Food: Rising star

An uplifting orange souffle recalls the elegance and excellence of a bygone age. Photograph by Jason Lowe
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I once - well, happily more than once - ate a delicious sort of orange souffle at Inverlochy Castle, one of the most luxurious and stately of all "country house hotels" in the United Kingdom. Situated a few miles from Fort William and in the shadow of Ben Nevis, I drove up to its heavily gothic portals in a pathetically out-of-place pale blue Ford Fiesta - I was an Egon Ronay inspector at the time, 1979, and this was the best they could run to. In those days, the cook (she would never have looked upon herself as a chef) at Inverlochy was an extraordinary woman called Mary Shaw. Miss Shaw was a gifted cook who was already in the employ of the Hobbs family who owned the castle. So good was her food, that when they decided to turn it into a hotel, they managed to persuade their terminally shy treasure to prepare dishes for paying guests.

In essence, the style of Inverlochy's dining room - and it really was a dining room as opposed to a restaurant - was that of a true country house: guests were informed of the menu earlier in the day and asked what they would like to eat that evening. Suggestions would be made, such as traditional roast duck (wonderful and proper), roast Aberdeen Angus beef with all the trimmings, and the famous local Loch Linnhe prawns (langoustines or Dublin Bay prawns to you) that were simply grilled with butter and herbs. And, of course, the famous orange souffle. Or you could really request anything you liked, giving due notice of your requirements a day ahead; in those days people stayed for much longer in hotels.

I loved this style, as it made you feel very grand and important. They knew I wasn't because of my embarrassing motor car parked outside; I think they probably hid it somewhere once I had settled in and brought it out again when I was leaving. And, incidentally, the worst fiasco with the Fiesta was having to be pushed out of the grounds of Gleneagles Hotel, a few days later, by two uniformed porters, due to a flat battery. The shame! Anyway, the way of doing things at the castle was as near as I was ever going to get to living as a lord. A bit like being an extra in The Go-Between. I really warmed to the succession of silver platters, with carefully carved meats and fillets of fish being presented to you with serving implements, so that you could take as much or as little as you wished, sufficient to your appetite, with bowings and murmured pleasantries all round.

There is an elegance and rounded quality to this sort of carry-on, which, to my mind, implies that a kitchen is far more in tune with the needs of the guest. It is an operation of permanence and calm, yet the dishes are cooked with a rare precision that would sit equally well alongside the finest three-star Michelin cooking in France. There are no folderols and drum rolls, no silver domes revealing teetering salads or a single scallop sitting in a 12in soup plate. It is simply well prepared, carefully cooked nourishment of the highest calibre.

The following dishes reflect this forgotten fashion. They should be presented as an entirety and served up at table rather than "plated" - such vile terminology anyway and almost as nasty as "binned", "fridged" and "totalled". Mind you, poor language apart, I wouldn't have minded in the least that last misfortune befalling my little blue car, just so long as I wasn't in it at the time.

Scallops with shallots, white wine, cream and dill, serves 2

5 large fresh scallops or 10 smaller ones

salt and pepper

25g butter

1 dsp Pernod

1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped

1 tsp white wine vinegar

4 tbsp white wine

100ml whipping cream

1 dsp freshly chopped dill leaves

squeeze of lemon juice (optional)

Cut the scallops in half horizontally if large; leave whole if smaller. Season with salt and pepper and melt the butter in a large frying pan until foaming. Fry the scallops

briskly on either side until golden, being careful not to let the butter burn but, conversely, keeping it up to temperature otherwise the juice from the scallops may leach out during the process. Add the Pernod, ignite with a match, allow the flames to die down and lift out the scallops on to a plate and keep warm while you make the sauce.

Put the shallots into the buttery Pernod juices and stew gently until most of the liquid in the pan has been driven off and the shallots are cooked. Add the vinegar and white wine and reduce until syrupy. Pour in the cream, whisking together with the shallots and stir in the dill. Simmer until thickened and unctuous, check the seasoning and add the lemon juice if you think it needs it.

Reintroduce the scallops to the pan - together with any juices - and warm through in the sauce. These are particularly nice when served with the following:

Savoury pilaff

50g butter

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

200g basmati rice

300ml light chicken or fish stock

pinch of saffron stamens

3 pieces of pithless lemon peel

2 small bay leaves

salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 400F/200C/ gas mark 6. In a small casserole dish (that has a tight-fitting lid and will also sit upon a naked flame) melt the butter and fry the garlic until it just starts to turn the palest gold. Add the rice and stir together until well coated with the butter. Pour in the stock and add the saffron, lemon peel and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and check for seasoning. Put on the lid and cook in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to finish cooking for a further 5 minutes with the lid on; do NOT be tempted to have a peek during this time. Remove the lid and fluff up the rice with a fork. Serve the rice straight from the dish, at table.

Devilled lamb's kidneys, serves 2

6 large fresh lamb's kidneys, skinned and cut in half horizontally

a little flour, seasoned with salt, cayenne pepper and a tsp of dried mustard powder

25g butter

1 clove garlic, bruised

2 tbsp medium sherry

2 tsp Worcester sauce

1 tsp redcurrant jelly

1 tsp anchovy essence

squeeze of lemon juice

2-3 tbsp double cream

Dredge the kidneys in the seasoned flour and set aside. Melt the butter in a frying pan with the garlic until frothing. Remove the garlic and then fry the kidneys gently on either side until lightly crusted. Remove to a dish and keep warm. Pour in the sherry and allow to bubble and seethe, then simmer it together with the Worcester sauce, redcurrant jelly, anchovy essence and lemon juice for 3-4 minutes, before stirring in the cream. Once the sauce has amalgamated well and is nice and smooth, reintroduce the kidneys to heat through. Serve on thick pieces of fried bread or with creamed potatoes.

The orange souffle - or at least my interpretation of Mary Shaw's original recipe, serves 2 - with enough for seconds

Now then, this is not a souffle in the traditional sense of the word, as it is only made from egg whites (the yolks are used in the custard that accompanies it). In fact, it is more like one large floating island than several small ones - as you might normally see in restaurants. Therefore ideal, with reference to the gist of this piece, served in a handsome deep plate for all to partake of - sitting, or "floating", in its "sea" of orange-flavoured custard. Yum, yum.

Note: Do not be too alarmed if your souffle falls back a little once turned out (mine did), as it remains as delicious, if not exactly floating off the plate.

3 eggs, separated

120g caster sugar

3 tbsp coarse-cut marmalade, melted

grated rind 1 small orange

juice of 1/2 small lemon

a little softened butter

for the custard

250ml full cream milk ("breakfast milk", as it is now known)

1/2 vanilla pod, split lengthways

3 egg yolks

50g caster sugar

1 tbsp Cointreau or Grand Marnier

You will also need a double boiler with a capacity of 2 litres, preferably more. If not, use a bowl of similar capacity that will sit suspended over a pan.

Beat the egg whites in a large bowl until fairly stiff (as you might with meringues) and then start to beat in the sugar, little by little, until all is glossy and thick. Carefully fold in the melted marmalade, orange rind and lemon juice until well amalgamated. Butter the top half of either the double boiler or a bowl, and spoon in the mixture, levelling off the top. Make sure there is enough room for the souffle to rise by at least one-third further. Cover with a piece of buttered foil, allowing room for any extra rising. Steam over gently simmering water for about 45-60 minutes. The souffle is cooked when it feels firm to the touch.

Meanwhile make the custard. Simmer the milk with the vanilla pod and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Beat the sugar and egg yolks together and then strain over the flavoured milk and whisk to blend. Cook over a moderate heat, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon, until lightly thickened. If you cock it up and it looks as if the custard has split, whizz in a liquidiser, which always works a treat. Add your chosen liqueur and stir in. Leave to become very, very cold in the fridge, as the contrast between the hot souffle and ice-cold sauce is very agreeable.

Once the souffle is cooked, carefully turn out on to a deep cold dish and flood the custard around it