Mark Hix’s recipe for asparagus with hollandaise sauce

Serves 4 as a starter

This is a classic way to serve asparagus. Although not strictly British, hollandaise is one of those must-have sauces with hot asparagus. You’ll need to allow about 250g unprepared weight per person. Asparagus is normally sold in 500g bunches, so buy one for every two people, but watch out-the wrapper can cleverly conceal woody stalks.

Ingredients

1kg medium asparagus
Salt
For the hollandaise
40ml white wine vinegar
40ml water
1 small shallot, peeled and chopped
A few sprigs of tarragon
1 bay leaf
5 peppercorns
200g unsalted butter
3 small egg yolks
Freshly ground white pepper

Method

For the hollandaise, put the wine vinegar, water, shallot, herbs and peppercorns into a small pan and reduce the liquid by boiling for a few minutes until there is no more than a dessertspoonful. Strain the liquor through a sieve and leave to cool.

To clarify the butter, melt it slowly in a pan, then simmer for five minutes. Remove from the heat, leave to cool a little, then pour off the clarified butter that has separated form the whey; discard the whey. (Clarifying helps to keep the hollandaise thick.)

Put the egg yolks and half of the vinegar reduction in a small heatproof bowl (or double boiler). Set over a pan of simmering water and whisk, using a hand-held electric beater, until the mixture begins to thicken and become frothy. Slowly trickle in the butter, whisking continuously. If the butter is added too quickly, the sauce will separate.

When you’ve added two-thirds of the butter, taste the sauce and add a little more, or all, of the remaining vinegar reduction. Then add the rest of the butter. The sauce shouldn’t be too vinegary, but the vinegar should just cut the oiliness of the butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm, but not hot, place until needed. If necessary, the hollandaise can be reheated over a bowl of hot water and lightly whisked again before serving.
For the asparagus, bring a pan of well-salted water to the boil. Trim off the tough ends of the asparagus, then add to the pan. Cook in gently simmering salted water for 4-5 minutes or until just tender. Drain and arrange on warm plates.

Either spoon the hollandaise sauce over the tips of just-cooked asparagus, or serve separately in small bowls. Eat with your fingers; it tastes much better.

Extract from Mark Hix’s ‘British Seasonal Food’, published by Quadrille

 

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