When I hear the word custard, I usually think of dessert first: a silky spice- and orange-infused confection, for example. But custard can also make a luscious savory course.
One easy way to flavor a savory custard is with a strong cheese, like a sharp cheddar or Parmesan. Less easy, but still pretty simple, is to infuse the milk with herbs, dried mushrooms, or spices. It’s also possible to incorporate pureed or finely chopped vegetables (but I haven’t tried this yet).
The photo shows my most recent savory custard, a herb and porcini mushroom creation. To make them, I heated the milk to almost the boiling point, and then dropped in some dried porcini mushrooms, a small sprig of fresh rosemary, and a few branches of fresh thyme. I let it cool on its own, and then strained it into a mixing bowl. I then picked out the rehydrated porcini pieces from the strainer, rinsed them in water, chopped them finely and added them back to the strained milk. From that point on, I followed the recipe (skipping the straining step for obvious reasons). For the cheese, I used Parmesan and some random white cheese that was in my refrigerator (it was Gruyere, I think). Although the custard’s texture was not ideal (I have a feeling that the added ingredients might have disrupted the formation of the internal network), it was delicious: rich, a nice porcini aroma and flavor, and a subtle herb-y background.
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- Salt and pepper (use white pepper for the cleanest presentation)
- 1/2 cup grated cheese your choice
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
- Flavorings (herbs, spices, dried mushrooms, etc.)
- If infusing the milk with flavorings, heat the milk to nearly the boiling point, then add the infusing items. Let steep until the milk is cool, then strain into a mixing bowl.
- Preheat oven to 350 F (177 C). Heat a some water to a simmer use as the water bath during baking.
- Butter four 1-cup ramekins or other heat proof dishes
- Stir the eggs into the cooled milk. Add salt and pepper. Strain (an optional step for the smoothest custard).
- Add the cheese and any solid ingredients to the milk and egg mixture and stir to combine.
- Pour into the baking cups.
- Place the baking cups in a large shallow dish (like a 9 x 13 Pyrex), put the dish on the rack in the preheated oven, then carefully pour hot water around the baking cups so that water goes about halfway up the sides of the custard base.
- Bake until the custard is set except for a small region in the center, about 20 minutes.
- Remove the cups from the water bath and let cool for a few minutes before serving.
- Sprinkle chopped herbs on top of each unbaked ramekin of custard
- Add pre-cooked vegetables to the custard base
- Mix large chunks of cheese into the custard base (I haven't actually tried this, and have a feeling they will all sink to the bottom. But the cheese might have the right density to float.)
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison