Merlin Labron-Johnson is a chef who can be considered a fervent fermenter, pickler and curer, and this passion comes from his time at the cult Belgian restaurant In de Wulf which closed its doors in December 2016. Everything was done in house; all the pickling, smoking and charcuterie curing, using only traditional and old fashioned methods of preservation. These influences are clearly visible on the menu at Portland, London.
This dish was inspired by Merlin’s time spent working in Belgium, where he noticed that during the asparagus season, white asparagus was often eaten with hollandaise or ‘mousseline’ sauce.
He has added other young vegetables that are still available as winter morphs into spring to give a more interesting variation of textures and flavours. Merlin decided to smoke the butter used in the hollandaise over hay to add an element of ‘farm’ and terroir. He uses wild herbs to add freshness to the dish which would otherwise be quite rich, and the sorrels add a pleasing acidity.
Merlin’s love of wild herbs was also cultivated during his time in Belgium at In de Wulf, where there were foraging opportunities a plenty with vegetation growing at an almost tropical rate in the spring thanks to the oscillating rain and sunshine at this time of year.
R E C I P E
I N G R E D I E N T S
8 spears organic white asparagus, blanched
8 spears organic green asparagus, blanched
8 young organic leeks, blanched
8 young organic turnips, blanched
6 organic free range egg yolks
200g farm butter
Large handful of organic hay, washed and dried
70ml cider vinegar
8 leaves wild garlic
Handful of different sorrels
M E T H O D
Smoke the butter over a mixture of wood chipping and hay using a bbq or commercial smoker. Clarify the butter by melting it and the pouring the fat through muslin cloth and leaving the milky solids aside.
Whisk the egg yolks with 80ml water over a low heat until light and frothy and tripled in volume, remove from the heat and whisk in the smoked clarified butter as if making hollandaise sauce. Season with salt and cider vinegar and keep warm in a bain-marie.
Toss the vegetables in rapeseed oil and place on a grill or bbq over a medium-low heat until warmed through and lightly marked. Season with salt and lemon juice.
Cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces and arrange in a circle, top with the wild herbs and spoon the smoked hollandaise into the centre.