Making the most of English asparagus’s short season

Serrano ham and poached duck egg salad

Serrano ham and poached duck egg salad

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We are right in the middle of the short British asparagus season, so we should be making the most of this gourmet vegetable before it runs out towards the end of June.

We are right in the middle of the short British asparagus season, so we should be making the most of this gourmet vegetable before it runs out towards the end of June.

Fresh asparagus

Fresh asparagus

Asparagus is much easier to cook than to grow as it takes nearly three years before you will get a decent crop and – having protected it from our cold winters and unpredictable weather – it has to be harvested by hand. The difficulty of growing and harvesting asparagus is the reason that it commands such a high price but I think English asparagus is worth every penny.

When buying this vegetable always look for firm stems, avoiding anything that is shrivelled or slimy, and make sure the buds are tightly closed.

The fresher asparagus is best because as soon as it is picked the natural sugars in it start to turn into starch and you will lose the vegetable’s naturally sweet flavour.

Slender stems and thick stems when bent will snap at the tender spot but you may have to peel the stems of the thick ones which can be woody. Once this is done you are ready to blanch them in boiling salted water for three to four minutes and they are ready to serve. The really small types can even be eaten raw with lemon juice, olive oil and sea salt.

JPWM-17-05-14-006 food pic 2

JPWM-17-05-14-006 food pic 2

I like to eat asparagus with the richness of a poached duck egg. In this recipe I have added serrano ham and some wonderful spring lettuce leaves while using the stems of the vegetable to make the dressing.

Ingredients (serves two)

1 bunch of English

asparagus

2 duck eggs

4 slices of serrano ham

Olive oil

Butter

1 shallot

1 tablespoon of white wine

50ml of double cream

Sea salt

100g of baby salad leaves

Method

1. Place one slice of serrano ham on a tray in an oven set at 100c for 20 minutes or until crispy.

2. Allow to cool and grind in a pestle and mortar .

3. While you are drying the serrano, finely chop the shallot and sweat it in the butter over a very low heat.

4. Snap the asparagus, discard the woody bottoms and trim the stems. Chop the trimmings and add to the shallot.

5. Cook gently for three minutes and then add the wine and cream.

6. Bring to a simmer for two minutes and liquidise.

7. Allow to cool and season. This is your salad dressing.

8. Cook your asparagus in boiling water for three to four minutes and at the same time, but in a different pan, poach the duck eggs.

9. Place some salad in two bowls along with one and a half slices of serrano ham in each . Slice the warm asparagus and add to the bowls.

10. Top with the poached egg. Spoon over the dressing and sprinkle with the dried serrano to serve.

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