with Gribiche Sauce
In the vegetable garden adjoining the inn of my great-aunt Denise, one area was maintained for the whole year just for the few weeks, from mid-March to the end of May, when the white asparagus would come out of the ground and become king of the vegetables on all the tables in the Landes.
On Wednesday mornings, my brother and I had no school. Much to our delight, our grandfather Pierre took us to pick this wonderful vegetable. Our mission was to spot the small cracks on the dry sandy soil (typical for the Landes), which indicated where the asparagus plant would poke its nose out.
Our task was way more serious than it seemed, as it is a tradition in the Landes that the asparagus is eaten white. So it is imperative that it does not see the sun, or it will develop chlorophyll and turn green.
Our grandfather then released the shoot from the earth and plunged his spade in, cutting through the base of the plant – a dry, rapid sound that still echoes in my ears.
When we had finished harvesting, we brought our wicker baskets full of our findings back to Denise, Papi's sister, who then sorted out the biggest ones and immediately peeled them with great care, as the asparagus was so fresh and still full of water. It should be treated as if it were glass.
She then made small bundles tied with kitchen string, and plunged them into salted, boiling water to cook, while she was preparing the sauce gribiche. We could then sit down at the table!
- Gently peel the asparagus with a peeler and cut their ends so that they are all of the same length. If the asparagus is very fresh, it is tender enough to eat in its entirety, so you won’t need to cut too much of the end.
- Assemble the asparagus to make four bundles. Tie each bundle in several turns of kitchen string so that the asparagus is firmly pressed together.
- Cook the eggs in a pan of boiling water for 10 minutes until hard boiled. Once cool, shell them and then separate the whites from the yolks.
- Peel the shallots and chop them finely.
- Roughly chop the capers, then the pickles, then the hard-boiled egg whites.
- Wash the chives, dry them well, then chop finely.
- Mix the egg yolks with the mustard in a salad bowl, gently pour on the peanut oil, mixing continuously to make a mayonnaise.
- Boil 6 litres of water seasoned with a tablespoonful of salt. Once boiling cook the asparagus bundles in the water for 8 to 12 minutes, depending on whether you like them crunchy or soft. Poke with the tip of a knife to check how well cooked they are.
- Once cooked, drain and dry them delicately, then unfasten the bundles and place the asparagus on a plate.
- Mix the shallots, capers, pickles and egg whites with the mayonnaise and drizzle in some Barolo vinegar. Then add the chopped chives and the cream. Mix thoroughly and season to taste.
- Serve immediately as an accompaniment to the still warm asparagus.
- 36 large asparagus, ideally from the Landes
- 3 eggs
- 25g French mustard
- 250ml peanut oil
- 30g capers
- 30g gherkins
- 2 small shallots
- 15 sprigs of chives
- 20 Barolo vinegar
- 150ml cream
- Espelette pepper