TOM PARKER BOWLES ON HIS TOP TWO SPRING INGREDIENTS
The Resident food columnist, Tom Parker Bowles, on his two favourite spring ingredients – gull’s eggs and asparagus – and how best to eat them
Forget cuckoos, bluebells and gambolling lambs. Because the true proof of spring being sprung is contained within an egg. A gull’s egg, to be precise, the true Fabergé of the edible ovoid world.
The shell is pale green, and lightly dappled with chocolate spots, the yolk an intense yellow, and the white shaded with the faintest tinge of blue. Its flavour is spectacularly rich and creamy, with a long, languorous finish that gets the taste buds priapic with delight.
The season is short, usually lasting from the start of April to some time in the middle of May, with the collection of eggs – laid by the civilised black-headed gull rather than its more raucous Herring gull cousin – a closely regulated affair.
A license is required, with only a single egg collected from each individual nest per day. The ‘eggers’ must be off the marshes (and there are six main sites scattered across the country) by 9am in the week, and 11am at the weekend. This ensures the bird population stays constant. And despite this official regulation, it’s very much a cloak and dagger affair. This lot make MI6 look positively loose lipped.
Still, briefly boiled then lovingly peeled, and dipped in a dab of celery salt, there’s no finer welcome to spring. You’ll find them raw at Fortnum and Mason, as well as the ever-wonderful Chelsea Fishmonger. And boiled at the likes of Hix Soho, 45 Jermyn Street, Le Caprice, The Goring and Lyle’s. There’s even an annual lunch, Gulls’ Egg City luncheon (this year in aid of The Cure Parkinson’s Trust), where you pay £75 per ticket and feast until you can take no more. I went a few years back, and managed a dozen. Nothing passed my lips for days after.
English asparagus begs to be served hot, and drenched in butter
While the end of the season is a sad day, it’s made just about palatable by the English asparagus season being in full swing. These divinely sweet shoots beg to be served hot, and drenched in butter; or cold, with a great blob of hollandaise; grilled on the barbecue, or simply dipped into a soft boiled egg. You’ll find it served all over town, at the places I’ve mentioned above, as well as at the likes of St John, Corrigan’s Mayfair, Bentley’s, Duck and Waffle and Hereford Road.
The key to these thrusting beauties is buying them as fresh as possible. All those lovely sugars start turning to starch within minutes of being cut, so you want to look for tight tips and firm stalks.
I once heard a tale of a man so obsessed with eating asparagus at their very best that he set up a tent next to his precious crop. And on the day they were ready, he rose at dawn, sliced them from the soil, and plunged them into water boiled on a Calor gas stove. A little extreme, but I get his point. Just like those blessed eggs, English asparagus easily inspires the very deepest of devotion.