A dish for the first precious bunches of the season
There’s really nothing to top simple boiled asparagus with melted butter or a soft-boiled egg. I’m usually far too impatient to prepare anything more complicated with the first precious bunches of the season, but a lemony hollandaise, an emulsion of both eggs and butter, is doubly indulgent and the perfect classic sauce to accompany the spears. Tarragon (usually found in the punchier béarnaise sauce) is heaven, but do go carefully—otherwise its aniseedy tones could overpower the asparagus.
500g asparagus or about 24 spears, depending on thickness
3 egg yolks
200g cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1cm cubes
Juice of ½ a lemon
1 sprig of tarragon, leaves finely chopped
Cayenne or black pepper
4 slices of sourdough bread
Chop the woody ends from the asparagus—I don’t snap mine off as so many recipes suggest because you seem to lose more flesh than necessary. In fact, I love to eat asparagus with my fingers and the tough little stump is good to hang on to, so I sometimes don’t trim the stalks at all.
To make the sauce, bring a saucepan of water to the boil and then place a bowl (glass or ceramic will temper the heat better than metal) on top to create a bain-marie. Now turn the heat right down, add the egg yolks and 1 tbsp water, and season with a little cayenne or black pepper and a pinch of salt, whisking until smooth.
Add the cubes of butter three or four at a time, whisking as they melt and emulsify into the egg. Continue adding more butter until it is all absorbed and you have a thick and creamy sauce. Whisk in a little lemon juice, tarragon and seasoning to taste. You can set the sauce aside in the bain-marie to keep warm for up to 20 mins or pour it into a small thermos flask.
Now to cook the asparagus. Plunge the stalks into a large pan of boiling, salted water and cook for anything between 3-8 mins until tender, depending on the thickness of the stalks. Drain well and place on a kitchen towel for a moment, so as not to waterlog your toast. Meanwhile, get the toast on.
Serve the asparagus piled on the toast and pour over the hollandaise at the very last moment (to avoid a rather unappetising skin forming). You could add a slice of cooked ham to the toast for a more substantial meal.
Recipe: Jenny Chandler
Image: Kim Lightbody