The title of this recipe by Michael Chiarello is a bit misleading. It's more like green, egg, and ham. With the green being asparagus, and the ham being prosciutto. The reason I chose this little appetizer of a recipe was because of the technique involved in preparing the egg. It's a soft-boiled egg that is carefully shelled, then breaded and deep fried. I first saw this technique used by Dan Barber of Blue Hill on the Cooking Channel, although I don't recall the show. His recipe featured the soft-fried egg served over a pistou of spring vegetables. I was captivated by the idea - the diner would crack open this crispy sphere and the yolk would come pouring out of the egg, effectively becoming the sauce of the dish. I'd venture to guess that the soft boiled egg was the inspiration for techniques like encapsulation. Eventually, I'd like to try my hand at encapsulation, but that will have to wait for another day (when I get my hands on some gellan and sodium hexmetaphosphate).
1½ teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ pound prosciutto, finely diced
8 oz. Cambozola cheese
⅔ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon finely minced fresh thyme
1 pound asparagus
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup water
½ teaspoon sea salt
6 large eggs
Canola oil for deep-frying
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups butter milk
2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
First, the prosciutto bits. The diced prosciutto is cooked in olive oil over medium low heat for about 12 minutes, until very crisp. The bits are then dried on paper towels and set aside.
Next, the Cambozola sauce. This is the first time I've ever had Cambozola cheese, which is a German cheese that is a combination of the white mold rind of a Camembert with the blue veins of a Gorgonzola. I must say that I'm not a huge fan of either Camembert (too soft) or Gorgonzola (too pungent), yet somehow the combination of the two made for a cheese that I did enjoy. It wasn't overly pungent like the Gorgonzola and it was firmer than the Camembert. Two wrongs make a right in this case, I suppose.
The Cambozola is melted in a sauce pan with the cream, strained to remove the mold veins, simmered gently with the thyme for 2 minutes, and then set aside and kept warm.
The woody parts of the asparagus are snapped off by hand, and then the spears are trimmed to the same length. The asparagus is then poached in a mixture of olive oil, water and sea salt for about 3 minutes, until crisp-tender. Poaching asparagus in this manner not only results in spears of asparagus that seem concentrated in flavor, but also yeilds an extremely flavorful poaching liquid (which tastes like asparagus, only more so) that will also be used to sauce the dish.
Finally, the egg. I'll admit, I was excited about this technique, but it is no picnic. Of the 6 eggs I attempted to make, only 2 were successful. One was perfect (see the lead picture), one was salvagable (see below), three were total failures, and the last was partially cracked, leaking its white into the boiling water. The recipe instructions say to boil the eggs for 5 minutes if using brown eggs (which I was), and then transfer to an ice bath to cool. However, I feel like they could have used more cooking time. The three total failures were near-impossible to peel; the shell was firmly attached to the white on the narrow end of the egg. The white was set, but still very flexible, and tore easily, causing the exposed yolk to escape.
Looking through some of my other cookbooks, Thomas Keller in ad hoc suggests placing the eggs into simmering water, removing the pan from the heat, and letting the eggs stand in the water for 7 minutes. In Momofuku, David Chang's recipe calls for the eggs to be boiled for 5 minutes and 10 seconds. In the above linked recipe, Dan Barber boils his eggs for 6 minutes. Perhaps the large eggs I have access to here in Austin are just slightly bigger than the ones Michael Chiarello has in California, and need a bit more cooking time. It would fit with the general theme of everything is bigger in Texas. I'm going to try each of these techniques in the future, perhaps I'll make a blog post detailing the results for the perfect soft-boiled egg.
Once the eggs were peeled, they were simply dredged in flour, dipped in buttermilk, and then rolled in the panko breadcrumbs. They were then deep fried in 375 degree oil for about 90 seconds. Plating is simple, place the asparagus down on the plate, drizzle with the poaching liquid, place a crispy egg on top of the spears, drizzle with the Cambozola sauce, and top with the prosciutto bits.
All in all, I had a lot of fun making this, but it's not a recipe I will be making again anytime soon. For me, the dish was just too heavy. Between the Cambozola sauce, the poaching liquid, the Prosciutto bits, and the runny egg yolk, there were just too many fats on the plate, without something to soak it up. Everything was flavorful and delicious, but in my opinion, there needed to be some sort of starch element to the dish. Even something as simple as a piece of grilled bread underneath the asparagus would have helped balance the dish.
When I think about my other favorite applications of a soft boiled egg, or an over-easy fried egg - over grits, for example - I think of how the starch soaks up all of that wonderful runny yolk. Here, that yolk just ran all over the plate, and I was left wondering how to cope with the loss.
Nonetheless, I will be incorporating the soft-fried egg technique into my repertoire.
One final comment. I'd like to give a special thanks to my very talented friend, Andrew Waters. He's given me some photography tips and pointers, and I think it shows. I was very happy with how the photos turned out, and I hope to continue to improve my photography skills.