the technique of placing them on a hot pan made the soufflés bubble over like a bad chemistry experiment as I hadn’t put collars on them. I recommend the collars. The additional egg white made the texture sublime. I read that the addition of a few drops of vinegar and a spoonful of egg white powder would make the soufflé more stable…next time! The last effort really brought all the flavors and textures together and was exactly what I had imagined… an ethereal cloud of heavenly urchin. Close your eyes and think of the magical Mount as your spoon glides through the creamed ochre froth of:
Sea Urchin Soufflé based on a Jeremiah Tower Recipe, serves 4
4 large sea urchins from Catalina offshore Products, roe removed (or 16 pieces of urchin) and pureed
2 oz. butter
2 T flour
1 c fish stock
2 egg yolks
2-3 egg whites (3 makes it lighter but less stable- the original recipe called for 2, I liked the texture better with 3)
pinch of cream of tartar
2 drops vinegar
1 t madeira (Rare Wine Company NY Malmsey)
Make the soufflé base by melting butter. Add flour and cook for 5 minutes on very low heat. Warm the fish stock and add to the flour, whisking frequently for 15 minutes at a very low heat and skimming any scum that may rise. Cool.
Heat the oven to 400º. Some recommend a water bath pan of boiling water that comes 1/2-way up the dish as a way to make the soufflé more stable.
Stir the yolks and roe into the soufflé base. Butter and flour 4-individual soufflé dishes (½ c) and make buttered collars for the soufflé dishes from foil for stability for the rise. Whip the whites with the cream of tartar and the drops of vinegar and fold them into the base and gently pour/spoon into dishes. Cook for 12-17 minutes (do watch…oven temperatures vary) until slightly brown on top and serve immediately with madeira cream if you want to add a little more luxury.
¼ c heavy cream, warmed
2 t madeira
Combine and serve a spoon with each soufflé as you break into them.
Last, but not least, Madeira with Ambergris. I have wanted to try this since I first tasted the Excellent Negus I made with vintage port and ambergris last thanksgiving (see that recipe HERE). It was a life altering experience. The scent from the warm wine and the ambergris was magic. And I thought it would be amazing with the soufflé…yes it was.
Thanks to my sage Madeira guide, Mannie Berk with The Rare Wine Company , I had in my little paws on a 1900 D’Oliveira Malvesia, redolent of butterscotch, sandalwood, amber and the patina of exquisite old age. I took a tiny bit, warmed it and grated (microplanes are the best) beautiful ambergris from Ambergris Co. NZ. over the top. It was everything I expected and more. One of the magic qualities of ambergris, as I have told you before (HERE), is that it makes everything it touches a little more of what it is. The quality of the wine was deepened and polished by the ambergris… the scent was transcendental. It is like a duet of great artists… each voice compliments the other. Should you be fortunate enough to try it… remember, the wine must be quite warm for the magic to happen… then stick your nose in the glass, inhale the perfume and glimpse the Empyrean for a few moments before sipping the divine nectar.
Madère d'Ambre Gris for one
2 oz fine Madeira ( I used a 1900 D’Oliveira Malvesia--- extravagant I know but do use a great Madeira from Rare Wine Company . The terrifically priced NY Malmsey from the Historic Series would be good or a 1989 D'Oliveira Malvasia would be superb… with or without the ambergris!).
a few gratings of Ambergris from Ambergris Co. NZ
Warm the wine… it should be hot -- food hot, not anywhere near boiling. Pour it into a glass and give it a lot of space… it is the scent you want to enjoy so only half fill the glass. As you serve, grate the ambergris over the top. Inhale for a few moments before you take a sip.
Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!!