Saturday, September 10, 2005
Savory Creme Brulée
During the week I don't have a lot of time to play with my food or to try new things. I tend to stick with the familiar. On weekends, I like to experiment. Sometimes it might be inspired by a recipe I've seen and want to customize to my taste. Sometimes it might be a dish I've enjoyed in a restaurant and want to try to duplicate. A dish I read about in a restaurant review a while back inspired this recipe.
Everyone I know loves creme brulée. So when I read about a savory one, I knew I had to give it a try. The one I read about used a Muenster cheese from Alsace. This is a very full flavored, and, shall we say, aromatic cheese. A washed rind cheese, it is just too strong for many people's taste. I needed a soft cheese with enough flavor to make it interesting, so I chose a camembert from the Mouco Cheese company in Colorado. My second choice would have been a well-ripened brie-type cheese.
Not having access to the smoked Alsacien sausage mentioned in the review, I used smoked andouille. Any fully cooked sausage would do. I think any of the chicken sausages available in the freezer section of most specialty food stores would be excellent, especially the ones with basil or sundried tomato. Kielbasa or another smoked sausage from the grocery would also be tasty. I caramelized onions and finished them with a bit of honey and balsamic vinegar for the topping.
The restaurant served this in small ramekins as a first course. I think it would make an excellent beginning to a meal with a main course of almost any seafood brushed with lemon and olive oil and broiled or grilled. We, however, had it as the main course in a Sunday evening meal.
You can make the creme brulée mixture in advance. You can bake them a little ahead, top with the sausage and onion mixture and let them set at room temperature for up to an hour. Or you could bake them earlier in the day and refrigerate without the toppings; just make sure you take them out in time to get all the way back to room temperature before broiling the top, and set a bit further below the broiler so that it heats through.
This was a happy experiment; the friends who shared it with me pronounced it a great success. I am sure yours will too!
Savory Supper Creme Brulée
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 egg yolks
5-6 ounces Camembert, Brie or, for the brave, Alsacien Muenster
1 good pinch grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
1 large red onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
8 oz fully cooked sausage, thinly sliced
3 tbsp chives, minced
Preheat the oven to 325o. In a blender or food processor, place the milk, cream, eggs and yolks, the cheese (leave the rind on), the nutmeg, a generous sprinkling of salt and a pinch of pepper. Process until well mixed and strain through a fine sieve. Press down on the solids to extract as much of the liquid as possible, and discard remaining solids.
Pour into six individual baking dishes: gratin dishes, creme brulee dishes or ramekins. Place in a deep baking dish and add boiling water halfway up the sides of the dishes. Place in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until the center is set but still a bit trembly. Baking time will depend on the size of your dishes. Shallow ones will take a little less, deep ones a bit more.
Meanwhile, in a heavy skillet over medium-low heat, cook the onion in the butter until very soft but not at all browned. Stir in the honey. Add the vinegar and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Lower the heat and cook until the vinegar has evaporated.
When ready to serve, preheat the broiler. Place the dishes on a baking sheet and arrange the thinly sliced sausage on top. Cover with a thin layer of the onion mixture. Place about 6-inches under the broiler element and, watching carefully, broil until the topping is a bit bubbly and lightly browned. Sprinkle with the chives and serve at once. Serves 6.