Émile Jung, anc. chef propriétaire Au Crocodile, Strasbourg
Alsatian Easter with Émile Jung
What a charming, unpretentious and generous man… in a word, "delicious!" Emile Jung shares some springtime and Easter thoughts with us over the stove.
Easter means the arrival of asparagus, morels and crayfish. It brings suckling lamb and new vegetables and a dessert made with fromage blanc and lemon called parfait glacé pascaline… the "paschal" name (derived from "Easter" in French) providing instant associations of lightness and freshness.
On the menu I can already see appearing the morel and cockscomb feuilleté, asparagus with crayfish, and baeckeofe, a uniquely Alsatian take on leg of lamb or lamb shoulder boulangère, cooked in the oven in an earthenware dish. These two recipes are prepared with the same ingredients and using the same method: a layer of thick potato slices, then thinly sliced onion, and finally pieces of meat, all covered with another layer of potatoes. But after that, the plot thickens! Because Alsace is wine country, lamb is always marinated in white wine which harmonizes with it perfectly - white wine respects the lamb's delicate flavor better than red. On the other hand, stock is preferred for making potatoes boulangère - frankly, it's more neutral (you could say it's a gratin dauphinois without the cream).
Easter. The days are getting longer, the sun more assertive. Doors and windows are opening up: it's the season of rebirth. But it's also the season for hops! As soon as the first shoots poke their noses up at the spring sun, hop sprouts begin appearing on Alsatian plates. What's the best way to describe their appearance and taste? Think bean sprouts, or better yet, potato sprouts: they have a similar look and size. Hop sprouts are also reminiscent of salsify and asparagus.
It is the Belgians who developed recipes using hop sprouts. In the land of green gold, my native Alsace, you'll find long wooden stakes set crosswise in the soil, tied together by string, for as far as the eye can see. The hardy vines climb up toward the sky: they're a fixture of the Alsatian landscape, anywhere there are big breweries.
It's a fleeting, short-lived season. Depending on the weather, it begins in late March and continues through the first two or three weeks of April. That's your window of opportunity to sample hop sprouts! Simple and quick to prepare, hop sprouts need only to be cooked in rapidly boiling salted water for 3 minutes.
The poached egg, asparagus and hollandaise sauce trilogy is a classic. Why not create an original twist by replacing the asparagus with hop sprouts? Place the hop sprouts in a small baking dish, then place a poached egg on top napped with hollandaise sauce. You have the mildness of the egg, the creaminess of the sauce and a touch of acidity. How would I describe hollandaise? It's a sauce made without stock, so from a gustatory point of view it has great subtlety which adds character and flavor to the egg. What's also interesting is that the hop sprouts have a good consistency, providing some "length" in the mouth. The texture of the hop sprouts requires chewing, which fixes the flavors.
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