Mark Hix recipe: Quail's egg and asparagus broth

Serves 4

You often see cheap bunches of asparagus on sale at markets, and frequently there is nothing wrong with them at all – better some asparagus than none at all, I think.

One more thing: although poaching quail's eggs may seem like a culinary task that you don't even want to consider tackling – the fact is that, despite what you might think, it's actually pretty straightforward, so give it a go.

1 vegetable stock cube, dissolved in a litre of boiling water
The woody ends from the asparagus, chopped, plus and any sub-standard spears
1 small leek, halved, roughly chopped and washed
1 stick of celery, roughly chopped
10 black peppercorns
A handful of parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve

12 quail's eggs
150ml white wine or cider vinegar
4-6 asparagus spears with the woody ends trimmed
½tbsp finely chopped chives
½tbsp chopped chervil

To make the stock, put all of the ingredients into a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer very gently for 30 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave to infuse.

Bring a pan with about half a litre of water to simmering point; meanwhile, put the vinegar into a bowl and carefully crack the quail's eggs with a small, sharp kitchen knife: use the point of the knife to initially crack open the shells. Have a bowl of cold water ready to transfer the eggs into once they are poached.

Pour the eggs and vinegar into the pan of simmering water and continue to simmer very gently for about 30 seconds, or until you can see the whites of the eggs have set. Take the eggs out using a slotted spoon and place into the bowl of cold water. After a minute, remove the eggs and put them on a plate, trim the white if necessary, and put them in a container of clean water.

When you are ready to serve, strain the stock through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean pan, season to taste, and bring to a simmer. Thinly slice the asparagus on the angle and add to the broth, simmer for about 30 seconds, then add the herbs and remove from the heat. Place 3 quail's eggs into warmed soup bowls and carefully ladle the hot soup over the top and serve.

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