How to blanch asparagus

To prepare the asparagus, bend the base and snap the woody bottom from the stem. To guarantee the most tender results, you can also peel the bottom two-thirds of the stems using a peeler.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.

Carefully lower the asparagus into the boiling water.

Leave to cook for 2–4 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stems.

Using tongs, remove the asparagus and plunge it into iced water for at least 5 minutes. This will stop the cooking processes and preserve the colour.

Drain the asparagus on kitchen paper.

Serving suggestions: Blanched asparagus can be used in an abundance of summer recipes. Why not try James Mackenzie’s Asparagus with crispy duck egg, chorizo and lovage or Steven Smith’s Chicken with black garlic, mushroom and asparagus.



Boiled egg and soldiers

500g of white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
​120g of fermented bread dough
30g of fresh yeast
15g of soft butter
1 tsp organic bread improver
2 pinches of saffron strands
​280ml of water
20g of salt
2 duck breasts
​100g of flaky sea salt
​100g of sugar
1 orange, zested
1 tbsp of Chinese five-spice powder
​40ml of olive oil
20g of caster sugar
black pepper
4 free-range duck eggs
50g of plain flour
1 egg
​20ml of milk
12 asparagus spears
1 tbsp of unsalted butter
vegetable oil

To make the saffron bread, put the saffron strands and tepid water together in a bowl and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Combine the bread flour, fermented dough, yeast, butter and bread improver in the bowl of an electric mixer and stir in the saffron liquid​.

Mix for 5-6 minutes, using the dough hook, then add the salt and mix for 1 more minute, until a smooth dough is formed. Transfer to a floured bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm, dry place for 20 minutes.

Tip the dough onto a floured work surface, knock back and place in a loaf tin. Leave to prove again in a warm, dry place until the dough has tripled in size, about an hour. Preheat the oven to 240°C/Gas mark 9, or its highest setting.

Shape the risen dough into a round loaf and bake on a tray in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Remove the bread from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Cut four 75g slices from the loaf ready to make the saffron breadcrumbs and reserve the remaining loaf for wrapping the asparagus.

To prepare the duck, mix together the sea salt, sugar, orange zest and five spice in a bowl, then rub the mixture all over the duck breasts. Leave to marinate for 2 hours in the fridge. To make the saffron breadcrumbs, tear the sliced bread into small pieces.

Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan, then fry the bread pieces for 2-3 minutes, tossing frequently, until golden brown and crisp. Sprinkle over the caster sugar, then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Transfer the fried bread to a tray and allow to cool.

Once the fried bread has cooled, pulse it to rough crumbs in a food processor. Measure out 250g to coat the duck eggs, and reserve the rest for serving. To cook the duck eggs, bring a large pan of water to the boil and get ready a large bowl of ice-cold water.

Boil the eggs for 3-4 minutes (for soft-boiled) then drain and plunge into the iced water for 1-2 minutes. Peel the eggs and drain them on kitchen paper. Put the flour and saffron breadcrumbs in separate dishes and beat the hen’s egg and milk together in a bowl.

Dredge each duck egg in flour, then dip into the beaten egg and roll in the saffron breadcrumbs. Place on a tray and chill until needed. Wash the marinade off the duck breasts and pat dry with kitchen paper.

Head outside to smoke the duck. Put your oak chippings in a large pan or wok and rest a wire rack or trellis on top. Carefully light the chippings with a blowtorch, then allow the fire to burn out. When the chippings are just smouldering, lay the duck breasts on the rack and cover the pan with a large wet tea towel.

Leave to smoke for 10-12 minutes, or until the duck is cooked through. Remove the duck, leave it to cool, then wrap in cling film and chill until needed. To cook the asparagus, snap off the woody ends and peel the stalks.

Blanch the spears for 1-2 minutes (depending on thickness) in a pan of boiling salted water, then drain and refresh in iced water. Drain again then trim the spears so that they are all the same length. 

Slice the smoked duck breast, on the grain, so you have 12 thin slices, and slice 12 thin pieces from the remaining saffron loaf. Preheat the grill to high. Wrap each asparagus spear in a slice of smoked duck, then wrap again in a slice of saffron bread.

Place on a grill-pan and dot with butter. Grill for 1-2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and crisp all over. To deep-fry the duck eggs, heat some vegetable oil in a deep-fat fryer to 160C. Working in two batches, fry the breaded duck eggs for 2-3 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and crisp. Drain on kitchen paper.

Pile the last of the saffron breadcrumbs on four serving plates. Slice the base off each fried duck egg and stand it on the breadcrumbs, then slice off the top to reveal the runny egg yolks. Lay the asparagus bundles alongside and serve immediately.

Video and recipe from Great British Chefs. Visit their site for more asparagus recipes