Alain Passard's inventive vegetarian cuisine

AT A GLANCE

  • Serves 4 people

  • 24 thick or jumbo asparagus spears, about 1.5cm diameter
  • 100 gm lightly salted butter, clarified
  • 4 eggs
  • Leaves from a small bunch of chervil (optional)
  • To season: fleur de sel or salt of your choice
01   Choose only the freshest possible asparagus with tightly closed tips and firm stalks, free of cracks. Cut away any woody stalk or tough ends and trim to a uniform length. Rinse the spears in cold water and drain on a kitchen towel. To bundle up the asparagus for cooking, make a band of double greaseproof paper wide enough to wrap the spears comfortably; it should be tall enough to cover the spears to three-quarters of their height. Lay the band on the counter and place the spears on top, with their stalk-ends neatly lined up with the bottom edge. Wrap the spears in the paper, then secure with several rounds of kitchen string, tying it – not too tightly – towards the top.
02   Put the clarified butter in the bottom of a suitably narrow deep asparagus pan, then add the spears, standing on their stalks, and cook them over the lowest possible heat for up to 90 minutes, taking care not to let the butter cook beyond a delicious nutty stage. For thicker spears and for white asparagus the time can increase to 2 or 2½ hours. When ready, the base should be soft, the middle firm and the tips crunchy. During this time, baste the tips every 20 minutes or so with spoonfuls of butter from the bottom of the pan.
03   Just before serving, poach the eggs for about 6 minutes; transfer them to a warm serving dish. Present the bundled asparagus on a separate dish, cutting the string and removing the paper at the table. If you like, scatter with chopped chervil. Transfer the asparagus-flavoured cooking butter to a sauce-boat. Serve each guest with about 6 spears and one egg. Offer fleur de sel and, above all, the buttery sauce.
Note In terms of culinary technique, this is an exhibition piece. The idea is to gather asparagus into a bundle using greaseproof paper, then cook it vertically in a deep saucepan. During the cooking process, heat is directed mainly to the stalks of the asparagus at the base of the pan while the tips are basted occasionally with spoonfuls of hot melted butter. The tender tips will emerge barely cooked, while the firm stalks will be tenderised and the middle sections will retain some bite. A key to success is the pan itself, which should be 12-15cm high and at least 20cm in diameter, to allow the circulation of heat around the bundled spears.

This recipe is from the September 2012 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.

The Art of Cooking with Vegetables by Alain Passard is published by Frances Lincoln and distributed by Thames and Hudson (hbk, $39.95). The recipes here have been reproduced with minor GT style changes.

Recipe:

ALAIN PASSARD

Drinking Suggestion:

A WHITE WINE FROM ALSACE, PREFERABLY A PINOT BLANC, A CHASSELAS OR A DRY MUSCAT. , suggested by ALAIN PASSARD

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