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Cook school confidential: cooking with asparagus

Cook school confidential: cooking with asparagus

by Great British Chefs 19 May 2017

We enlisted the help of top chef Robin Gill to show how asparagus – one of the UK's most prized seasonal ingredients – can be given the treatment it deserves.

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There’s no time of year that gets chefs and home cooks more excited than spring. That’s because of the huge bounty of produce that starts becoming available – spring onions, broad beans, radishes and a whole host of other colourful vegetables. But the jewel in the crown has to be British asparagus; something that’s only in season for a few months each year, and should be eaten at every possible opportunity before it disappears from shop shelves.

British asparagus’ amazing flavour and relatively short season was why we invited chef Robin Gill, owner of The Dairy and The Manor in Clapham, London, plus Paradise Garage in Bethnal Green, to host a cookery demonstration for bloggers and journalists at the legendary Le Cordon Bleu cook school. Robin’s cooking style makes the most of incredible produce, presenting it in a natural, simple way, using techniques such as preserving and fermenting to create intense bursts of flavour. And by using the finest, thickest spears of Wye Valley asparagus, his dish was guaranteed to produce wonderful results.

‘You can do much more with asparagus than simply boiling or roasting it,’ says Robin. ‘At The Dairy we really like brining the spears to help season and soften the texture slightly, which means you can eat them raw or give them a quick blast under the grill or on a barbecue until they’re charred and crispy. Their flavour works so well with everything else that’s in season at this time of year, and if you’re buying British asparagus then it’s the best in the world. I sometimes cringe when I see asparagus from Peru or Mexico on a menu because it’s just nothing like what we can grow here.’

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Robin's enthusiasm for British asparagus was clear throughout the class, and the use of brining to both season and change the texture of the spears offered a new way of treating the vegetable
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Le Cordon Bleu's own chef Anthony Boyd shared one of his favourite ways to cook asparagus too, using nori and preserved lemon on the plate

For the cook school, Robin taught the class how to create a dish of Cod with wild garlic miso and barbecued asparagus, combining two very seasonal ingredients with the delicate, fresh flavour of cod. His love of brining came into play here, as the asparagus spears were brined under vacuum in dashi, oil and salt. The spears weren’t technically barbecued – a smoking hot griddle pan was used to colour them instead – but the same effect was created. They were then sliced into little rounds, to be sprinkled over a bowl of butter-poached cod flakes and a smooth dollop of wild garlic miso. With a few wild garlic flowers added on top for garnish, it was a beautiful dish that perfectly represented how good asparagus can be.

After everyone had cooked and eaten Robin’s delicious dish, it was time for Le Cordon Bleu’s own Anthony Boyd to demonstrate another way of putting asparagus centre stage. His recipe for green and white asparagus with buttermilk, preserved lemon and seaweed was a beautiful little plate of food that took interesting flavours such as umami-filled nori, salty preserved lemon and tangy buttermilk and combined them in an artistic way on top of tender just-boiled asparagus spears. It proved a major hit, and left the class with a newfound respect for this incredible seasonal ingredient.

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