What’s Cooking: Spring Edition
As the perpetual gloom of January fades away, February brings a period of transition that we’re certainly grateful for! The mornings become incrementally brighter, the weather that little bit warmer, and brave snowdrops are lighting the way for the blooms of spring to come. It’s an exciting time, full of intention setting and promise for the year ahead.
In the kitchens at the AHC, it’s certainly a time of excitement too. We’ve been chatting to Executive Head Chef (Alexander House) Darrel Wilde, Head Chef of the 3-AA rosette AG’s at Alexander House Johnny Stanford, Head Chef at Rowhill Grange Andres Garcia, and our new Head Chef at Barnett Hill, Robert Newell, to hear about what produce they’re most excited to see coming into the kitchens through the spring. Wild garlic is definitely coming up trumps!
From the familiar to the more outlandish, hopefully we’ll inspire you to go in hunt of some of this fabulous produce, and read to the end for a wonderfully simple way to celebrate asparagus, by Darrel Wilde.
And don’t forget – our seasonal set menus are available now at most of our hotels, offering two courses for £28.50 & three courses for £33.50 when you dine with us mid-week – diaries at the ready! – with a link to book at the end.
“March is one of my most looked forward to months, it’s when we can see spring waking up. My favourite ingredients start to come through; wild garlic is in abundance, alexanders are in full flow with their leaves, shoots and buds.
We tap the birch trees here at Alexander house for their sap (we’re definitely going to need a video for that Johnny!). We reduce this to make a syrup to use in one of our desserts.
We have a lovely Sussex wagyu beef dish coming on the menu with beef from Andrew at Trenchmore Farm not too far away from the restaurant in Cowfold (https://www.trenchmore.co.uk/). The dish will be…
Trenchmore beef, wild garlic, IPA pickled shallots, tartare, bresaola, curds and whey
My favourite spring ingredient is wild garlic – which will be coming soon to our menu.”
Pictured – Alexanders & Birch Trees. We’re definitely going to be coming back to how to use these fabulous ingredients – we can feel a reel coming on!
“Wild Garlic generally starts to make itself known beginning of March; in wooded areas you can usually tell when the strong smell of garlic is in the air. Besides its bright green leaves, which are full of flavour and can be used in absolutely anything from raw salads to pasta dishes simply just torn and mixed through, the stems can be used for a garlic kick when added to pesto or dressings like chimichurri. Additionally, you can use the tiny white flowers as garnish, which for their size, pack a powerful punch. This is one of the things we are looking to grow at Rowhill as its so simple and rewarding and with minimal effort just comes back again each year.”
We love minimal effort! Thank you Andres.
“Definitely herbs. Wild garlic – not technically a herb, but a vegetable – is high up there on my menu ideas for the Spring. Most herbs start to flourish in spring, but wild garlic is incredible for so many things.
I have a few go-to dishes with wild garlic; firstly a pesto, and then using that pesto in some sort of light spring risotto with fresh peas, asparagus and mushrooms. Another is the wonderful Sussex Downs raised new season lamb with a pesto and anchovy crust – simply delicious.
The Surrey hills have some wonderful places to forage for local wild garlic – and mushrooms – and we hope to include these on out new Spring and Summer menu coming in March.”
“The ultimate and I must say probably my most favourite ingredient that I associate with since working here at Alexander house which is rapidly approaching 8 years! Yes 8 years! Must be the freshly grown Asparagus that we buy from Birchdean Farm in Groombridge right here on the Sussex and Kent border.
I fondly remember my first experience meeting Stephan the owner and farmer of Birchdean Asparagus all those years ago, as we did an article for our newsletter back then.
English asparagus is the best asparagus in the world in my opinion and we only get a short timespan to use it . So, I make sure that I have it across the menus in both my restaurants here at Alexander House for that short period of time.
I’m like a young child on the run up to Christmas waiting with the anticipation of when the farm will start to produce, because there are lots of factors that goes with asparagus farming, like most farming that in Britain, that keeps the British farmers and growers praying to the sky.
With asparagus its good sunshine in the summer to give energy to the ball of the asparagus for the following season ahead, then good amounts of rain but not too much in the seasons throughout to help it grow.
But although I like to use asparagus across the menus, I always make sure that I have my version of a classic on our Spa and Reflections Menu for all this period. The first place that I saw this classic, was when I was working for John Burton Race at the famous L’Ortolan Restaurant back in 1998.
The dish is – Warm asparagus lightly tossed in chervil butter with poached Hen’s egg and sauce hollandaise – something the new generation chefs would probably turn their noses up at these days but for me it’s still the best way to eat asparagus!!
Here’s how perfectly blanche your spears…
• The perfection of the preparing and cooking of the asparagus is vital. If the asparagus is thin, then just taking ¾ quarters of the leaves off then boiling in salted water for literally 1-2 minutes or until they are just al dente.
• Then cooling straight into ice water until they stop cooking, again this is just as important as the cooking as you don’t want them sitting in there any longer than needed otherwise all the goodness of the asparagus will end up in the water and not in the asparagus.
• Then on the away (as we say in the kitchen when a table is called) gently reheat the asparagus in some chervil butter giving a beautiful soft fragrance to the asparagus then topped with a soft poached hens egg and topped with an lightly balanced sauce hollandaise making sure that the acidity is enough to cut through the rich egg yolk.
There you have it my version of a Classic dish! Happy Cooking!
PS – I know it’s on the early side to start talking about asparagus, but I know the other guys have covered off wild garlic and I couldn’t wait to start extolling the virtues of our magnificent spears!”
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