"Asparagus has always been and undoubtably always will be vegetable royalty."
Asparagus season is upon us! Those elegant green spears have been appearing in shops and at the market and most delightfully, in my garden!
As a chef, asparagus has always been one of my favorite vegetables, used across a range of courses: taking a starring role as an entrée, as a delicate soup with shellfish – indeed try it with oysters, as a vegetable accompaniment to a main course, in a salad either blanched or raw, or simply shavings of the raw stems adding wonderful fresh crisp texture to soups, salads and other dishes.
Though the season is brief it is bountiful, so for a short period of the year everyone has it on their menus both at home and in restaurants and cafes. It was not always like this.
Growing up I never saw it fresh, I thought it only came out of tins! Indeed tins of asparagus were a pantry staple. At every family gathering someone would have contributed asparagus rolls. Slices of white bread, crusts removed, buttered and rolled around spears of tinned asparagus. Sometimes a touch of decadence would be added in the addition of cream cheese or mayonnaise. I fear it was a love or loath thing, folk even now either view asparagus rolls as delicious or disgusting!
It was not until I started my chef career in Europe that I saw fresh asparagus for the first time and also came to learn how special it was. In restaurants the spears were individually paid for as a very short lived special on the menu. They were cooked to order, generally tied together in bundles for strict portion control, the stalks often peeled and cooked in specialized pots. They were served to great fanfare with Hollandaise or Beurre Blanc and an accompanying finger bowl as etiquette demanded (and in many places still does) that they NEVER be eaten with knife and fork but rather only with one’s left hand. Furthermore, the last inch and a half of stalk must always be left on one’s plate. I think in general asparagus etiquette has relaxed a little these days!
As a modern twist to this more traditional way of serving asparagus and as an ode to an old Marco Pierre White creation is a dish we recently presented to showcase Westgold butter – asparagus poached in a little butter enriched and salt seasoned water, drained and served topped by a poached egg, crispy pancetta and a wasabi Hollandaise. Delicious!
As alluded to earlier, after three years of patiently waiting and exercising considerable restraint I have been able to harvest my first asparagus crop. The delight in breaking off a few spears, just enough for two serves, and eating them 15 minutes later, can’t get much more ‘garden to table’! Despite the many options for using and serving them my favorite is a light season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, a coating of olive or walnut oil, a few drizzled drops of balsamic or vincotto, grilled on the BBQ and served as is or with a crumbling of feta or strips or grilled Haloumi. Unbeatable flavor and freshness.
Asparagus has always been and undoubtedly always will be vegetable royalty - Though perhaps not the tinned variety!
Asparagus, Poached egg, Pancetta and Wasabi Hollandaise
Serves 6 portions
500g fresh asparagus – approx. 6 pieces per portion – thick ends trimmed
6 eggs – poached, refreshed in iced water, trimmed set aside until ready to reheat
12 sliced of pancetta – grilled lightly crisp
Wasabi hollandaise (see method)
1 shallot, chopped finely
6 parsley stalks
Sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
25g white wine vinegar
4 egg yolks
400g Westgold Butter, clarified
Wasabi paste to taste
Make a reduction with shallots, vinegar, peppercorn, herbs and a pinch of salt.
Reduce to almost dry. Add 25g water. Allow to cool.
Add yolks. Whisk to a sabayon over heat.
Emulsify with butter.
Pass and add Wasabi and lemon juice to taste.
Blanch asparagus in a little boiling salted water with a knob of Westgold butter – drain.
Reheat eggs in simmering salted water, drain and dry on paper towel.
To serve place asparagus on plate, top with poached egg, coat with Wasabi hollandaise and garnish with pancetta.