Going Naked: Crustless Quiche w/Asparagus, Cress & Surimi

A summer brunch dish that tastes naughty, but is nicer to your figure and heart than its pastry-enrobed sibling. Quiche by its nature is not a dieter’s friend — flaky pastry, butter, heavy cream, eggs, and cheese can wreak havoc on the waist and the cholesterol count. But here’s the thing: we like eggs, we like cream, and we lo-o-ve cheese, but don’t like the “fat-free” versions of anything. I even begrudge low-fat versions.

But there are choices we can make that allow us to indulge in a Sunday treat like this without resorting to fat-free products — eliminating the crust, using egg whites in place of some of the whole eggs in the recipe, using light cream and yogurt instead of heavy cream, and using half the amount of cheese and twice the amount of vegetables. I’m not a dietician, and I don’t know if we can call this “healthy” but it’s at least healthier.

For this quiche we used surimi, more widely known, unfortunately, as “fake crab.” I guess I had surimi on the brain because I just received a monthly update from a well-known cooking magazine, wherein surimi was roundly rejected as a poor substitute for crabmeat. Of course. It’s notcrabmeat, it’s fishcake. One reason I dislike the term “fake crab” is that the term implies that surimi can be used interchangeably with real crabmeat, and of course, it can’t. The magazine article reviewed surimi as a substitute for crab in making crabcakes! Are you kidding me, crabcakes?!Honestly, reading this gave me a headache. There was no mention of a proper use of surimi, or it’s use for hundreds of years in China, Japan, Korea and all over Asia. Nothing. Just, “don’t use it to make crabcakes.” Okay, thanks. Noted. Once I stopped hyperventilating and huffing around the kitchen, I refelcted on the poor examples of surimi being used as if it actually were a substitue for crab — you know them, too, the pasta salads, omelets, sandwiches, and sushi touted as “crab,” without the the quotation marks.

So what, exactly, is surimi? It’s the name for both the raw fish paste that is used to make a variety of different fishcakes, and the red-and-white stick fishcake with that unhelpful “fake crab (or lobster)” label. Surimi paste is seasoned and shaped according to different cultural preferences across Asia. In Japan, products made from surimi are called Kamaboko(kah-mah-BO-ko), and the variety of shapes, colors, additional ingredients are many — tubes, sticks, half moons, patties; stuffed, hollow, plain, with vegetables; brown, white, neon pink or green. The other day we tried a wonderful kamaboko from Japan with actual pieces of snow crabmeat in it; it was the perfect complement to the homemade broth, fresh noodles and vegetables in our ramen lunch. The stick surimi used in this quiche has a distinctive bundled-threadlike appearance. It pulls apart easily in long strips the way string cheese does (photo above). I remember having to do this as a kid to help my mom prepare omelets or somen salads. Whenever I use the stick surimi, I still immediately shred it like this. Habit, I guess.

Whether you chunk it or shred it, I hope you give surimi a chance, and use it for what it is — a tasty fishcake that can lighten and liven up your meals in its own right. Hawaii is lucky to have several kamaboko manufacturers, and we know of one local purveyor of Taiwanese-style fishballs that (they advertise) is made fresh daily from kajiki (aka blue marlin; most commercial fishcake in the U.S. is made of pollock or whiting) (see Chinatown Buys). But save those goodies for the stews, soups and fried noodles, for this recipe you’ll need the shredding kind.

The key to making a creamy quiche is “low and slow” — it’s basically a savory custard, so treat it with the same gentleness of whisk and heat with which you pamper a flan, bread pudding, or creme anglaise.
(Serves 2)

Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.

For the custard:
handful of garlic chives (about 20g), chopped fine
1 TBL. unsalted butter

Saute the chives in butter over medium heat until they just become fragrant. Keep aside.

6 large eggs (3 whole and 3 egg whites only)
1/2 cup (120ml) light cream or half-and-half
3 TBL. plain yogurt
2 TBL. mirin (seasoned rice wine for cooking), or dry sherry
1/2 tsp. dried chervil
sea salt
white pepper
one pass of nutmeg on a grater (over custard)

Whisk together the egg whites and whole eggs until thoroughly blended. Add cream, yogurt and mirin, and whisk again, being careful not to incorporate too much air. Add sauteed chives, chervil and seasonings, to taste. Grate nutmeg over custard. Stir to incorporate.

For the filling:
12 stalks of cooked asparagus, preferably grilled, cut into 1” pieces (can keep a few whole to decorate the top)
(I used steamed asparagus, and even after a gentle squeeze and paper toweling, they still gave off liquid as the quiche cooked and left the filling looking like soft-cooked eggs even though the egg is cooked through)
1/2 cup flash-cooked watercress, squeezed dry and chopped
4 sticks of surimi, pat dry and pulled into shreds
1/2 cup (55g) grated mozzarella

Fill a 4-cup/1L baking dish with the vegetables and surimi, distributing them evenly in the dish. Add cheese. Slowly pour custard over fillings, lifting ingredients at the bottom slightly to make certain the custard gets all the way down to the bottom and covers the vegetables. Gently tap dish on counter to release bubbles and settle the custard.

REDUCE HEAT to 325F/160C. Place baking pan in oven and cook for 40-45 minutes, or until top is pale golden and a knife inserted in the middle comes out moist, but with no film of egg on it. Remove quiche from oven, cover and allow to set for at least 20 minutes in the pan before slicing. Custard will continue to cook as it sets.

Note: Cooking time is for a 4-cup/1L baking dish. If using a larger baking vessel (where the custard spreads out more), check the quiche after 30 minutes. If it still needs time, cover lightly with foil and keep checking at 5 minute intervals. If using a smaller baking dish (filling is more than 3” deep), keep temperature at 325F/160C, lightly cover top of quiche with foil after 30 minutes, and cook for a total of 50 minutes to 1 hour. Test with knife, as above.