The spear of the nation has once again sprung
Andre Burgener has been immersed in all things food since she took over the making of the family's lunch box sandwiches aged eight (her mom could make a mean creme brulee and a staggering souffle, but could never butter the bread all the way to the edges.
SPRING has sprung; suddenly and mightily. What this means, vegetable-wise, is the return of asparagus. I love asparagus for its refusal to appear out of season: we are denied it for the better part of the year, crave it all the while, and love it deliriously when it comes around again. (The pleasure of strawberries has been greatly diminished by their almost constant presence. They signal nothing, remind you of nothing, and often taste like nothing).
I love asparagus hot-wokked in olive oil, at such a heat that the spears blacken, and the oil catches the flame to impart an almost meaty, smoky depth.
More sedate, but equally delicious, is the classic pairing of steamed spears and hollandaise.
No, do not quake in your spring boots. Hollandaise is not just for chefs. Here is my cheat's hollandaise. It seems riskier than the usual way, as it's made on a naked flame rather than the usual double boiler, but in fact it is easier and also quicker. The cheat part is that you add a little more liquid, which stabilises everything. It makes the best hollandaise I know, and I don't care if it's not the classic recipe.
Direct-flame hollandaise for two to three portions
3 to 4 egg yolks (depending on size) well beaten / 130g best butter, cubed / 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice / salt to taste / ¼ cup cold cream on standby.
Pour orange juice into thick-bottomed pot and beat the yolks very well into this. Put onto a medium-low flame and add blocks of cold butter bit by bit, whisking all the time.
When forgetting to take the butter from the freezer before making this, I discovered that, if anything, it's easier, as the cold butter stabilises the sauce, which is always on the verge of becoming a little too hot.
Keep whisking and adding the butter, and continue until the sauce is pouring custard thick. If it looks like curdling, remove from the heat and add the cream. Add salt, and if your oranges aren't sour enough, a squeeze of lemon juice. Pour sauce over base of steamed spears on a platter so tips are left elegantly exposed, or serve in a separate container for dipping.
ASPARAGUS AND SKUNKS
The strong and not too pleasant smell which most, but not all, people produce in their urine after eating asparagus is due to a compound the body produces which is a close chemical relative of the essence of skunk spray, methanethiol.
Why doesn't everyone produce it? We don't know. Even stranger is that not everyone is able to smell it. You may be a methanethiol producer, but believe your urine to be perfectly untainted after an asparagus binge. A dangerous state of affairs.