I just went through the box of Thanksgiving props we store here in the Butter Flour Eggs prop warehouse. As I was unfolding the big cardboard turkey with the waffle-cut tissue paper tail, I thought back a few years to a conversation with friend who was living in London at the time.
She informed me—with a great deal of panicked surprise—that they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving over there. (Hmmm…what was it about the whole pilgrim “thing” that eluded her?) Worse, I think, was that the panic in her voice was actually centered on the fact that she couldn’t find the Durkee French Fried Onions she needed for her green bean casserole. (She had them shipped from home, a/k/a “The Year That DHL Saved Thanksgiving.”)
You can’t pick up a newspaper (or pick up an iPad to read a newspaper) without reading about the twenty-first century global economy. Yet, it seems that nothing has remained as truly American as our Thanksgiving holiday. When it comes to food “truly American” means “anything goes” – the culinary equivalent of a global economy.
Last year I wrote about the pleasure my family (of Eastern European descent) takes in eating our turkey at an old Yankee country Inn on Thanksgiving. But I know a woman, an American citizen born in China, who cannot fathom why Turkey is the anointed bird-of-the-day. “Too stringy!” says she, and truly, depending upon who does the cooking, she may have a point. Her family Thanksgiving meal is a big juicy duck. Another woman I know whose childhood was split between the Caribbean and the UK cannot imagine anything but ham on Thanksgiving, for without ham there would be no ham-on-homemade-biscuit sandwiches the next day. (Funny: throw in the homemade biscuits and her logic seems perfectly sound to me. I’m easily swayed by a good biscuit.)
I have no doubt that the real reflection of our global diversity is in the food we serve alongside our Thanksgiving main course. I am referring to the sub-group of food we lovingly call the “sides.” As iconic images go, the big roast Turkey is straight out of Norman Rockwell, but for me Thanksgiving is all about the sides. And the good news is that you’d be hard pressed to find sides I don’t like.
A couple of days after Thanksgiving we sometimes have a very informal family dinner—you could call it “Thanksgiving, the Sequel.” This is a small, very low pressure affair. Sometimes there’s a turkey, or sometimes there’s a chicken. It is more an excuse for yours truly to road test his favorite sides, and whatever turkey or chicken is there is due to my being self conscious about making a dinner comprised solely of sides –which I could very easily do if it were just me eating.
So, in the tradition of “anything goes” being typically American, I proudly present my favorite side (this year): Roasted Corn Soufflé. On paper a soufflé seems typically French, and mysteriously difficult to prepare. In practice? Not so much.
I’ll tackle its supposed French identity first. Yes it’s French, but really not so far afield from our American Spoon Bread, which is also a supple pudding and is often served as a Thanksgiving side.
More important is the reputation soufflés have for requiring advanced technique, pinpoint timing, and / or that they must be rushed from oven to table. It’s just not true. Yes, they deflate a bit if allowed to sit, but frankly soufflés sweet or savory taste better when not eaten burning hot straight from the oven. You can even reheat leftovers (if there are any) the next day. My only prerequisite for making soufflé is a Kitchen Aid (or similar) stand mixer—and that’s only because I am too lazy to whip egg whites any other way. (Go ahead, call this “lazy man’s soufflé”; I don’t care, I’ll be too busy eating the soufflé.)
By the way, just because soufflés are easy doesn’t make them seem any less magical to the folks waiting at your table. The best magicians know that magic takes a little technique, a little planning, and a whole lot of show biz. I once worked with a sleight-of-hand artist. He was so amazing that my reaction was always, “How’d you do that?” to which he would always answer, “It’s magic.” So it’s your choice whether you want to tell folks the technique behind the soufflé magic.
Roasted corn lends itself beautifully to soufflé: the roasting makes the kernels a little chewy, breaking up the flabby airiness of the soufflé. What represents the harvest and the Indians helping the pilgrims better than roasted corn on Thanksgiving? While most sides fall into the categories of vegetable or starch, soufflé is really neither or both. It’s an egg dish with a little bit of flour added.
Soufflé ingredients are cheap kitchen basics: butter, flour, eggs, milk. For this recipe you should make sure to buy the best parmesan cheese you can find, which admittedly may bump up the price a bit.
The Butter Flour Eggs technique is that you don’t have to make a soufflé all at once, or even the same day you plan to serve it. First, you make the (lightly) labor-intense part of the recipe, then turn out the lights, go to sleep, wake up Thanksgiving morning, fire up the Kitchen Aid to whip a few egg whites and you’ve got soufflé…and yes, it’s real soufflé, not a shortcut version. (PS: this technique will serve you well next Valentine’s Day when you present your sweetheart with Chocolate Soufflé hot from the oven.)
If you decide to make the soufflé a couple of suggestions will serve you well. First, read the entire recipe all the way through beforehand, twice. Second, have all ingredients measured and all equipment ready before you start. This will help you with suggestion number three: have confidence. Soufflés smell fear. (You’ll smell cheese and corn.)
And if folks “”Oooo!” and “Ahhh!” over your big, puffy Roasted Corn Soufflé, shrug your shoulders and say, “You think this is cool? Wait until I saw my mother-in-law in half…”
Click here for the recipe for Roasted Corn Soufflé.
Need some Thanksgiving inspiration? Read my previous Thanksgiving recipe ideas:
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