Don’t get me wrong, there are some great root vegetables that I enjoy working with in the wintertime, like carrots, celery root, beets, and black truffles, but nothing compares to the bounty that Mother Nature produces in the springtime. I liken it to fashion enthusiasts pulling out their spring wardrobes that sat in darkness during the winter months, packed away in the back of the closet. Whereas someone into style might feel ecstatic that spring is the time for new sandals, I feel that same elation that the arrival of spring signifies the time for new ingredients.
Since asparagus is one of the first spring vegetables to start sprouting, I have been contemplating how I can incorporate it into my menu and share it with you, the readers. There are so many ways to play with food in the spring and summer months that I generally believe that if you can’t write a menu right now, then you’re already lost.
My process for creating a specialty menu item can vary depending on the inspiration. Often times I find myself standing in the walk-in cooler at the restaurant for about 10 minutes while I consider how a new dish will take shape. I stare at the ingredients we have and a new entrée idea will just hit me. The creation process then begins—sometimes it turns out beautifully, and sometimes, not so much. It all depends on the dish and the day. I can certainly recall a time or two where no matter what tweaks I incorporated throughout prepping and cooking, when it came time to plate it, all I could do was look at the dish and think, “This is not my vision at all. This is more like a bad dream.” At that point, the best strategy is to give it some more thought and determine whether to toss the idea all together and start from scratch, or try to take the dish in a different direction. You never know because that first bad start can be the hidden springboard that leads to a hit with the guests.
With this season’s asparagus, I thought about several methods for preparing it, perhaps in a cold salad, maybe a soup. No, that would not be the fate for my asparagus this spring. Instead, I opted for a simple dish that would let the vegetable shine. In the beginning I considered preparing a béarnaise reduction, but then the candy cap mushrooms caught my eye and the wheels started turning.
Check out the end result and you can decide if we can officially dub this one a winner.
The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton,
600 Stockton Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
Zuckerman Farms Asparagus
New Caledonia Shrimp Wrapped in Bacon
Candy Cap Mushroom-Infused Emulsion
• 12 pieces jumbo asparagus, cleaned
• 8 shrimp, deveined and cleaned
• 8 slices of Applewood-smoked bacon
• 2 large egg yolks
• 2 shallots, finely diced
• 14 white peppercorns, crushed
• 10 pieces dried candy cap mushrooms
• 1.5 cups white wine vinegar
• 1.5 cups white wine (Sauvignon Blanc, if possible)
• 1 cup and two tablespoons clarified butter
• Salt and pepper to taste
Blanch the asparagus stalks in salted, boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes. Cool and set aside.
Take the shallots, peppercorns, mushrooms, vinegar, and white wine and reduce to cup of liquid, over low heat. Set liquid aside
(do not strain).
Season shrimp with salt and pepper. Wrap one piece of bacon around each shrimp. Warm a pot of water. Take egg yolks and vinegar reduction and whisk over the warm water until it thickens and the yolks have the consistency of Sabayon. Warm one cup of clarified butter and slowly drizzle it into the egg mixture while whisking. Strain through a chinois, set aside.
Sauté the shrimp with two tablespoons of clarified butter until cooked. Warm the asparagus by dipping it in the warm water for a few seconds. Place three asparagus on each of the four plates.
Spoon the sauce over the asparagus, put two cooked shrimp on top of each plate, and serve.