Our resident chef Mark Hix on the inimitable delights of fresh white asparagus

 
Mark Hix

For years, I wondered why no one seemed to grow white asparagus in the UK. Then I was pleasantly surprised when the Chinn family up in the Wye Valley sent me a fantastic batch of their own.

They’re the perfect example of the sort of forward-thinking growers we’re increasingly blessed with today. They make my dinner party menus a lot easier to plan, and a heck of a lot more interesting, too.

Some restaurants still serve canned white asparagus, which I’ve never quite understood. All it needs is a different treatment from the green variety we’re used to. The skin tends to be tough and not really edible, and the flesh is not as sweet either, so add a little sugar and citrus to the cooking liquor. It really benefits from being left in the liquid and it’s a world apart when it’s cooked fresh.

You can buy white, purple and green asparagus from Whole Foods in the Wye Valley, but I’m sure you can also find it at a specialist grocer.

White asparagus with poached duck egg and brown shrimp recipe

SERVES 4

Ingredients

  • 20 medium sized white asparagus tips
  • 4 ducks’ or hens’ eggs
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 30g peeled brown shrimps
  • 2tbsp chopped parsley
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • To prepare the asparagus cut about 2-3cm of the woody base of the asparagus; if it looks like they are very woody cut a little more off.

Method

  • With a swivel type peeler, carefully peel, starting from 3cm down from the tip to the bottom of each stem, where they were originally cut.
  • Bring a pan of well-salted water to the boil with ½ a tablespoon of sugar and the juice of half a lemon.
  • Drop in and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the asparagus is tender.
  • Carefully drain the asparagus in a colander and arrange on plates. If you are cooking the asparagus in advance you can cook them a bit less and leave in the cooking liquor until required.
  • Poach the eggs, then melt the butter in a pan, add the shrimps and parsley and lemon juice and season to taste.
  • To serve, arrange the asparagus on warmed serving dishes, ensuring the liquid is drained on some kitchen paper, then place the egg on the asparagus and spoon the shrimps and butter on top.

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