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Savory custards

Four sophisticated variations are silky but not sweet.

By Adam Ried
May 23, 2010

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Most people consider custard to be a sweet affair – creme brulee, flan, chocolate pudding. But the mixture of cream and eggs, which is the basis for any custard, adapts beautifully to savory flavors as well. In the custards here, I keep the flavors light to help emphasize the character of the dairy components. They make an elegant first course to a nice dinner, or a great lunch with a salad alongside, and they’re delicious served at any temperature from warm to slightly chilled.

Asparagus and Parmesan Custards

Serves 6

As the custards bake, the cheese rises, creating a layered effect.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 medium shallots, minced (about ½ cup)

1½ pounds asparagus, cut into 1-inch lengths (about 4 cups)

2½ cups half-and-half

Canola oil, for ramekins

1 cup finely grated Parmesan (about 2 ounces)

4 eggs, lightly beaten

Salt and pepper

In a large, deep, nonstick skillet or saute pan (with a cover) over medium heat, melt the butter. When it stops foaming, add the shallots and cook, stirring constantly, until they soften, about 1½ minutes. Add the asparagus and 3 tablespoons of water, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the asparagus is just barely tender, about 6 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes. Off heat, cool completely. Reserve and set aside 18 gorgeous asparagus tips; transfer the rest of the asparagus to a food processor, add ¾ cup half-and-half, and puree.

Set the oven rack in the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil 6 6-ounce ramekins and place them so that they don’t touch in a baking dish. Set a medium-mesh sieve over a bowl with a pouring spout and strain the asparagus puree, pressing to extract as much liquid as possible; discard the solids. Add the remaining half-and-half, Parmesan, eggs, ¾ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste to the infused liquid, and whisk gently until very well combined. Divide the mixture among the ramekins, set the baking dish on the oven rack, and carefully pour very hot water into the baking dish, to halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the custards are very slightly puffed, set around the edges, and still a little bit jiggly in the center, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool for at least 20 minutes.

Serve warm or cool garnished with the reserved asparagus tips.

Variation

Green Pea and Shallot Custards with Tarragon

Follow the recipe for Asparagus and Parmesan Custards, making the following changes:

1) Increase the quantity of shallots to 4, and the shallot cooking time to about 4 minutes.

2) Omit the 3 tablespoons of water, and substitute 3 cups thawed frozen green peas for the asparagus. Add 1 tablespoon each minced fresh tarragon and finely grated lemon zest along with the peas, and cook, uncovered, stirring often, just to warm through, about 3 minutes.

3) Reduce the quantity of half-and-half to 2 cups, using 1 cup of it to puree the peas.

4) Increase the salt to 1 teaspoon.

5) Proceed as above. Garnish custards with finely chopped fresh parsley or chives.

Mushroom and Goat Cheese Custards

Serves 6

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

10 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced

Salt and pepper

2½ cups half-and-half

1 clove garlic, smashed

2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

4 ounces crumbled fresh goat cheese, at room temperature

Canola oil, for ramekins

4 eggs, lightly beaten

Finely chopped fresh parsley or chives, for garnish

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. When it stops foaming, add the mushrooms, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste, and cook, stirring often, until browned, about 5 minutes. Set aside 12 gorgeous mushroom slices, and transfer the rest to a food processor and process until very finely chopped. Scrape the mushroom mixture into a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the half-and-half, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf, and bring to a bare simmer, stirring occasionally. Stir in the crumbled goat cheese until it melts, cover the pan, and rest off heat for 1 hour.

Set the oven rack in the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil 6 6-ounce ramekins and place them so that they don’t touch in a baking dish. Set a medium-mesh sieve over a medium bowl with a pouring spout and strain the infused half-and-half, pressing to extract as much liquid as possible; discard the solids. Add the eggs, ¾ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste to the liquid, and whisk gently until very well combined. Divide the mixture among the ramekins, set the baking dish on the oven rack, and carefully pour very hot water into the baking dish, to halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the custards are very slightly puffed, set around the edges, and still a little bit jiggly in the center, about 28 minutes. Remove the ramekins to a wire rack to cool for at least 20 minutes.

Serve warm or cool garnished with reserved mushroom slices and parsley or chives.

Variation

Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Custards

Follow the recipe for Mushroom and Goat Cheese Custards, making the following changes:

1) Omit the butter, mushrooms, garlic, thyme, and goat cheese.

2) Simmer the half-and-half with 2 heads of garlic that you’ve roasted and mashed, 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary, and the bay leaf. 3) Off heat, infuse the cream for 1 hour and strain. Proceed as above.

Send comments or suggestions to Adam Ried at cooking@globe.com.

KITCHEN AIDE

Unmolding custards

The easiest way to serve the custards is right in the ramekins in which they’re baked, but I like to unmold them onto serving plates. Here’s how: Working one at a time, insert a paring knife between the custard and the edge of the ramekin and gently slide it around the perimeter, pressing against the side of the ramekin. Set a small serving plate over the ramekin, invert, and, holding the ramekin onto the plate, sharply shake it once or twice until you hear the custard release. Lift off the ramekin.