A celebration of this most British of ingredient’s arrival at the Market
A leisurely stroll around the vegetable stalls of Borough Market will confirm the fact that one of the highlights of the British culinary year, the asparagus season, has arrived. Like strawberries, the reputation of the UK’s iteration of this vegetable as being the best in the world is unchallenged and its arrival is welcomed both for the few weeks of delicious dishes it promises, but also as a harbinger of the coming of spring.
However, the season is famously short and while there have been attempts to extend the season using greenhouses, these have at best been successful on a very small scale. Most years, the asparagus arrives in early April and ends towards the end of May, however this year could be interesting. “The weather has been really erratic, so when you see some good asparagus on sale, I would grab it while you can,” says Gary from Elsey and Bent, as he points to a beautiful bunch of slender, vibrant green spears. “Really cold nights can slow them down and you can even lose some plants if it is too cold for only a couple of nights in a row.”
As we speak, coats are being peeled off all around us as clear blue skies and bright sunshine are raising temperatures. Yet in just 12 hours’ time, temperatures are predicted to fall to just above freezing. “Keep an eye on the weather and talk your greengrocer,” Gary advises.
If you do manage to snatch some up, once you have got this most seasonal of treasures home, one of the classic ways to eat it is steamed with a poached egg—but these vegetables are more versatile than you might think. Requests for asparagus recipes have long been a common request of Borough Market traders—and our regular chefs have responded accordingly.
Try Jenny Chandler’s griddled asparagus and soft egg bruschetta for a variation on the classic, or if you want to keep the seasonal theme going, you could always pair them with that other spring favourite, Jersey royal potatoes, as in Rosie Birkett’s crab and asparagus salad—and that’s just two examples of the varied and delicious ways to try it this season. Tony Rodd pairs asparagus with confit duck eggs, while Celia Brooks rolls hers in a crunchy polenta crumb. If you are after another cultural perspective, try Yasmin Khan’s asparagus with eggs and za’atar.
With recipes such as these to get you going, this seasonal treat may be about to get even more popular in kitchens across the land. Keep that weather eye tuned and your bag at the ready.