One of the greatest things about spring is asparagus and of that noble vegetable, white stands alone. For our spring degustation we celebrate the white asparagus with texture and a classic flavor marriage. Here lobster, asparagus, vanilla, lemon and April almond come together to signal that the days of butternut squash are firmly behind us. Here at the restaurant, Chef Frank has been cooking white asparagus with vanilla, milk, and lemon for many years. So we took that initial procedure and expanded it into this…
The dish has several components: bitter almond milk fluid gel, N2O charged white asparagus puree, raw white asparagus, brown butter emulsion (50% milk/50% brown butter and 1% lecithin), lightly blanched April almonds, butter poached Maine lobster and Apple Street Farm radish sprouts. At center stage, the most technical component, is the terrine of lobster and white asparagus. Here is how we do it…
White Asparagus should be, well white. However, the very best white asparagus, those grown in the French/German style outdoors (versus a greenhouse) may have a small amount of purple towards the tip. Usually this open air asparagus comes mid-way through the season. Check for freshness by looking at the bottoms, they should be free of any deep cracks and not discolored.
A great local place to find such seasonal product is Russo’s in Watertown, their section is phenomenal for a walk-in grocer, not to mention in season they stock numerous New England farm products.
From here we get to peeling; start by removing the bottom 2-3 inches of the asparagus, the “woodiest” part (reserve this for puree). Then peel one inch from the tip to the trimmed bottom. Do not miss any areas, the exterior can be bitter and tough, completely noticeable in the finished product. We like to bundle them before cooking to prevent breakage as they can be brittle.
Now prepare a poaching liquid of milk, salt, vanilla, lemon peel, and a dash of sugar. Place the asparagus in this cold liquid and slowly bring to a very gentle simmer.
It is crucial not to overcook the asparagus as texture and flavor will be lost. Also do not be too severe with the heat as your milk will separate. To prevent the asparagus from forming a “second skin” if you will, it is always proper to cover the exposed surface with a cartouche (a simple circle of parchment paper). Once the asparagus is 90% cooked it should be removed from the heat so it can cool in the milk. This allows the flavors to build while the asparagus marinates in the milk, allow at least one day in the refrigerator for maximum effect.
Once the asparagus is complete we prepare the terrine molds. Many wraps can be used when constructing terrines; eggplant, zucchini, cured meats, even thinly sliced smoked salmon all can serve as the outer layer.
Here we are using one of the most classic wrappers, blanched leek. We prefer to use the pale green/yellow portion of the leek; not only does this add a pleasant savory flavor, it is also more tender and aesthetic than the greenest portion of the leek. Simply choose your layers, blanch in heavily salted water, shock in ice water, and layer along the plastic wrapped terrine mold.
Next, prepare the milk liquid which will bind the terrine; we use a combination of .5% agar agar and 4% gelatin (in sheet form). Remove the marinating asparagus and weigh the necessary amount of milk. Bring 1/3rd of the milk to a simmer (bring the rest to room temperature) and whisk in the agar, stirring continuously for 4 minutes. This will hydrate/activate the agar; combine this with the rest of the milk and the gelatin, reserve in a warm place.
To complete the terrine we plunge the white asparagus and cooked lobster meat (always freshly cooked) into the milk mixture. This allows for the gelling agents to completely coat the ingredients and thus seal them on all sides. From here on in it is simple assembly. Neatly lay the asparagus into the terrine lined with leek, allowing for some transfer of milk, to fill the spaces in between. Trim the lobster tail (or pieces) to fill the middle. Finally lay the leek over the top, trimming with shears to allow for some overlap, use a small brush to coat between the leek leaves, this will ensure a good seal.
Finally, wrap the whole terrine with the existing plastic wrap, gently weight, and refrigerate for a minimum of 6-8 hours. Carefully slide the terrine out of the mold and unwrap. Using a very thin, sharp knife, slice to approximately 1 ½ inches (or to your desire). Below is a terrine I made with Peter, it was not our first attempt. Terrines take practice…as they are often more finesse and experience than recipe. Happy building…