With recent news that Waitrose is stocking its earliest ever crop of British asparagus, eight weeks ahead of the usual season, there’s never been a better time to get a taste of this nutrient-rich vegetable.
A versatile, simple and (most importantly) delicious ingredient, six of the UK’s best chefs share their top tips on making the most of this spring vegetable
1 Tom Booton, Head Chef at The Grill at The Dorchester, London
Keep it raw:
“My favourite way to use asparagus is peeled raw into a salad – people don’t often celebrate asparagus in its raw form, but I love how it’s simple, yet so fresh and tasty.
For a dinner party, I cook asparagus en papillote: place the asparagus onto greaseproof paper with butter, salt and garlic, before folding the greaseproof paper together at the top, so that it forms a parcel around the asparagus.
Add some water into the bag before sealing to create an emulsion and then pop into a 200c oven for around 15-20 minutes, until the bag has puffed up. It’s so easy, and a dish that you can prep and keep in the fridge beforehand and throw in the oven when guests arrive.”
2 Tom Kemble, Head Chef at Tom Kemble at The Pass, Sussex:
Prep it real good:
“Use a sharp turning knife or pairing knife and remove the scales on the spear. Take off about an inch-and-a-half from the bottom of the spear. This is just a guide; it’s better to feel the stem for the point where the asparagus starts to become tough and woody.
Using the pairing knife, score a line around the spear and use a peeler to remove the skin. This helps to cook the whole asparagus evenly from top to bottom. Save all the trimmings, as they can be used to make other elements of a dish in order to reduce food waste.
I use raw asparagus shavings as a great garnish, as well as the leftover trimmings to make a purée. It’s amazing how many textures you can create using the various parts of asparagus in different ways.
On cooking asparagus:
“The worst cooking method you can use is to blanch asparagus in water. Due to its cell structure, most of the flavour is released into the cooking water and you are left with a flavourless product.
Heat the spears in a sauté pan with a little spoon of salted butter and under a cartouche. The asparagus steams in its own juices and there is little loss of flavour.
Check the asparagus with a spike or thin knife. It should have little resistance – it is important that they have bite. Remove the asparagus from the pan and heat the juices and butter until the emulsion starts to split. Reserve and glaze over the spears before serving.”
3 Tom Aikens, Head Chef and Founder at Muse, London
“The great thing with asparagus is that it can be used in multiple different ways – grilled from raw, made into a soup, salad, warm custard or mousse, or even finely sliced and eaten raw.
My personal favourites are just with a lovely Hollandaise, or melted butter and black pepper, or just rolled in olive oil and Maldon salt then cooked from raw direct onto a hot grill.
The best way to cook the asparagus is just cut or snap off the tough base, then carefully peel the base and cook in simmering salted water – 15g salt per litre of water. Sort the smaller pieces from the large as it could be up to a minute’s difference in cooking time between some of them.
Cook at a steady fast simmer with a lid on. If being eaten hot then it should be cooked after 2-3 mins. If eating cold, remove from the pan and refresh in iced water to stop the cooking. Drain and dry well, then if you are having it cold, serve with a simple vinaigrette or a lemon emulsion.”
4 Nathan Outlaw, Chef Director of Siren, London
A little bit on the side:
“One of my favourite ways to serve asparagus as a side dish for fish, is simply grilled with fried sourdough breadcrumbs in butter with lemon, parsley and garlic.”
5 Alex Claridge, Chef Owner of The Wildnerness, Birmingham
Less is more:
“The appreciation of asparagus should have an air of the occult – it is such a short season but British asparagus is uniquely delicious. Eat it often but only when it’s at its inimitable peak and whatever you do, don’t overcook it.
We bbq it until just cooked then finish with rapeseed and Maldon. There’s a special place in hell for people who overcook asparagus”.
6 Ben Cooke, Chef Owner at The Little Gloster, Isle of Wight
Use it as garnish:
“It’s so great when asparagus comes early. We have a top grower here on the island, Ben Brown, who we always get great bunches from, and when it’s early they are usually thinner which is fantastic for garnishing our fresh fish dishes or starter sharing plates – our guests go mad for it!
Every chef has his/her favourite ways to garnish it and we laugh in the kitchen about who’s creating the best each year”.