English asparagus is the gastronomic highlight of May. Our cool climate ensures a slow growth, which allows an intense flavour to develop. It may seem expensive, but when you take into account that it’s harvested by hand, it will seem better value.
The asparagus season is very short, only lasting about six weeks. Once harvested the sugar rapidly turns into starch and the flavour begins to deteriorate. So buy as close to source as possible and cook that day. If you are lucky enough to buy asparagus that was still in the ground 12 hours ago, I suggest you simply peel and boil it in salted water before eating with a little salt and olive oil. If, however, you haven’t made it to the farmers market today, then grilled asparagus with hollandaise sauce is fantastic; the lovely smoky taste combines perfectly with the rich, lemony sauce.
There is a lot of unnecessary fuss surrounding the making of hollandaise sauce. I used to make it twice a day when I worked at Stephen Bull’s restaurant and can safely say that the less you fret about it the better it turns out. Whisk the yolks in a bowl over simmering water until they reach the ribbon stage; this is when the mix is thick enough that if you lift up the whisk and draw a number 8, it remains visible for a second. Then slowly whisk in the warm (not hot) melted butter.
Grilled English asparagus with hollandaise sauce – serves 4
- Wash 16 asparagus spears thoroughly, cut off the base and peel the last two thirds. Keep the off-cuts for a stock or sauce. Cook in plenty of lightly salted, vigorously boiling water for about 3 minutes until tender then plunge into very cold water.
- Melt 250 grams of butter. In a large metal bowl whisk 3 egg yolks with a splash of water over a pan of simmering water until thick. Add the butter in a slow, thin stream whisking constantly. If it looks a little thick add a drop of warm water and then continue. Add the juice of ½ a lemon and salt and pepper to taste.
- Heat a grill pan until very hot. Season the asparagus and lightly brush with olive oil. Grill on all sides until nicely charred. Serve with the hollandaise sauce.