May 18th, 2012
The Asparagus Season (April 23rd – June 21st in the UK) heralds spring, a whole range of new vegetables and an end to winter. Ideally, asparagus is best served very fresh – mine came from Perry Court Farm and Martin (the farmer) said they were out picking on Saturday night in order to sell it at the Farmers’ Market on Sunday morning. If you buy it from a supermarket it will be at least several weeks old and will have lost a lot of flavour.
Asparagus can be steamed, fried, griddled, poached, added to casseroles, frittata (Hot, Cheap & Easy’s recipe), quiche, soups, stews, etc. I’m quite partial to steaming and recently found that it poaches very well on a barbecue. It’s delicious as a starter with butter, garlic and lemon juice, though my favourite is with Hollandaise Sauce. Hollandaise originally came from the Netherlands (hence the name) and is generally made by mixing egg yolks and butter, with vinegar or lemon juice.
Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce recipe (serves 2):
a bunch of asparagus (about half a pound)
3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
1 bay leaf
a few black peppercorns
a sprinkle of powdered mace
2 free range egg yolks
4 – 5 ounces of butter
a sprinkle of salt
Put the red wine vinegar (white wine vinegar is also good and the sauce will look lighter as a result) into a saucepan with the peppercorns, bay leaf and mace. This needs to be reduced until there’s only about a dessertspoonful left. Open the window, this will make your eyes run and you may cough. I once made Hollandaise for 10 people at Christmas, reducing 2 bottles of red wine vinegar and it was most unpleasant (fortunately a bottle of Stoli got me through the ordeal in one piece)! Once reduced, allow to cool.
Steam or boil the asparagus for about 4 -5 minutes in salted water. Test it with a fork to see when it’s tender and be sure not to let it go soggy.
While the asparagus is steaming, mix the two egg yolks with about a quarter of the butter (a big teaspoonful) and a sprinkle of salt, in a glass bowl.
Put the bowl into a saucepan of lukewarm water (a bain-marie) and whisk in the strained vinegar, while heating gently. Do not allow the saucepan of water to get too hot or boil, as the Hollandaise will separate. Whisk in all the remaining butter and check the taste. Hollandaise Sauce should be buttery with a slight tang from the vinegar. If it’s too sharp add more butter and do likewise if it starts to get too thick. When done, pour onto the asparagus and serve immediately.
Hollandaise Sauce will also go very well with fish and other vegetable dishes.