Fresh as a summer breeze - asparagus is perfect for a savoury custard.
Loved by gardeners, cooks and eaters alike and devoured with joy for six short weeks, from late April to mid June, the asparagus of the English countryside—whether it’s two rows in one’s back garden or great fields of it in Surrey (where I drive out of west London to harvest my own every year)— stimulates such a necessity in the fervent epicurean that hardly a day goes by when there isn’t a pot at a rolling boil filled with a tangle of tumbling spears of green.
Asparagus custards with tarragon vinaigrette (serves 4)
For the custards
2 egg yolks
250g asparagus, stalk ends well trimmed, unpeeled and cut into short lengths
125ml whipping cream
Salt and freshly milled white pepper
A little soft butter
For the vinaigrette
1tbspn tarragon vinegar 1tspn Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
2tbspn sunflower oil
3tbspn extra-virgin olive oil
1dspn finely chopped tarragon leaves
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For the asparagus, trim, peel and cook them in boiling, well-salted water until a touch more than just tender, then drain and immediately plunge them into a bowl of water chilled with plenty of ice cubes. Leave until quite cold, lift out and carefully, but thoroughly, dry in a tea towel. They will then be ready to use. The drained, cooked weight should hover around the 200g mark.
Pre-heat the oven to 150 ̊C/ 300 ̊F/gas mark 2.
Purée the eggs, yolk and cooked asparagus in a blender until really smooth. Pour into a fine sieve suspended over a bowl and, with aid of a small ladle, force through as much mixture as possible. Stir in the cream until well mixed and season with a little salt and pepper to taste.
Fit a tiny disk of greaseproof paper into the base of four well-buttered, small ramekins and pour in the mixture up to the brim. Cover with rounds of lightly buttered foil and place in a deep oven dish. Pour tap- hot water around the moulds until it comes to at least three-quarters of the way up the outside. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 25–30 minutes or until just firm to the touch. Leave to cool until warm, but not cold.
Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. Simply mix together the vinegar, mustard and seasoning in a small bowl, then whisk in the oils until emulsified (add a tiny splash of hot water to aid this, if you like). Stir in the tarragon.
To serve, run a small sharp knife around the edges of the custards and carefully tip out onto warm plates (take care to remove the disk of paper if it’s attached to the custards), then spoon the vinaigrette over them.
Swirled into hummus and served with roasted rack of lamb or blended into soup, just two of our favourite nettle