Thursday, 3 May 2007

New Season English Asparagus

When I was a child my grandmother used to take me to farms near her home to buy asparagus. She lived in Bexhill and now lives in Beckley, nr Rye, both of which are not far from the Kent/East Sussex border on the South Coast of England. This, as far as my taste buds have tested, is the best place in the world to buy asparagus. When I got a bit older my grandmother started to send me a £5 note when she saw the first English asparagus in the shops so that I could fuel my love of new season asparagus. When I got a little older still, the amount increased slightly so that I could buy myself a bottle of wine to go with!

At 17 I moved out of home into a little cottage in a place called Slack Bottom (?!) on the hills above Hebden Bridge. The cottage belonged to my friend's dad and were really lucky as he worked on oil rigs so was only home two weeks a year. He let us live in his cottage for free. It was my first taste of freedom and I took the opportunity to live exactly as I wanted. This included being able to eat only my favourite things. Every time I went to the shops I would buy a bunch of asparagus, butter, lemons and eggs and lived almost entirely on asparagus and hollandaise sauce! There were a couple of deviations from this. The girl I was living with had a thing for Smash and salad cream, I have never really fathomed why, but I occasionally joined her. And my boyfriend, who had been on a family holiday to France, brought me a huge sack of olives (1200g) of various types, my favourite being the tiny purplish-black nicoise olives, which we ate with bread for snacks!

I now live in East Sussex myself, so am lucky enough to get what I consider to be the best asparagus in the world once again. Last week my boyfriend brought me back a bunch of the first asparagus from a farm shop outside of Lewes and so I will gorge myself on asparagus and hollandaise once more until the season ends in June.

Here is my recipe for asparagus with a basic hollandaise:
1 bunch English asparagus
1 large organic egg yolk
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons water
100g butter, cut into small cubes
salt and white pepper

First make the hollandaise:
* Place the egg yolk, lemon juice and water into a heatproof bowl.
* Set the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water (do not allow the water to touch the bottom of the bowl).
* Whisk over a low heat until the egg starts to thicken, be careful not to let it get too hot or cook for too long as the yolk will scramble.
* As soon as the mix starts to thicken add a cube of butter, continuing to whisk.
* As soon as the butter has melted into the sauce add the next piece and continue like this whisking all the time until all the butter has been incorporated.
* Again, make sure the sauce never gets too hot - you can have a large bowl of iced water ready to sit the sauce bowl in and cool it down at any point if you are worried.
* Set the sauce aside

For the asparagus:
* Thoroughly wash the asparagus (I do not remove the bottom of the stems as I think that they prevent the edible bit of the stalks from becoming overcooked and waterlogged and provide a good finger hold)
* Tie the asparagus into a bundle
* Place in 5cm water in an asparagus steamer, or failing that a tall saucepan covered with a cone of foil to keep in the steam
* Set over a medium heat and steam for 8 - 15 minutes depending on the thickness of the stems - they are ready when a knife slides easily into the stem just below the tip.
* Drain and serve with the hollandaise


el padre said...

Wonderful.Re "Fingerhold": sadly I know some people who use knife and fork. shocking.

Anonymous said...

Well said.