It's that time of the year again: when my sweetheart and I eat nothing but spears of asparagus. I had gone to the shop on Saturday, thinking of all the things I would like to eat, but whatever thought I had went out the window when I saw the bunches of English asparagus. 

Are they the best asparagus in the world? I'll have to remain on the fence about that one, but local asparagus are definitely the tastiest you can have, as long as they haven't been sitting around, waiting for you to pick them up and take them home. Like so many vegetal ephemera, asparagus decline from the moment they are cut: their sweetness lessens, and they become bland over time. Asparagus, like peas and corn, are best eaten the within a few days of being harvested. The season in Britain, despite the more clement weather, is a good two weeks shorter than in Eastern Canada and the American North-East, so one has best to gorge like there is no tomorrow!

While I pondered how I would like to enjoy my first local spears of the year, I also mulled over writing  a Food Revolution Day themed post. But the only thing on my brain was hollandaise sauce: a luscious egg sauce, that is basically a warm, butter-based mayonnaise, and is absolutely gorgeous with asparagus. A scrumptious idea, but a little impractical as all I wanted to do was tear open the bunch of asparagus and eat them on the spot. Inspired by the grilled asparagus I posted last year, here is a "deconstructed" hollandaise to enjoy with asparagus (and a bit of smoked salmon, if you so wish) at brunch, for a light lunch or even dinner. 

Deconstructed Hollandaise Sauce and Local Asparagus
Serves 2 for brunch, a light lunch or as a starter, or 1 as a vegetarian main

1 generous bunch asparagus (2 if they are small)
2 eggs
2 Tbs unsalted butter
1 lemon
salt and pepper

Bring a large pan of water to the boil.
Meanwhile, break off the tough ends of each asparagus, and soak them in cold water, swishing them around to dislodge any sand stuck in the tips.
Plunge the asparagus in the boiling water, and leave to cook for about 3 minutes, or until you can just about squeeze the fat end of a spear.
Remove the spears from the water, patting them dry, and divide among two plates.
Turn off the heat from under the pot, but keep it on the hot ring: gently drop in the eggs, and let cook, covered, for about 4-5 minutes.
Melt a pat of butter over each bunch of asparagus, season with salt and a fresh grind of pepper. 
Spritz generously with lemon juice. Set aside, preferably in a draft-free spot (a turned-off oven is perfect.)
Remove the eggs from the pot, rinse under cool water and peel gently: the whites will be barely set, and the yolks should be runny.
Place the eggs over the asparagus, sprinkle with salt and more pepper. Serve while still warm. 
Make sure you have plenty of bread to mop up all the juices.

While I find that the softer whites of coddled eggs are more suited for this recipe, you can use poached eggs instead. Granted, using an egg poacher or silicone cups will result in a texture close to that of a coddled egg. If you are wary of shelling coddled eggs, one way around it would be to serve the soft-boiled eggs in cups with melted butter and lemon juice on the side, and use the asparagus as little soldiers.

One important thing to look out for when coddling eggs is that they be not too fresh, otherwise the shell will be very difficult to peel off. If you get your egg directly from the farm, the backyard, or your CSA, and enjoy the occasional egg salad and boiled eggs, keep a dozen at the very back of the fridge and forget about them for a while, or leave them out on the kitchen counter for a few days. As contradictory as it may seem, eggs cooked in the shell are easiest to peel when they have at least three weeks of storage in them. Free-range and organic eggs from the supermarket will also tend to be on the too-fresh side, so use eggs that are nearing their 'best before' date, or even have gone over. On the other hand, if you prefer to poach your eggs in water and vinegar, you will need the freshest possible egg (the egg white will be less runny, and thus keep its shape betting in the poaching water.)

Bon app'!


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