There is an eight week period in May that really gets my taste buds going – asparagus season. Last year I spent a whole month just buying locally, and this seasonal vegetable featured significantly on the Wilby menu plan.
Last Thursday I was fortunate enough to be invited to The Swan, at Monks Eleigh. Reopened in September 2014, The Swan has joined other ‘Exclusive Inns’ in the area, including The Angel at Stoke by Nayland and The Anchor at Nayland. Following the success of the ‘Ladies That Lunch’ event at, The Angel, head chef Mark Allen has also launched the lunches at the Swan.
‘Ladies that Lunch’ is more than just an opportunity to tuck in to deliciously cooked locally-sourced food. Each lunch kicks off with a cookery demonstration from Mark, who takes diners through a step-by-step guide on how to cook the lunch, along with some great cookery tips.
On the menu for me was asparagus wrapped in salmon with a hollandaise sauce and poached duck egg. We were each given a copy of the recipe, so that we could try it out at home. I’m up for the challenge and happy to share the results of my cooking experiment as and when I do it.
‘How to cook hollandaise sauce’ was the first challenge demonstrated. It’s one of those things I feel I should have mastered by now, but have never tried. My main concern has always been that the sauce will split and I’ll end up throwing everything in the bin. But thanks to Mark I now know a cheeky little trick to save my blushes, and because I’m a generous sort of person I’m going to share what I learnt. If your hollandaise sauce splits, simply add a couple of ice cubes and mix OR a little hot water. Either will bring the sauce back together again. Clever, eh?
Making the sauce involves a lot of whisking. Speaking to Mark after lunch, I learned that it’s perfectly fine to use a hand held whisk, but we thought that felt like cheating. Besides, that amount of whisking by hand surely it counts as exercise!
Mark showed us how to prepare the asparagus; by chopping each spear in the correct place and carefully trimming and shaving those with a paring knife so that they look nicely presented on the plate. Asparagus only needs to be cooked for a couple of minutes at the most, and Mark suggests then plunging the cooked asparagus into ice cold water, so it doesn’t continue cooking. Mark also recommends that the poached egg which accompanies the asparagus is cooked in a deep saucepan, as this helps bring the egg together to ensure a pleasing globular shape. Another handy hint I took away with me!
The asparagus is wrapped in smoked salmon, topped with hollandaise sauce and the poached egg. The dish is then served with keta (also known as salmon roe) and a selection of micro herbs including asparagus flowers, wild garlic flowers and nasturtium. The use of wild herbs like these is growing in popularity, not just for decoration, but as an integral part of the taste of fresh foods.
Not only did the dish look great, we were able to try a plate of our own for lunch. Everything was cooked to perfection. Asparagus and hollandaise sauce is always a winning combination, but the addition of the duck egg and keta was delicious.
For dessert, Mark had created his take on an Eton Mess. The Swan has a dehydrator, so interspersed with fresh strawberries, homemade meringues and homemade ice-cream, were dehydrated strawberries. The dehydration process really intensifies the flavours of the strawberry, so that they taste more like sweets than fruit.
Coffees and homemade fudge rounded off what was a fantastic demonstration and lunch. I’d personally like to thank the lovely ladies from Whatfield who let me join them at their table. As a solo diner, I was made to feel very welcome indeed.
The Swan at Monks Eleigh runs the ‘Ladies That Lunch’ event on the second Thursday of each month. Each lunch starts with a themed demonstration, followed by a two-course lunch.
Please contact them on 01449 763163 for more details
Member since: 17th March 2014
Hello! I'm Penny from thebestof Sudbury, shouting about the best local businesses from Hadleigh through the Clare. When I'm not doing that, you'll find me knitting socks or tending to my 6 chickens