White Asparagus with Chervil

A salad can be an excellent starter of your lunch or dinner, provided it’s one with lots of flavour and gentle acidity. For instance a Salade Ni­çoi­se, a Salade Caprese or a salad of White Asparagus and Chervil.

Chervil is a very delicate herb. It tastes like anise, but it is much more refined. Chervil looses its taste almost immediately when heated. The salad needs to be prepared well in advance, allowing for the flavours to be well integrated.

Honey can easily ruin a salad (and sugar will always ruin a salad). In this case we use only a touch of honey to create an environment for the sweetness of the white asparagus. The honey should act as a trigger.

The salad is a great example of the complexity of white asparagus: you will taste the sweetness and the freshness of the asparagus. The mouth feel of the salad is very nice, because the asparagus will be both juicy and crispy, with the chervil, honey and vinegar in a supporting role.

After having mixed the salad you will notice that the asparagus and chervil absorb the dressing. During the time in the refrigerator the asparagus will loose some juices, which is actually the beginning of a great dressing.

Wine Pairing

Combining salad and wine is not straightforward. Especially the acidity of the dressing creates a challenge. One solution is to use verjuice and not vinegar. Verjuice is made by pressing unripe grapes. The idea is that verjuice links to wine, whereas classic vinegar or lemon juice would compete with wine. In this case we choose a wine that reflects the flavours of the salad: a hint of anise, a touch of sweetness and florality. Typical notes you will find in a wine from the Alsace region, for instance a Pinot Blanc or a Pinot Gris.

What You Need

  • 2 White Asparagus per person
  • Excellent Olive Oil
  • White Wine Vinegar or Verjuice
  • Lots of Chervil
  • Touch of Honey
  • White Pepper

What You Do

Steam the asparagus for 10 minutes. Let cool. Dry with kitchen paper if needed. Prepare a dressing with the olive oil and vinegar. Chop the chervil and add to the dressing. Add a touch of honey and stir well. Add some white pepper. Taste the dressing: it should be a balance, meaning that none of the ingredients is overly present. Now slice the asparagus in nice chunks, let’s say 3 centimetres long. Mix, cover and transfer to the refrigerator for 6 hours. Mix the salad every two hours. Check the taste after 4 hours, you may want to adjust. Mix the dressing just before serving.

White Asparagus with Ham, Egg, Potatoes and Parsley

Finally, it’s spring. The season of white asparagus, morels and many more primeurs. This dish brings together white asparagus with eggs, excellent ham, butter, small potatoes and parsley. Taste the slight bitterness and sweetness of the asparagus, the umami of the potato and enjoy the velvety feeling on your palate as a result of the butter and the egg.
Don’t be tempted to boil white asparagus in water with butter, lemon, sugar or salt. Steaming is by far the best way to prepare them. We love our Russel Hobbs food steamer! Simple, straightforward and the result is a tribute to spring.

Wine Pairing

Ideally we would serve a dry Muscat from the Elzas with our asparagus. The delicate, slightly sweet but dry taste, the hint of bitterness and the rich aromas work very well with white asparagus. Muscat to us means the smell of fresh fruit. As if you taste the original grape. A wonderful wine and a wonderful combination.
Fortunately asparagus are fairly flexible when it comes to wine: a Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris will also be fine.

We opened a bottle of Vinho Verde from Portugal. A light and vibrant wine with clear notes of citrus and floral aromas that combined rather well with the flavours of the asparagus. Not the most exquisite combination, but it worked for us.

What You Need

  • 6 or 10 White Asparagus
  • 2 Eggs
  • 100 gram Excellent, Organic Ham
  • Small Firm Potatoes
  • Parsley
  • Butter
  • White Pepper

What You Do

Peel the asparagus and steam them for 20 minutes. Steam the eggs medium (10 minutes), making sure the yolk is firm but not dry. Wash the potatoes and steam them for 15 minutes. Timing depends on the size. Melt the butter. Peel the egg and cut in four. Chop the parsley. Serve the asparagus and eggs on a plate. Coat the potatoes with butter and parsley. Dress the plate with ham (please make sure it has a bit of fat) and potatoes. Poor the remaining melted butter over the asparagus. Sprinkle the parsley over the egg. Add some white pepper.

White Asparagus with Ham, Egg, Potatoes and Parsley ©cadwu
White Asparagus with Ham, Egg, Potatoes and Parsley ©cadwu

Caudle, Eggnog, Ajerkoniak and Advocaat

In the old days new mothers and their visitors were served Caudle, a combination of white wine, eggs, sugar, cloves, raisins, nutmeg and cinnamon. The idea was to strengthen the new mother and of course to celebrate the occasion. Dutch master Jan Steen painted De Kandeelmakers (The Caudle Makers) around 1665. Note the nutmeg grater!

The ingredients are not too dissimilar to those of Eggnog. Basically this is custard infused with various spices, such as vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. The custard is enriched with whole cream, rum/brandy/whisky/cognac and whipped egg white. Our Eggnog was very tasty, creamy and soft with the right push from the cognac. The spices worked really well, especially the nutmeg. We suggest not adding cream because it actually doesn’t bring much other than a fatty feeling in your mouth.

A less complex version is Ajerkoniak from Poland. It combines egg yolks with non-sweetened condensed milk, sugar and vodka (or plain alcohol). The result is a strong, smooth and sweet drink. The vodka worked very well with the eggs but we thought the condensed milk was a bit too present.

Making Caudle, Ajerkoniak or Eggnog begins with whisking sugar and egg yolks until it’s smooth, pale and creamy. This is called whisking the eggs ruban and may take 10 minutes. Interestingly the result is a dish in its own right called Kogel Mogel.

We also prepared Advocaat from the Netherlands. It is a combination of eggs, alcohol and sugar (so no milk, cream or spices). It can be enjoyed as a drink (but our grandmother used a small spoon, probably because she didn’t want to be heard slurping). Our version is a bit thicker, making it ideal as a dessert.

What You Need

  • 2 Egg Yolks
  • 25 grams of Sugar
  • 50 ml of Brandy, Gin or Vodka
  • Whole Cream

What You Do

Mix the egg yolks and the sugar well. It doesn’t need to become ruban but some increase in volume is needed. Now gently add the brandy, gin or vodka. Transfer to the microwave and very gently heat the mixture. We used one interval of 10 seconds to start with and continued with intervals of 5 seconds. In total only 55 seconds on 30% power. Stir well after every interval until it becomes thick. The consistency must be similar to a thick pastry cream (crème pâtissière). Cool quickly and store in the refrigerator. Serve with some whipped cream.

PS Obviously you need fresh eggs when making Ajerkoniak, Eggnog, Kogel Mogel, Advocaat, Mayonnaise, Sabayon, Béarnaise, Kimizu et cetera. We don’t think eating fresh, organic eggs is a problem. Eating all kinds of additives, chemicals such as E102 – Tartrazine to make commercial Advocaat look as yellow as real Advocaat, unclear syrops, modified milk ingredients, guar gum, monoglycerides etcetera, that’s a problem.

  • Advocaat ©cadwu
  • Eggnog ©cadwu
  • Ajerkoniak ©cadwu

Spicy Grilled Octopus

We have all experienced chewy, fibrous and tasteless octopus, so how to make sure your octopus is juicy, tender and full of flavours?

Since octopuses don’t have bones, they have very tough connective tissue (collagen) between the muscles. When heating the octopus for a few hours, the collagen will break down into soft gelatine and the meat will become tender and juicy, just as you would like it to be.

‘How to speed up the process’, you wonder?
You could add vinegar to the cooking liquid, you could prepare the octopus by storing it in brine for a few hours, you could beat and pound the flesh, you could freeze the octopus for a few days, you could try adding a wine cork to the cooking liquid (hilarious!).
Unfortunately none of these short cuts make a significant difference.

The best method is to stew the octopus in a large pot or in the oven. This may take 4 hours or more. Octopuses contain a fair amount of juices and you want to capture these and their lovely flavours, which is exactly what you do when stewing an octopus.
Cooking an octopus in water for hours means losing these flavours; not something you want to do.

There is only one alternative to slow cooking: buy (frozen) baby octopuses. Marinate them for a few hours, grill them for 2 minutes and enjoy with a glass of wine or a nice cold beer.

What You Need

  • 6 Baby Octopuses
  • For the Marinade
    • Neutral Oil
    • Soy Sauce
    • Sweet Soy Sauce (Kecap Manis)
    • Fresh Ginger
    • One Garlic Glove
    • Teaspoon of Cumin
    • Tablespoon of Chilli Bean Sauce (Toban Djan)
    • Water (optional)
  • Chinese or Japanese pickles

What You Do

Clean the octopuses and remove the beak. Grate the ginger, chop the garlic and combine with the other ingredients. You’re looking for a powerful marinade with lots of chilli and (sweet) soy sauce. Allow the octopuses to marinate for a few hours.
Heat your grill, dry the octopus and grill for 2*1 minute. We prefer using a non-stick contact grill. Cut of the mantle and slice the tentacles in two. Serve on a warm plate with pickles and share.

Cod with Bleu d’Auvergne

Bleu d’Auvergne is amongst our favourite cheeses. It’s creamy, semi-hard, moist, powerful, pungent and not too salty. It was created around 1850 in France when a farmer combined cow milk curd with the mould of rye bread. He also noticed that the cheese benefits from increased aeration using needles (similar to the process used when making Stilton cheese). Nowadays Bleu d’Auvergne is a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), just like the other excellent cheeses from that region (for example Saint-Nectaire and Cantal).
For some reason Bleu d’Auvergne combines extremely well with cod. We tried other combinations, experimented with adding butter, cream or crème fraîche but we always return to this one. It’s a tribute to both the fish and the cheese.

Wine Pairing

The combination may be very specific; wine pairing is not too difficult. In general a fairly present, white wine will be great choice. Could be a Verdejo from Spain, a mildly oaked Chardonnay or a glass of your favourite white wine. No reason to open a bottle of Chablis; the flavours are too bold for a really elegant wine.

What You Need

  • Skinless Cod Loin
  • Bleu d’Auvergne (preferable mature)
  • Olive Oil

What You Do

Heat a heavy cast iron skillet through and through, add olive oil, dry the cod with kitchen paper and fry on the firm side (where the skin used to be) until it’s nice and golden. Flip the fish, reduce the heat and start adding chunks of cheese. It will melt, but make sure you still have these blue bits in there. Baste the fish with the melting cheese. Check the cuisson of the cod (the fish must be opaque and flaky) and serve on a warm plate.

  • Cod with Bleu d’Auvergne ©cadwu
  • Blue d'Auvergne ©cadwu

Chicken with Morels and Very Classic Béchamel Sauce

One of the most delicious aspects of spring: fresh morels. They combine really well with asparagus, calves’ kidneys and chicken.
Jane Grigson offers two recipes for morels and chicken in her classic The Mushroom Feast, but her recipe for Flan with Morels à la Crème genuinely inspired us. It combines pastry with Mornay sauce and morels.
Mornay sauce is a béchamel sauce with grated, hard cheese (preferably Gruyère). Very old fashioned of course and a modern chef will not touch it. Which is a pity, because béchamel sauce is worth exploring.
One of the more intriguing stories is that the sauce was created by Marquis Louis de Béchameil who served at the court of Louis XIV at Versailles. It’s probably more realistic to think that chef François Pierre de la Varenne created it in the 17th century. He would have made a white stock (veal or chicken and lots of herbs) and used egg yolks and flower to get the right consistency. Many years later Antonin Carême described the use of a roux and added not only egg yolks but also cream. It was Auguste Escoffier who changed the recipe and created the béchamel sauce as we know it today.
The béchamel sauce as it was made by Antonin Carême is rich, velvety and full of flavours. Let’s pay tribute to the great Carême and cook his version of this sauce! 

Wine Pairing

The wine needs to accompany the subtle sweetness in the sauce and the nuttiness, umami, pancake-like taste of the morels. We suggest a fruity, well balanced, red wine, for instance a French Merlot, a Spanish Bobal, a Zinfandel or a Gamay.

What You Need

  • Chicken Breast with the skin on
  • Sauce
    • Carrot
    • Onion
    • Stems of the Morels
    • Butter
    • Flour
    • Egg yolk
    • Cream
  • Morels
  • Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • White Pepper

What You Do

Chop 5 centimetre of carrot, one small shallot and the stems of the morels. Melt butter in a pan and let the ingredients become tender. Add flour (same quantity as the butter), combine and warm well, without colouring the mixture; let’s say 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock, bit by bit and create the interim sauce (the velouté). Keep it warm for at least 15 minutes because this will improve the taste and the consistency. Half an hour is better.
In parallel clean the morels and slice lengthwise in 2 or 4. Add to a pan with butter and warm for 10 minutes or more.
Also in parallel fry the chicken in olive oil. This may take 15-20 minutes.
When the chicken is nearly ready, put the morels on a sheet of kitchen paper and keep warm in the oven. Feel free to add some of the cooking liquid to the sauce. Pass the interim sauce through a sieve. In a glass bowl whisk together a tablespoon of cream and the egg yolk until smooth. Slowly add the warm sauce into the mixture of egg and cream, whisking constantly. When this is done, transfer the sauce back to a clean pan and warm the sauce until it starts to thicken. Be careful because otherwise the sauce will curdle. Taste the sauce and add white pepper. Warm it through and through. Slice the chicken.
Serve the chicken with the sauce and the morels on a hot plate.

  • Chicken with Morels and Béchamel Sauce ©cadwu
  • Fresh Morels ©cadwu

Langoustine

Such a delicious starter! Perhaps it makes you think of Italy or France. A Plateau de Fruit de Mer, with oysters, shrimps, lobster, clams, periwinkles and langoustines.  The name sounds French, so perhaps the langoustine is local to the Mediterranean Sea? Not really.
Its Latin name (Nephrops norvegicus) is a nice indication of its habitat. Langoustines live in the North-Eastern Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea from Norway to Portugal. The langoustine-catch is very important for the Scottish fishing industry.

So why is it that so few people in countries around the North Sea enjoy langoustines? Difficult to prepare? Difficult to eat?

Let’s start with how to eat a langoustine. You begin by pulling away the head and claws, then you squeeze the belly to crack the shell. Start from the belly side and peel away the shell. Then de-vein by running a sharp knife along the back and remove the black vein (the intestinal tract). With a lobster cracker and a lobster curette you remove the meat from the claws. A bit of extra work, but it’s truly delicious.

So they’re easy to eat and, see below, very easy to prepare.

Wine pairing

We enjoyed a glass of Château Pajzos Tokaj Furmint 2019. This dry, white wine made from the well-known Hungarian Furmint grape is fresh, clean and slightly floral. It supports the langoustine beautifully.
In general we would suggest a white, clean, dry wine. It could be a German Riesling, a Sauvignon Blanc (a French Sancerre for instance) or an unoaked Chardonnay.

What You Need

  • 6 Langoustines (preferably fresh)
  • Mixed Salad
  • Olive Oil and Vinegar
  • (home-made) Mayonnaise

What You Do

Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Some chefs add salt or lemon. No need for this. Add the langoustines and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Make sure you don’t overcook them. Smaller ones (like the ones we bought) require no more than 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and use a colander to drain them. We like to cool them quickly with a splash of cold water, to stop the cooking process. The meat must be moist and soft, not firm and rubbery. Leave the langoustines on a plate with kitchen paper while making a simple dressing. Toss some salad with the dressing.  Serve the warm langoustines with the salad and a generous helping of mayonnaise.

Langoustine ©cadwu
Langoustine ©cadwu

Lentils with Cod and Cilantro

Lentils are healthy, easy to work with, not expensive, nutritious and high in fiber, protein and iron. Lentils have been around for a long time, so you would expect lentils to be popular, but for some reason they are not. Lentils can be used to prepare soups, salads, dahl, burgers, curry, biscuits (sablés) and so much more.
The three basic types are Green or Brown lentils, Red lentils and Black or Beluga lentils. Red lentils are often dehusked and then split, making them perfect for cooking soup.

In most cases we prefer Du Puy lentil from Sabarot because of their great taste and the fact that they hold their beautiful shape, even when cooked. Sabarot also produces lentil flour; ideal for biscuits, pancakes and waffles.

Beware of fake Du Puy lentils! They have names like ‘Le Puy lentils’ or ‘Dupuis lentils’. All nasty marketing. The real Du Puy lentils come with an Appellation d’Origine Controlee (Protected Designation of Origin).

Wine Pairing

We very much enjoyed a glass of Spanish Verdejo. In our case a bottle of Monteabellón Rueda 2019. In general wines made from the Verdejo grape combine very well with fish. The wine comes with the right acidity, giving freshness to the wine. It has floral aromas typical for the Verdejo grape. You may also recognize the aromas of banana and exotic fruit.

What You Need

  • Shallot
  • Olive Oil
  • Cilantro Seeds
  • Green, Du Puy or Beluga Lentils
  • Mild Fish Stock
  • Cod
  • Butter
  • Fresh Cilantro
  • White Pepper

What You Do

Chop the shallot (seize lentil) and glaze gently in olive oil. In the mean time check the lentils for small pebbles; wash them. Once the shallot is glazed, add the lentils and the crushed cilantro seeds. Heat for a few minutes, as you would do with risotto rice. Add the mild fish stock and leave to simmer on low heat for approximately 20 minutes, depending on the size (and your preference of course). In parallel fry the cod in butter in a non-stick pan. Just before the lentils are ready, add half of the finely cut cilantro to the lentils and mix.
Timing is all. The lentils should be cooked, all liquid evaporated and absorbed and the cod just done. Meaning the cod is opaque and the flakes can be separated easily. And overcooked meaning you can see those nasty small white bits of egg white and the fish becomes dry.
Serve the cod on top of the lentils and sprinkle some cilantro over the lentils and cod. Maybe add a touch of white pepper.

PS In case you think cilantro tastes like soap, feel free to replace the fresh cilantro with parsley. Cilantro seeds do not trigger the soap-like taste.

Eggs Benedict with Kimizu

Preparing Eggs Benedict comes with two technical challenges: Hollandaise Sauce (Kimizu in our case) and Poached Eggs.
Poaching an egg seems simple and straightforward when you watch the video made by chef Jacques Pepin, But we know that they’re intimidating to make plus it’s really challenging to get them just right: especially the gooey, liquid yolk.

Chef Pepin makes some very important suggestions: the main protein in egg white is Ovalbumin and it sets at 84,5 °C or 184 °F . According to chef Pepin the egg white becomes rubbery when the water temperature is too high. And he is right! Keep the water hot, but not boiling, when ‘boiling’ or poaching an egg.
He also mentions that the eggs must be cold. Makes sense, because then the yolk will remain runny.
And finally he explains how to store pre-poached eggs, reducing stress in the kitchen.

But the challenge remains: poaching an egg requires skills and experience. Or an OXO good grips egg poacher. Yes, we know, it sounds like another disappointing, expensive, and silly kitchen tool, but it actually works really well. Easy to use, easy to clean and great results, again and again.

What You Need

  • For the Poached Eggs
    • 2 cold, organic Eggs
    • Vinegar
  • For the Kimizu
    • 2 Egg Yolks
    • 2 tablespoons of Rice Vinegar
    • 1 tablespoon of Water
    • 2 teaspoons of Mirin
  • English muffins or a slice of home made Bread
  • Salmon
  • Avocado
  • Black Pepper

What You Do

Best to make the poached eggs in advance and store them in cold water. Just before serving warm them in a pan of hot water. With the OXO poacher it’s simple: fill a pan with water and add a splash of vinegar. Bring the water to a simmer and crack an egg into the centre of the each poacher. You could also crack the egg into a little bowl or cup and then drop it into the centre of the poacher. After 30 seconds or so you can remove the OXO poacher and use it for another egg. We poached our eggs for 3 minutes maximum. Dry the poached eggs with kitchen paper and trim the egg white if necessary. Serve with toasted muffin or bread, salmon, avocado and of course Kimizu.

Red Mullet in Miso

It’s Tuesday morning and we are on our way to our favourite fish monger. No doubt we will be inspired by the fresh fish and seafood on offer. It all looks delicious and yummy, especially the red mullet looks wonderful. It’s such a beautiful fish; red, nearly crimson, with a lovely taste and a very delicate skin. There are actually two very similar kinds, the striped red mullet (rouget de roche) and the red mullet or goatfish (rouget de vase). Don’t worry too much, just go for it.

We will marinate the fillets in miso and then enjoy on Sunday evening as a starter. This technique is called Saikyo Yaki. Best to use is Saikyo miso which is a white, slightly sweet, low sodium miso from Kyoto. The marinated fish is grilled and served with pickled ginger. Originally a way to preserve the fish, it’s now much liked because of the umami and the intriguing combination of flavours and aromas.
We use a standard low sodium white miso and add a bit of sake. This makes the mixture easier to use and supports the flavour.

Sake Pairing

Best served with dry sake. We bought a bottle of  traditional Gekkeikan sake. This is a medium bodied, fresh sake with light floral aromas. In general you’re looking for a touch of acidity, freshness and not too much alcohol.

What You Need

  • Two Fillets of Red Mullet
  • White Miso (preferable with less salt)
  • Sake
  • Pickled Cucumber
  • Karashi (Japanese mustard, optional)

What You Do

Start five days in advance. Mix the white miso with sake, creating a thinner mixture. It must coat the fish for a few days, so don’t make it too thin. Put the fillets in a shallow plate and cover the fillets with the mixture making sure the fish is fully coated. Cover the plate with foil and transfer to the fridge. Check on a daily basis if the fish is still covered.
Using a small spoon carefully remove most of the miso. Rinse the fish with water and dry with kitchen paper. The white flesh should now be slightly orange. Heat a non-stick frying pan until warm, but not hot, through and through. If too hot, the fish will burn. We set our induction hob to 6 (where 9 is the maximum). Add a generous amount of olive oil. Fry the fillets on the skin side and try to keep the fish moving. This way the delicate skin will remain in tact. Turn and fry the meat side, also for 1 or 2 minutes. Serve on a warm plate with pickles and perhaps karashi.