Asparagus was once looked down upon as peasant food - note the humble way it was painted in 1697 by Adriaen Coorte in his "Still Life with Asparagus" - but the Dutch now consider white asparagus to be "white gold", deserving of a rich sauce to cloak each morsel. Hollandaise sauce is, of course, one of the five "mother sauces" of classic French cuisine, but some historians now believe that it was actually invented in the Netherlands and then taken back to France by returning Huguenots, hence the name. A recipe for Hollandaise sauce appears in a Dutch cookbook by Carel Baten, which dates from 1593, while the earliest French recipe was published by La Varenne in 1651. Heritage aside, we think this simply is the best way to enjoy this delicate spring vegetable.
- 8 -10 asparagus spears per person (approx. 3.5 pounds/1.6 kilos for four people)
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 whole eggs and 4 egg yolks
- 8 slices boiled ham
- 4 tbsp good quality dry white wine (e.g. Pinot Blanc d’ Alsace)
- 1 cup (100 g) butter
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp lemon juice
- Pinch of salt and white pepper
- 2 tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley
Soak the asparagus in cold water as soon as you get them home. Rinse and peel with a potato peeler: start from just under the head and work your way down. Now cut about 1/2"/1 cm of the woody bits off the ends. Place the asparagus and salt in a large soup pot, or special asparagus pot, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Now temper the heat slightly and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes.
Take off the heat and leave the asparagus in the hot water for a further 15-20 minutes, or until tender.
Meanwhile, boil four of the eggs and chop finely. Thinly slice the ham.
For the Hollandaise sauce, beat the egg yolks and wine until light and frothy. Place the rest of the wine back in the fridge to cool. Pour the egg-wine mixture into a saucepan and warm over a low heat on the stove, beating continuously until the sauce thickens. In another saucepan, melt the butter. Remove from the heat and add the melted butter in a thin trickle, while continuing to whisk. Add the nutmeg, lemon juice, salt and white pepper. Whisk again, and set aside.
Gently drain the cooked asparagus. Be careful not to damage the tender heads. Arrange them on a serving plate, making sure the asparagus are facing in the same direction, and top with the Hollandaise sauce, chopped ham and boiled eggs. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve with the rest of the chilled wine.
- If you're not able to use your asparagus right away, simply wrap it in a damp tea towel and keep it in the vegetable drawer of your fridge.
- In a hurry? Use melted butter instead of Hollandaise. It's also a good backup plan if your Hollandaise breaks.
- Hollandaise sauce is famous for breaking, and if you’d rather not take any chances, we advise using a double boiler. Simply place your bowl over a pan of gently boiling water and continue as directed above. A gentle heat and enthusiastic whisking will generally do the trick, however.
- Asparagus Hollandaise can also be served as an appetizer: simply reduce the portion sizes.