Asparagus Salad with Poached Egg

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.

IMG_0008He 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!

IMG_1407

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

IMG_1430

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.

IMG_1431They 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.

IMG_1411

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.

IMG_1433

Throw in the mustard seeds and stir around for a minute or two on a gentle heat.

IMG_1435 Deglaze the pan with the sherry vinegar.

IMG_1438Stir 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.

IMG_0822DonQui 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

IMG_1426-2Create 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.

IMG_1236 2So 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.

Enjoy!

Variations

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.

IMG_1440

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.

 

Choucroute Garni

Having been a bit distracted by other things of late, DonQui has been a bit remiss in posting.

Fear not! Today he has the pots and pans out and is going to try to create a classic winter’s dish that he has never attempted before.

It all started when Duchess decided she liked sauerkraut. Now DonQui has a sort of love/hate relationship with sauerkraut. Properly cooked like they do it in the Rhine valley – simmered in Riesling with lots of smoked meats infusing it with their deep flavour – then it is love. Taken straight from the jar and still sour, or cooked with caraway seeds, then it is hate.   To be certain, to get the sort of sauerkraut he loves then there was no doubt that he would have to prepare it himself.

Alsace.jpg

So after searching through a myriad of different recipes and casting his mind back to the tastes he remembers from meals he had in Alsace and Baden, DonQui creates his own version of Choucroute Garni. This roughly translates as “Dressed up Sauerkraut” –  Choucroute being a gallicisation of Surkrutt , the word used in the local dialect on both sides of the Rhine for sauerkraut.

One of the hurdles DonQui had to overcome was to find suitable smoked meats and sausages to give the right flavour. Heavily smoked bacon, pork and proper German style sausages are really hard to find in Britain. The influx of recent Polish immigrants may help in the future but for now DonQui was going to have to rely on doing some online shopping.

Melbury and Appleton furnished authentic Frankfurters and Bratwürste  (DonQui put the latter aside for another day)

Speck.jpg

The German Deli came up with the all important Geräucherter Speck (smoked pork belly) as well as Kassler (smoked and cured pork loin) and some Schwarzwälder Schinken (Black Forest Ham)

Black Forest ham.jpg

For those who don’t know, real Black Forest ham is like a super smokey version of Italian dry cured Parma ham. What is peddled under that name in some other countries (especially in North America) is nothing like it.

So to the Recipe for 2 people. More people will allow a greater variety of meats:

About 250-300g Sauerkraut, depending on size of appetite
A good piece of smoked Speck cut into 1cm wide chunks (although nothing like as good, smoked lardons, available from supermarkets in the UK, can be a reasonable substitute)
1 thinly sliced carrot
1/2 a finely chopped onion
butter mixed with a bit of duck or goose fat or dripping
1 bay leaf
around 10 peppercorns (DonQui used soft pink peppercorns for their delicate flavour and so as not to loose a filling when biting into one)
around 8 juniper berries (a few more or less do not matter)
about 200 ml Alsatian Riesling (no other wine works quite as well)
about 100 ml non-salted chicken stock (leave this out if you cannot find an unsalted version otherwise, with the addition of the cured meats the taste will be far too salty).

A selection of smoked and cured meats such as:
Smoked sausages (at least 1 or 2 per person — DonQui used 2 long frankfurters which he cut in half)
Kassler or smoked gammon (DonQui used the former)
Smoked Black Forest ham (Next time DonQui would leave this out as unnecessary)
Pork Knuckle (Not used this time)
Confit Duck legs (Not used this time)
Smoked pork ribs (Not used this time)

Method

Drain the sauerkraut and soak in cold water for 15 to 20 minutes. Squeeze out as much water as possible. Pick it apart to separate the strands.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees.

Stir-fry the speck, carrots, and onions in butter/fat slowly in a casserole for 2-3 minutes until they begin to colour. Then cover and simmer for around 8 minutes.

Add the sauerkraut and when it is well covered with the fat and vegetables, cover and cook slowly for 10 minutes more.

Choucroute Garni.jpg

Add the herbs and spices. Pour in the wine, and enough stock to just cover the sauerkraut. Add the kassler or any other uncooked meats that will benefit from a long simmer. Cover, bring to the boil then put in the middle of the preheated oven. Turn down to 160 degrees and then let it cook slowly for 2-3 hours. Check every once in a while and if it is beginning to dry out add a splash more wine.

Twenty minutes before serving add the frankfurters to the pot or any other meats that need a little less cooking such as duck confit if you are using it. If you want to try using bratwürst then it is better to fry or grill them and add them at the last minute.

At the same time boil some potatoes. When they are done, swish them around in butter and add some chopped parsley

Five minutes before serving add the Black Forest Ham to heat through and allow its smokiness to permeate the dish. Next time DonQui will leave this out as he did not think it quite worked.

choucroute garni 2.jpg

Served with the sauerkraut heaped on a plate with the meats draped over it and surrounded by the boiled potatoes, it met with Duchess’ approval.

Riesling.jpg

Wash it down with the rest of the Alsatian Riesling (chilled)