It is time for DonQui to try one of the dishes he was particularly proud of at the Dublin cookery school to see if he has mastered the techniques. Taking advantage of the last of the asparagus season he is preparing an asparagus salad with a few interesting twists.
He is particularly pleased by his efforts as he has had issues with poached eggs in the past. Now successfully manages to poach a near perfect egg. Not just once — but twice in a row!
Ingredients (for 2 people):
A handful of lardons, or better yet smoked Italian pancetta or German speck. If these are hard to find smoked bacon bits could be used instead.
A good splash of sherry vinegar (2-4 tablespoonfuls). You could substitute red wine vinegar but as it will not be as sweet as the sherry vinegar you may need to add a bit of sugar.
Olive or rapeseed oil for the dressing (a ratio of 2 oil to one vinegar is usually about right)
¼ to ½ teaspoon of black mustard seeds
½ teaspoon of dijon mustard. DonQui is a bit iffy about mustard. When it is uncooked he has an almost allergic reaction to it. When cooked, as it is in this recipe, he has no problem at all.
One or two slices of black pudding (blood sausage for those outside the British Isles – see above photo) with outer plastic casing removed. This is not an absolutely essential ingredient but DonQui likes it and finds it gives substance to the dish. He is fortunate that his local butcher makes excellent black pudding.
A bunch of mixed salad leaves.
6-10 asparagus spears
2 eggs — the fresher the better as fresh eggs have thicker whites which set better when poaching.
a drop of vinegar for poaching the eggs (simple white wine or cider vinegar is best. You don’t need the expensive stuff)
A handful of croutons. These are included in the original recipe but DonQui did not think they added much. In future he will leave them off.
Making the Dressing
Gently fry the lardons to render out the fat. If you cook the lardons gently they should not need any extra oil to prevent sticking Take out and set to one side.
They are done when the fat starts to turn golden. By this time they will have shrunk considerably. Take out and set to one side. Pour off the excess fat.
Gently fry the black pudding (a couple of minutes on each side for a ¼ inch slice) then set to one side. Keep warm if you like. Particularly large slices (like the 7cm one in the above photo) should be cut in halves or quarters. This should be done after cooking as if done before, the soft black pudding will tend to fall apart.
Throw in the mustard seeds and stir around for a minute or two on a gentle heat.
Deglaze the pan with the sherry vinegar.
Stir in the mustard until it is dissolved.
Then pour off into a small bowl. Gradually add the oil to the mixture until it is very well blended. Set to one side and let it cool.
Preparing the Asparagus
Gently bend the asparagus spears until the snap naturally. This will happen naturally between the woody end and the tender tip. Discard the wordy ends.
DonQui prefers to grill his asparagus (2-3 minutes on each side).
Another good way to cook them for a salad is to quickly blanch them for 3 minutes in boiling water, then plunge them into cold water to refresh. This stops the cooking process — bringing out the flavour and colour of the vegetable.
The Secret of Perfect Poached Eggs
Bring a pot of water to the boil while you prepare the dressing. Add a drop of vinegar. This will prevent the eggs from sticking together and helps the white to set more quickly and effectively.
Meanwhile crack the eggs into individual small bowls or ramekins
Create a vortex in the water by stirring it around, in one direction, with a whisk. You need to create a proper whirlpool in the water.
Drop in the eggs, turn off the heat, put a lid on the pot and leave it alone for 4 minutes.
DonQui had never had any success with poached eggs before trying this method.
So far it has worked brilliantly every time.
The Final Dish
Prepare the salad by heaping the leaves into the middle of a plate and dressing them. DonQui has found that adding the lardons to the dressing adds extra interest and flavour. Alternatively they could be mixed in with the leaves before dressing.
Arrange the asparagus, black pudding, and croutons around the leaves.
Place the poached egg on top.
DonQui has come to love the rich flavour of the sherry vinegar/bacon/mustard dressing. So he has experimented with other ways to use it after making a batch.
For this delicious summer salad he uses fine slices of smoked duck breast in place of the asparagus, poached egg and black pudding. The dressing is exactly the same but the addition of a handful of chopped toasted walnuts amongst the leaves and a few fresh raspberries around utterly transforms it (not to forget the duck!). It reminds DonQui of the sort of dish he might expect to find in the south of France.