Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Oeufs a la Niege

This post/blog is specifically for my friend Dwight.

While Chef-ing it up at Pancho's Villa, I'm afraid I haven't had as much time as I would like to eat frozen custard in my bathrobe and type on my laptop using fun pictures I found on Tumblr. I barely have time to play the amount of Skyrim I want to play between full-time work, full-time school, and full-time being Momma to Howl. And my boyfriend? It's a wonder how a girl has time to sleep!
"I'm soft. This isn't. Now pet me."

Anyway, I was walking up to class in my torn jeans and oh-so-stylish strappy black American Eagle heels when I saw my friend Dwight sitting at the table with Izaak(another friend from class) and another girl that I can't remember the name of. They were brainstorming about what to do for their latest class project. They were the group that had to come up with an amuse bouche and a dessert.

"Well, mini pies and quiches are trending right now. So are custards and meringues," I said, being the savvy Tumblr-ateur I am. "Ooh! Or you could do oeufs a la niege."

Dwight didn't know what they were, so I gave a brief explanation/example of one I had done before. Basically, it's a meringue(I prefer Italian meringues because of their strength) that's poached in milk and served in creme anglaise. The one I had done before was a ginger-infused meringue in a beautiful sake sabayon with a little hibiscus reduction for color. I remember we put a tuille cookie or two on there, as well, for some texture. Maybe I'm wrong. It's been awhile.

Anyway, it's a beautiful dessert and can be done to order in a flash. Who's ready for pictures? I am!

 This is a more classical Ouefs a la Niege in presentation. But you can get creative with this kind of thing! (Isn't that the beauty of cooking?)

One of my favorite things about being in Culinary school and being a Chef is that you don't exactly just memorize recipes all day. What you do is learn techniques and methods and classics, and once it is instilled in you as such, you can really have fun and twist things up.

Think about "Chopped." I'm a big fan of the show and I love to play along at home. I can't cook along with them, of course, but I know the way you have to win - recognize what is familiar out of what is not. Say you're given black chicken, licorice, quinoa, and persimmon. Sure, these are messed up ingredients that would make a normal person's head explode...but once you break it down into something familiar, it's not so bad. The chicken is your protein, the quinoa is your starch, and persimmon is(well, kinda) your veggie course. Once you have those three, you can kind of start to build on it!

Oeufs are just meringues, and the 'niege' is an anglaise sauce made from it. I learned a simple recipe from a book from the Kansas City Public Library, but my favorite recipe is from Alton Brown. You can find that particular recipe on Food Network.com, but I'm going to give you my favorite recipe.

Ingredients

Oeufs:

  • 8 oz water
  • 6 oz granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp light corn syrup 
  • 4  pasteurized egg whites, room temperature
  • ** 1 tsp orange zest
  • 1 squirt of lemon juice

Neige:

  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 4 pasteurized egg yolks 
  • 1 tsp Cardamom
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts
First thing is first, which is creating a simple syrup from the sugar, water, and corn syrup. You can infuse the simple syrup with anything you like, from tea leaves to cinnamon to spices to citrus. I love orange peel for this, so that's what I like to use. Making a simple syrup is just boiling it together until the sugar dissolves.

Whip together the egg whites until frothy on medium speed in your electric mixer, then add the lemon juice(or a pinch of cream of tartar, if you like) and put the speed up to high. When the egg whites have tripled in volume and become shiny at soft peaks, add in the hot simple syrup in a small stream down the side of the bowl to 'cook' the egg whites.

To create the base for the niege, which is basically an anglaise sauce, and I find the easiest way to do that is to create something we call the 'ribbon.' Whisk the egg yolks briskly in a large metal bowl and slowly-slowly-slowly add 1/4 cup of the sugar until the color changes to a pale yellow and becomes thick. It reaches the 'ribbon' stage when you pick up the whisk and the yolk mixture comes off in a 'ribbon.'

As this is going on, have your milk, 2 Tbsp sugar, vanilla, cardamom, and salt cooking over medium heat in a medium saucepan on the stove. Make sure it's stirred often, or this will not work. Bring the milk to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer.

There are many ways you can do this, but I have a few favorite methods to poaching the meringues. You can pipe them in using a pastry bag and snip them off using scissors, like Chef Zakarian did in the most-recent Next Iron Chef. You can also use two spoons and make quenelles, or even an ice cream scoop and portion them into the simmering milk that way. Whatever way you choose, poach the meringues in the simmering milk for five minutes each. When done, simply remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside.

This is meringue in custard with berries. Not oeufs, but still pretty
To create the anglaise, bring the milk up to a more-rapid boil and then immediately bring back down to a simmer. Splash some of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture and whisk-whisk-whisk. Once the milk is incorporated, add the egg yolk mixture into the rest of the hot milk and whisk like mad, while simmering, until sauce thickens.

To serve, ladle in the creme anglaise into a serving bowl or dish and pop two or three of the oeufs, which will sit like little floating islands. From this point, you can top them with anything from caramel syrup to chopped nuts - I like hazelnuts - on top. Et voila! Oeufs a la Niege.


Once this is understood, you can do just about anything with it, from adding reductions to switching up sauces. Maybe instead of a creme anglaise you could try a sabayon, which is an alcohol-based custard sauce? Or just do a chocolate anglaise. Or a raspberry sauce. Or something.

Anyway, they're great. The wonderful thing about them is that it's like eating clouds. Make sure you add a crunchy element, though, like a cookie or something.  Have fun. Eat. This is what matters.