June 4, 2009
I’m feeling nostalgic for Memphis. Always happens at about the three-and-a-half-month mark. After that much distance, I start craving all the regulars: pulled pork sandwiches, dry-rubbed ribs (which I attempted to make myself last week, with surprising success, whee!), fried catfish, everything my mother makes, and popovers with strawberry butter.
Hmm. These not exactly what you think of when you think of Memphis? Let me explain.
Growing up, there was a “default” fancy restaurant, reserved for birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations: Paulette‘s in Midtown, an oak-paneled kind of place with a live pianist and French-inspired menu of crêpes, steaks, and other old-school fare. Just the kind of place to make young girls feel very grown-up and sophisticated; an excuse to wear your party dress.
I haven’t been to Paulette’s in many years, and really the only reason they occupy an important place in my arsenal of culinary memories is because of their popovers. Instead of a basket of bread, Paulette’s would (and I hope they still do) offer up baskets of hot popovers with strawberry butter.
Oh yes oh yes oh yes.
Have you ever had a popover? Or is it just a Memphis thing?
Conventional wisdom on popovers has long argued that they are fussy and high-maintenace, but that’s never been the case for me. In a stroke of what I can only classify as foresight genius, I clipped the Paulette’s recipe for popovers out of the local Memphis paper while I was in high school. I didn’t even cook then! In fact, it was probably about four or five years until I even tried the recipe–by then, I was far from home and nostalgic for its tastes.
This recipe has never failed me. You do have to follow the specifics (pre-heating the pan, using room temperature eggs), but it’s not necessary to use a popover pan the way some people think (a muffin tin works just fine, thankyouverymuch) and the finished product is supremely satisfying.
What does a popover taste like, you might ask? Like a very eggy-but-not-chewy pastry, crusty on the outside and airy on the inside. Serve them with strawberry butter, like they do in Memphis.
In just about a week, Jill and I will be driving up to my hometown for a visit. When we cross the bridge from Arkansas to Tennessee over the big, muddy, ugly Mississippi where my father’s ashes were spread, I will cry. I’ll weave through the streets of Memphis, which I can navigate like I can’t anywhere else. Jill and I will eat our way through the city, and through my mother’s two (count them, two!) refrigerators, which she will have stocked for our arrival.
That’s how I’ll know I’m home.
Coming up Tuesday is the next installment of our Summer Classics Series: key lime pie. Ohhhhhh yeah. Until then, try these popovers for a lovely weekend brunch.
Paulette’s Restaurant, as printed in The Commercial Appeal many years ago
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 Tbsp oil
3 large eggs, AT ROOM TEMP
¾ tsp. salt
1 cup milk
pan: muffin tin, well-greased
oven: 415° F.
Place muffin tin in hot oven. Sift together flour & salt. In a separate bowl, whisk milk and oil together. Slowly mix milk-oil into dry ingredients with a spoon until creamy smooth.
Add eggs one at a time; this will take some patience! What you want to achieve are ribbons of egg in the batter. After all the eggs have been incorporated, stir mixture for 2 additional minutes. Remove warm muffin tin from the oven, filling each cup ½ full.
Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the popovers while still hot or they will stick to the pan! Perfect served with strawberry butter.*
Mix together equal parts softened butter & strawberry preserves. It really is that easy! Of course, with strawberries being so lovely right now you could do something more homegrown: wash & chop strawberries, pat dry. Place them in a bowl & sprinkle sugar over them, letting the mixture sit for an hour to release the juice. Blend the strawberries with an equal amount of softened butter.
Either version of strawberry butter will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer indefinitely. Just make sure you soften it again before you want to use it