Asparagus is one of our most fantastic seasonal vegetables, which traditionally would have a short season from about May to June. But things have changed and these days there’s high demand for cheaper imported stuff from Peru and Spain, which has put a bit of strain on our British growers.
Believe it or not, I was sent my first picking of British spears in January. Yes, January – from one of our favourite growers, the Chinn Family in the Wye Valley. Although great to have it so early, I couldn’t put it on the menu as I’ve been criticised on Twitter by friends in the business for faking it, so I decided to leave it for a month, although I did take some home for an unlikely new year asparagus supper.
Not only do the Chinn’s force their asparagus early to get ahead of the imports, but a couple years back they produced a second crop in September. It doesn’t stop there: they are also the first British farmers to grow white asparagus, which you only tend to see in countries like France, Spain and Germany.
We also received purple asparagus from them last week, so I decided to host an asparagus dinner in HIX Mayfair showcasing six courses featuring all of the above.
I started with an Asian asparagus broth followed by a salad with shavings of raw, cooked tips and pennywort, a wild robust leaf that grows abundantly in certain parts of the country. I then served the white asparagus with a poached pheasant’s egg and Dublin bay prawn tails, followed by a fillet of lamb on a purée of asparagus scattered with the purple tips.
I didn’t quite manage to come up with an asparagus dessert but I did serve a cocktail made with Black Cow vodka (made using cow’s milk) infused with asparagus, mixed kale juice, honey and egg whites. We called it Ernie’s Trigger Happy Black Cow in reference to the Benny Hill song about Ernie and his cow Trigger, who famously had the fastest milk cart in the west (not after my late father Ernie, which is also my middle name). It sounds nuts but you have to have a little fun with cocktails made with Black Cow vodka.
Ernie’s Trigger Happy Black Cow asparagus cocktail
To make the asparagus infused Black Cow, finely chop 4-5 spears of asparagus and infuse it in half a bottle of the vodka for a couple days. Then gather the below (serves 2):
• 100ml asparagus infused black cow vodka
• 40ml Kale, apple and ginger juice
• The juice of 1 lime
• 25ml clear honey
• 1 egg white
Put all of the ingredients except the asparagus tip leaves in a cocktail shaker with 5-6 ice cubes and shake well for 20 seconds then transfer to a suitable cocktail glass, scatter with the leaves and serve.