Of course the gods punish us with such a short period every year to be joyous for what surely can only be described as the undisputed king of British vegetables. The mighty, noble spears rising from the earth to be crowned by the spring sunshine – only to become victims of regicide; to fulfil our annual desire to celebrate the bounty of the delights that the season has to offer.
Lying in state on a shiny, ceramic plate – not much more is required to exploit the best qualities of this fallen hero. Simply gently pan-fried in a little oil and butter, embalmed in sharp, creamy sauce Hollandaise and anointed by the satisfying deluge of a bursting, lightly poached hen’s egg. Sometimes the ultimate satisfaction must be guaranteed by showing the ultimate respect for your produce. Go and pay your homage immediately – before this sovereign vegetable is exiled under the ground until next year.
There is but one way to treat asparagus and that is simply. The most common way of cooking them is to blanch, but to develop their flavour and really draw out their nuttiness, and keep that bite, frying in a little oil and butter is by far the best way. As for an accompanying hollandaise sauce, that too can be made in a number of ways and we all have our favourite method. For me, the best is made in accordance with the recipe below– and I hate the fact I’m saying this – using a microwave. All I can say is don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
The flavour combination of egg and asparagus is sheer perfection in any form, and this dish brings the two best forms together. Serrano ham (lay it on the asparagus so that the fat melts slightly and the flavour is drawn out) or a teaspoon of caviar both make for sumptuous additions – the ham working nicely with the asparagus, and the saltiness of the caviar pairing adding a special something to both the egg and the hollandaise. When it comes to bread, a sourdough, malt loaf or rustic style bread with a thick flavour-packed crust is best; if slightly sweet it will work well with the richness of the dish.
- Handful of asparagus – snap the ends off at their natural breaking point
- 1 egg
- 1 slice of good thick cut bread
- Knob of butter
- A little olive oil
- Pinch of sea salt
For the hollandaise:
- 100g butter
- 30ml white wine vinegar
- 2 egg yolks
- Salt and pepper
Melt the knob of butter with a little olive oil in a frying pan and fry the asparagus spears with a pinch of salt until they start to colour slightly but are still firm.
Meanwhile boil or poach the egg in your preferred manner – make sure the cooked egg has a runny yolk.
Finally make the hollandaise by melting the butter in the microwave, in a bowl covered in cling film, at half power. Then add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and gently whisk in. Then heat for 30 seconds on half power (again covered in cling film), gently whisk again and repeat the process until the hollandaise is the consistency you want – be careful not to go too far and allow the sauce to split.