Wild Mushroom Tartlets with Poached Quails' Eggs
This is my version of one of the most brilliant first courses I've ever eaten.
It was created by Michel Bourdin, head chef at London's prestigious Connaught Hotel. His version has boiled quails' eggs, but I can't bear the fiddle of peeling them, so I now poach them, which cuts out a great deal of time and work. I also have Michel's approval, as he told me that he originally did them like this. It's still not the swiftest, easiest course, but when you want something really special for a celebration, this is it.
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This recipe is from Delia's Complete How to Cook. Serves 6
First make the pastry: remove a pack of butter from the fridge, weigh out 3 oz (75 g), then wrap it in a piece of foil and return it to the freezer or freezing compartment of the fridge for 30-45 minutes.
Then, when you are ready to make the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a large, roomy bowl. Take the butter out of the freezer, fold back the foil and hold it in the foil, which will protect it from your warm hands. Then, using the coarse side of a grater placed in the bowl over the flour, grate the butter, dipping the edge of the butter on to the flour several times to make it easier to grate. What you will end up with is a large pile of grated butter sitting in the middle of the flour. Now take a palette knife and start to distribute the gratings into the flour – don't use your hands yet, just keep trying to coat all the pieces of fat with flour. Now sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of cold water all over, continue to use the palette knife to bring the whole thing together, and finish off using your hands. If you need a bit more moisture, that's fine – just remember that the dough should come together in such a way that it leaves the bowl fairly clean, with no bits of loose butter or flour anywhere. Now pop it into a polythene bag and chill for 30 minutes before using.
Meanwhile, whiz the fresh and soaked mushrooms and shallots in a food processor till finely chopped. Now melt the butter in a medium-sized pan over a high heat, add the mushroom mixture, nutmeg and seasoning, reduce the heat and gently sauté for 20-25 minutes, until all the juices have evaporated. Then remove from the heat and allow to cool. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick and cut out six rounds with the cutter, re-rolling the pastry if necessary. Now line each tin with the pastry, pushing it down from the tops so the pastry doesn't shrink during cooking. Trim the pastry around the tops to ¼ inch (5 mm) and prick the bases with a fork, then refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F (200°C). Now place the tins on the baking sheet and bake on the top shelf of the oven for 15 minutes. (All this can be done well in advance. The mushroom mixture should be cooled, then covered and stored in the fridge, and the pastry cases carefully removed from their tins and stored in an airtight container. The Foaming Hollandaise can also be made in advance and kept at room temperature.)
Then, in a medium-sized frying pan half filled with boiling water from the kettle, you can begin to poach the eggs. Place the pan over a gentle heat and have a bowl of cold water ready. Now, as soon as the pan has fine bubbles all over the base, make a slit in 6 quails' eggs with a small serrated knife, carefully slipping the eggs in to poach. Put a timer on for 1½ minutes, then, after this time and using a draining spoon, remove them, starting with the first one that went in. Transfer them to the bowl of cold water, then repeat the whole process twice until all the eggs are poached.
With everything ready – the mushroom filling, the tartlet cases, the Foaming Hollandaise and the poached eggs – you can now assemble the tartlets.
When you are ready to serve the tartlets, pre-heat the grill to its highest setting. Next, place the tartlet cases on a baking sheet, cover with foil and pop them under the grill 6 inches (15 cm) from the heat to warm through for 5 minutes. Then, while this is happening, re-heat the mushroom mixture in a small saucepan and get it really hot. Then fill the pastry cases with the mushroom mixture and top each one with 3 quails' eggs, using a draining spoon and a wodge of kitchen paper to drain off any water. Next spoon the Foaming Hollandaise over, then pop the whole lot back under the grill again, at least 6 inches (15 cm) from the heat, and watch like a hawk – it should take only 30 seconds for the sauce to warm through and brown slightly. Then switch the grill off and serve on warm plates as quickly as possible.