Spring in Ireland may traditionally be said to begin in February but in the kitchen it really only starts in April. This is the month where we finally get to say goodbye to all those stews and root vegetables and lots of fresh greens start to become available (there’s only so much purple-sprouting broccoli you can eat).
There’s still nowhere near the range of produce available as come May but my favourite vegetable of all starts to make a sporadic appearance: asparagus. I’ve only managed to find Irish asparagus in one place and that’s from the Ballyroan Farm stall in the Dublin Food Co-op, otherwise, I’ll get some of the English stuff from Marks & Spencer’s because pretty much every other retailer only seems to have tasteless Peruvian imports.
This dish was initially going to be vegetarian but for the past few weeks Dunnes Stores have been selling fully dressed crabs replete with brown meat for only five euro. I think we’ve bought at least six so far! The great thing about the brown meat is that it has a much deeper flavour and is great for making sauces: a quick blast in the blender with some cream and you’re done. I also made a stock out of the shells but it was so strong I couldn’t use it because it would overwhelm the delicate asparagus (a great accompaniment to Dublin Bay Prawns though).
I also managed to include a modernist twist too in the shape of a fluid gel made from spring onions. It’s based on a Heston Blumenthal recipe I found here but because I had no gellan I used the Modernist Cuisine formula for fluid gels of 0.9 percent agar and 0.2 percent xanthan gum. It worked well although again I found myself having to add more liquid than I would have liked to make sure the blades of my blender could puree the jelly.
Other than that, the rest just comprises blanched vegetables finished in butter although again there’s a trick: I vacuum pack the asparagus before boiling to maximise its flavour and help preserve the green colour. Sometimes steam can build up in the bag and cause it to float but I just circumvented this by holding it underneath the water with a potato masher.
For the spring onion fluid gel
200g spring onions, thinly sliced
100g double cream
150ml chicken stock
3.6g agar powder
0.8g xanthan gum
For the crab sauce
50g brown crab meat
150ml double cream
100ml chicken stock
1ml fish sauce
1ml lemon juice
For the vegetables
10 tips of asparagus
75g alexanders, peeled and cut into 10 6cm pieces
For the crab meat
30g white crab meat
1ml fish sauce
- Heat a pan over a medium heat and melt the butter.
- Add the spring onions and sweat for 5-7 minutes.
- Pour in the milk, cream and chicken stock and bring to the boil.
- Reduce the heat, add the thyme and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Strain 400ml of liquid through a fine sieve into a new pan.
- Bring to the boil and whisk in the agar until fully dissolved.
- Pour the mixture in a blender with the xanthan gum and pulse a few times to disperse the gum (being careful not to incorporate too much air).
- Place the mixture in the fridge to set.
- Once fully set, break up the jelly and place back in the blender.
- Blend until a smooth puree, (you may need to add a bit of milk to get it to pass over the blades). Reserve in a squeezy bottle.
- For the crab sauce, add the crab, cream and chicken stock to a blender and blend until smooth.
- Pass through a sieve into a saucepan and bring to the boil.
- Reduce the sauce by half and add the fish sauce (use more if necessary). Reserve.
- For the vegetables, fill a large bowl with ice and water.
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil.
- Place the asparagus in a vacuum pack and seal.
- Add the asparagus to the pot and, after it has returned to the boil, cook for 2 minutes.
- Remove the vacuum pack from the water and plunge into the ice bowl.
- Add the samphire and alexanders to the pot and blanch for 30 seconds.
- Using a slotted spoon, scoop the samphire and alexanders into the bowl of iced water.
- Heat a sauce over a medium heat and melt the butter.
- Add the alexanders and sauté for around 2 minutes until tender.
- Take off the heat and add the asparagus (removed from the vacuum bag) and samphire, ready to be reheated.
- For the crab meat, add the crab, fish sauce and pepper to small pan and heat through.
- To plate, place five spears of asparagus in the centre of the plate; lay the alexanders over the asparagus; sprinkle over the samphire; warm the fluid gel and dot around the asparagus; top the vegetables with crab and spoon over the reheated sauce.