I may have already mentioned how inspired I was by the Rollende Keukens (only once or twice…). I ate so many good things there, that I am now experimenting with.
Nestled in amongst the stalls, was the Bar d’Asperge, which sold all manner of brilliant dishes with asparagus; from the Dutch classic – white asparagus with ham, egg and a bechamel sauce, to grilled green asparagus, pasta salad and all manner of other things. I was in search of something on the healthier side to counterbalance all the barbecued goodies that the Big Guy was queueing for. We were both also hungry, so I wanted something substantial, too.
I came across this lovely salad, which contained potatoes, white and green asparagus, mushrooms, capers and cornichons. As the lady served it to me, she smothered it in a dressing, casually mentioning it was home-made. It was good – creamy, rich and spiked with chervil. Asparagus and chervil: if ever a herb were meant to go with a vegetable, it would have to be these two.
I tried many things at the Rollende Keukens, but to be honest, I don’t remember much else from the first day that I went there. This salad, and this sauce have consumed the rest of my memories. I knew I had to recreate it, and I knew that I would need to do a bit of research first. A lot of the sauces I looked at were stock based, and thickened with cream. This dressing certainly had sour cream, but was sharper and fresher than that.
I thought that you would need the thickness of a mayonnaise to give the sauce its consistency. I also knew that a shop-bought mayonnaise would make it too claggy. Then I remembered that it was perfectly possible to make mayonnaise yourself, and I could make it at the thickness that I felt appropriate. And so, a homemade mayonnaise with a neutral-tasting oil was my starting point, and it went really well from there.
This salad, and the sauce went perfectly with the chicken ballotines that I stuffed with asparagus mousse. I am not a fan of white asparagus, so I left it out. The original salad also had silverskin onions in. I am not a huge fan of these, either, as I prefer the sharp tang of a home-made pickled onion to the sweetness of these tiny alliums.
I hope that you have a go at this sauce, I know a lot of people are put off by making a mayonnaise, but with this amount of oil, there shouldn’t be a problem, as long as you add the oil in very small amounts, and whisk it well in between so that it all of the oil is incorporated into the emulsion before you add the next lot.
As this dish makes use of one of my favourite herbs, I’m entering it into Herbs on Saturday, by Karen at Lavender and Lovage, which is being hosted this month by Anneli at Delicieux. You probably won’t come across chervil in the supermarkets, so look out for it at markets and farm shops. Or, even better, get hold of some seeds; it is one of the easiest of all of the herbs to grow from seed, the flavour is more intense, it has beautiful white flowers that are also tasty and will seed itself quite happily – if you don’t eat all the flowers first.
Asparagus Salad and Chervil Dressing
This recipe serves 4 people
For the Dressing:
1 egg yolk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Lemon juice to taste
100 ml sunflower oil
100 g sour cream
15 g chervil, finely chopped
For the Salad:
The proportions that I mention here are approximate. You can also adjust or add to your taste, things such as silverskin onions, hard-boiled egg, different mushrooms (Morels would be great if you can find them), spring onions, and probably many other things.
250 g small salad potatoes
100 g chestnut mushrooms
400 g asparagus (white, green or both)
2 tbsp capers
50 g cornichons
Chervil leaves to garnish
First make the dressing. Start with an egg yolk in a mixing bowl. Add the Dijon mustard, a pinch of salt and a good squeeze of lemon juice, and whisk together well. I did this by hand, because the heat from a food processor or stick blender is enough to scramble one egg yolk. You need a little lemon juice, because the you are essentially making an emulsion, and the acid helps to stabilise it, and stop it splitting. Don’t worry if you don’t think it is enough, you can add more later.
Then slowly add the oil, a little at a time. Make sure that it is well incorporated into the egg before you add more. Keep doing this until the oil is finished, or you think that you have a fairly thick mayonnaise. The exact amount that you’ll need will depend on the size and the age of the yolk.
Once you have a thick mayonnaise, whisk in the sour cream. Stir in the chervil. Season with salt, and taste to see if it is sharp enough for your tastes. If it isn’t, squeeze some more lemon juice into the mix. Set aside to allow the flavour to develop.
Boil the potatoes until they are just tender. Drain and set aside to cool.
Cut the mushrooms into quarters, grind over some black pepper and salt, and fry in a little oil or butter until the mushrooms have given up their moisture.
Break off the woody ends from the asparagus, and cut into 5 cm chunks. Blanche in boiling water for no more than 3 minutes, you want the asparagus to retain some bite. Refresh in iced water, or by running the pieces under a cold tap. Drain, and add to a salad bowl.
Cut the potatoes in half. I did mine on the diagonal for interestingly shaped salad. Add to the salad bowl, along with the mushrooms, capers and asparagus. If the cornichons are really tiny, add them whole. If they are slightly larger cut them in half lengthways, or into large chunks. Stir well.
Serve garnished with chervil leaves and with a generous helping of the dressing.