Stephen Jackson's British Asparagus & Oak-Roast Salmon Tart
CITIZENS! We have reached another of those bell-ringing, fanfare-blaring, party-popper-popping moments in the food calendar.
Yes, after almost a year, British asparagus season has begun!
April 23 marked the start of the fleeting time when we can indulge in one of the country’s finest vegetables, asparagus.
And we only have until June 24 to enjoy these miraculous spears before bidding adieu for another year.
I’ve bored you all stiff with my adherence to seasonality before, but I do honestly feel that this is what makes these ingredients so special – the excitement of anticipation, followed by the bountiful supply and naughty overindulgence, and then a wistful sadness as the stocks dwindle, and the season closes for another year, leaving only memories and a few crumbs on the table.
It is as it should be; just as the wild garlic is now starting to become woody and weaker in flavour, and how the British strawberries have only the briefest of periods in the spotlight in which to shine with their immense depth of flavour.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t splurge occasionally on something that’s not absolutely bang in season, but I really do think that Uruguayan strawberries on the Christmas supermarket shelves are a bridge too far.
Similarly, Mexican-grown asparagus, airfreighted across the globe, is bound to taste pale in comparison with home-grown or locally-sourced spears, pulled from the rich soils of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire or Kent.
So let’s exercise a bit of common sense, and revel in the abundance of these versatile veggies while we can, then look forward to their next time round on the calendar.
Asparagus, despite having a delicate and unique flavour, does marry up well with some surprisingly strong flavours, hence its popularity in chicken and mushroom pies, or with shellfish.
And fishy is our theme this week, as I thought I’d keep things relatively simple and make a nice summery tart of British asparagus flavoured with crème fraîche, a little tarragon and some meaty flakes of oak-roast salmon.
This Scottish delicacy, also known as Bradan Rost, is one of my favourite salmon preparations, twinning as it does the peatiness of the coastal smokehouse with the texture and flavour of the firm-fleshed fish.
It’s not as oily or slippery as smoked salmon, and not as pale and delicate as plain poached salmon, but somewhere in between – deeply savoury, nicely chewy, and perfect with all manner of ingredients. Asparagus is no exception; it sits beautifully with the delicately smoky fish, and is lifted by the addition of a little aniseed flavour from the fresh tarragon.
Bind all this up in a light custard made with fresh eggs and crème fraîche, encased in a rich buttery pastry case and you have a real beauty of a lunch dish, or a light supper.
I twin this with a salad made with mainly bitter leaves, for maximum contrast, dressed with a little pink grapefruit to add a final zingy note to the whole dish.
You could, of course, make the dish a bit more substantial with a dollop of creamed potato instead of the salad, or experiment with different herbs. Perhaps even a hint of cheese to melt in the custard? As ever, it’s up to you, dear readers.
Now let’s unwrap those emerald-hued beauties, shall we? Aprons on!