12white asparagus spears, snapped and gently peeled
8green asparagus spears, snapped and gently peeled
To taste:sea salt flakes
½ tspfresh wild fennel pollen
16wild fennel tips
Smallgrind of white pepper
Cultured butter and buttermilk
1 litre (4 cups)organic Jersey cow cream (45% fat; see note)
50 gmorganic natural yoghurt (with no thickeners)
To taste:table salt
100 mlextra-virgin olive oil (a fruity one works best)
250 gmfood-grade sawdust (see note), for smoking
For the cultured butter and buttermilk, combine the cream and yoghurt, pour into a 2-litre sterilised glass jar (see cook’s notes p218) and seal with a tight-fitting lid. Leave at room temperature to ferment for 24 hours. During this process the cream mixture will sour as the bacteria convert the natural sugars in the cream to lactic acid. Once fermented, place the jar in the refrigerator to chill for 2 hours. Pour the cream mixture into an old-fashioned hand-cranked butter churn or into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Churn until the butter and buttermilk separate. Remove from the churn and form the butter into a ball. Squeeze as much buttermilk from the butter as possible (now is the time to knead in some salt if you want salted butter). Set the butter aside for another use. Refrigerate if you’re not using it immediately. Strain the buttermilk through a fine sieve into a bowl. Season with a small amount of salt and refrigerate until needed.
For the smoked oil, place the oil in a stainless-steel bowl. Light a cold smoker (see note) using the sawdust, place the bowl inside and smoke the oil at 2C for 2-4 hours. Extinguish the fire and leave the oil inside the smoker for a further 2 hours to allow the flavour of the smoke to fully infuse.
To serve, bring a 5-litre saucepan filled with salted water to the boil. Blanch the asparagus for 1 minute, then drain. Dress the asparagus with the smoked oil and season with salt. Place 5 asparagus spears on each plate. Pour some buttermilk over them. Sprinkle with the fennel pollen and fennel tips. Drizzle a generous amount of smoked oil over the asparagus. Finish with a small grind of pepper and a small pinch of salt.
Note Organic Jersey cream is available from select farmers’ markets and health-food shops. Food-grade sawdust is available from select butchers and barbecue supply shops. Ben Shewry writes, “It’s important to be aware of the source of the charcoal and wood you use for cold and hot smoking. The wood should be natural and untreated, and from sustainable sources. I prefer to use a blowtorch to get the fire going instead of petroleum-based firelighters as they can taint the food.” On cold smoking, he writes, “Typically, cold smoking is achieved at temperatures between 26C and 35C. At Attica, however, we have a purpose-built cold smoker that is actually cold (it is constructed from a stainless-steel refrigerator), which allows us to prolong the smoking process and in turn develop deeper and more aromatic smoky flavours. We can smoke ingredients safely for as long as 40 hours and the temperature never rises above 5C. In our custom-made cold smoker, we can cold smoke more heat-sensitive ingredients such as curd cheeses and cold-pressed extra-virgin oils.”
This recipe was published in the October 2012 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller, is from Origin: The Food of Ben Shewry, published by Murdoch Books (hbk, $95), and has been reproduced with minor GT style changes.