Asparagus is one ingredient I never get tired of cooking with.
This glorious green vegetable is one of the real joys of spring, and every year I look forward to the start of the asparagus season with great excitement.
It’s only available and in season for a very short period of time, so as soon as it arrives, I’m eager to get my hands on the best and start cooking a host of wonderful spring dishes.
The British asparagus season runs from mid-April until June and the Scottish season is even shorter, starting in early May until mid-June, but the quality in that time is truly outstanding.
We’ve been getting some exceptional early asparagus from the Wye Valley at the restaurant, delivered in big, bright bundles of thick, vibrant green stalks. But what I really relish is the moment when asparagus arrives from Eassie Farm near Glamis Castle, only about an hour’s journey from our restaurant.
My supplier Sandy Pattullo has been bringing me some of the best asparagus in the world since we opened The Kitchin. To this day, diners at the restaurant still tell me it’s the best asparagus they’ve ever tasted.
A hero ingredient, you really don’t need to do a lot to asparagus to create a truly delicious dish. In fact, the key is in keeping it simple to let the earthy, sweet, bold natural flavour really shine through. The flavour should be treasured, it really only needs a very short cooking time, and usually the shorter the better. I recommend blanching for no more than 2 -3 minutes in salted water. If you like a bit of colour on your asparagus you can also grill, roast or even barbecue asparagus – it really is so versatile.
Though the season is short, every year I come up with a new dish or I discover a new marriage of flavours which celebrates this wonderful green vegetable.
Today’s recipe for asparagus with cockles and brown shrimps is a new dish I came up with just last year. I actually discovered how fantastic it tasted when we were trying to create a dish for a diner with dietary requirements, and we started experimenting with different combinations.
The asparagus is cooked in the sauce of the lovely fresh shellfish and takes on this incredible flavour. That’s what I love about cooking – the best dishes can come about when you least expect it.
Asparagus Soup, Poached Egg and Raw Asparagus
- 1 small onion – sliced
- 30g unsalted butter
- 500g asparagus – chopped
- 300ml chicken stock
- 20g crème fraîche
- 4 eggs
- Olive oil
- Sea Salt and cracked black pepper
- 2 spears of asparagus to garnish
- For the soup: Add butter and onions to a heavy bottom pan and sweat for 3-4 minutes. Add salt and 500g of chopped asparagus. Cook on a high heat for a further 2-3 minutes with a lid on.
- Add the chicken stock and keep on high heat until cooked. Once cooked, blend as quickly as possible to reserve a nice green colour. Serve in a bowl with crème fraÎche and slices of raw asparagus.
- For the eggs: Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the vinegar and a pinch of salt. Gently whisk the water to create a whirlpool effect, then drop in the eggs and cook for 3-4 minutes for soft yolks. Remove the eggs and place them on kitchen paper to drain.
- Slice the two reserved asparagus lengthways in to four. Serve the soup in bowls and garnish with the poached eggs, crème fraîche, olive oil and two pieces each of raw asparagus.
Asparagus and Cockles with Butter Emulsion
- 12 large spears of asparagus
- 20 cockles
- 40 brown shrimp – peeled and cooked
- 1 handful of chives – finely chopped
- Vegetable oil
- 75ml dry white wine
- 200ml chicken stock
- 1 small shallot – finely chopped
- 50g unsalted butter
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- Sea salt and cracked black pepper
- Rinse the cockles thoroughly under cold water for at least 30 minutes. Remove the woody stem from the bottom of the asparagus, approx. 1 inch. Using a small vegetable knife, take the points off the asparagus but being careful to leave the tip intact.
- Heat a little vegetable oil in a pan over a medium heat. Add the cockles and chopped shallot and cook for 20 seconds. Steam the cockles for 2-3 minutes, or until they have opened up. Strain the pan, reserving the liquid.
- Prepare the cockles by removing the gritty sacks from the meat and set aside. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and season generously with salt. Cook the asparagus at a rolling boil for about 5 minutes until a knife easily pierces through the thick part of the stem.
- Meanwhile in another heavy bottom pan, reduce the chicken stock, white wine and the reserved cockle liquid by half. Whisk in the butter and the lemon zest and continue to reduce until you have a nice sauce consistency.
- Add the cockles along with their shells, shrimps and asparagus. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Stir in the chives and serve.
Asparagus with Orange and Balsamic
- 20 large asparagus spears
- 2 litres of water
- Handful of spinach
- Handful of parsley
- FOR THE DRESSING (makes 100ml) Half a vanilla pod
- 3 oranges
- 80g caster sugar
- 50ml of water
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- To prepare the orange balsamic: Cut the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape out the seeds. Grate the outer peel of one orange. Cut all 3 oranges in half and squeeze in the juice (save the remainder of the orange for cubes to garnish).
- Place the juice in a saucepan with the vanilla seeds, pod and grated peel. Add 50ml water and the sugar and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and keep simmering until the liquid is reduced by about half, then add 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and continue to reduce until the consistency is like syrup. Serve while still warm.
- To prepare the asparagus: Remove the little points from the asparagus stems with a sharp knife and trim off the woody bases. Tie the asparagus spears in a bundle with string so they are all facing the same way.
- Take a large pan and add about 2 litres of water and a good handful of salt. Taste the water to make sure it is quite salty. Bring the water to the boil, then plunge the asparagus into the pan and cook for 6-7 minutes until tender.
- Check that the asparagus are cooked by gently piercing a stem with a knife. If the knife enters gently, the asparagus is cooked; if there is still resistance, leave the asparagus in the water for another minute. Remove the asparagus, take off the string and put the spears on a plate.
To serve: You can either serve the asparagus stems whole, or cut them in half lengthways. Place them on the plate, and add cubes of orange, a handful of spinach and drizzle with the orange balsamic.