Herbs ride again
Tansy Good once told me people can’t use too many herbs when cooking. That has stuck with me, and to this day I try to use an abundance of herbs. Soft herbs, in particularly, you can’t go wrong with. It just requires common sense and a balance of flavours.
Hard herbs – rosemary, thyme, savory – need a little more thought. Usually, I would only cook with them. If I am using them in a dressing, I will pound them using a mortar and pestle first, to break down the fibres and release the flavours.
Last weekend, I roasted some potatoes at home. Towards the end of the cooking, the last five minutes or so, I took a handful of herbs from the garden – wild fennel, rosemary, savory, sage, parsley stalks – and tossed them well with the potatoes. I added some crushed garlic. The end result was incredibly delicious.
This sounds very wholesome, but the truth is I had a duck sitting on a rack above the potatoes, dripping fat onto them. Which helped.
The herb dressing in this recipe would be so much easier to make if you took all the herbs and lemon juice and pulsed them in a blender. However, the result would not be the same. I prefer to pound the herbs, and then stir in the acid and dressing. Instead of cutting like a blender would, it bruises the oils out of the herbs.
The herb dressing has got a freshness that is quite sprightly. I always prepare all the vegetables first and then pound the herbs at the last minute, so the dressing retains its freshness and vibrancy. This is not a dressing you can make and store.
A chicken egg could easily replace a duck egg in the recipe, but I find a single chicken egg is rarely rich enough. I like the richness of the duck egg and the way its yolk coats the vegetables and brings the salad into coherence.
The surprise flavour, however, is the use of chervil and tarragon. Both have a distinct anise flavour that is not often exploited. For a short period in the middle of winter tarragon dies back and is not available. There is a Russian tarragon that is sometimes available during this period, but it should be avoided at all costs. Its only similarity is its appearance.
The vegetables in this recipe can be changed, depending on their availability. I’ve edited the ingredients back since we took this picture – dropping the radishes – but they could be used if you wanted them.
Spring vegetable salad, herb dressing and soft duck egg
– 2 bunches asparagus
– 450g fresh peas in the pod
– 600g broad bean pods
– small handful sugar snap peas
– 4 duck eggs
– handful broad bean leaves and flowers
– 1 tbsp chervil leaves
– ½ tbsp tarragon leaves
– 1 tbsp parsley leaves
– herb dressing (recipe below)
Trim the tough ends off the asparagus and cut some of them in half on a diagonal.
Shell the peas and the broad beans into separate bowls. Top and tail the sugar snap peas.
Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to the boil. Line a tray with paper towels and set a colander into a bowl of iced water and keep both at hand. Once the water is boiling, blanch the green vegetables separately, until they are just cooked and bright green, about one minute. The sugar snaps though, only need about 10 seconds in boiling water. Transfer each vegetable with a slotted spoon to the colander in the ice water bath to cool. Remove the blanched vegetables from the ice water and let them dry on the prepared tray.
Bring another saucepan of water to the boil and carefully place the duck eggs into the boiling water. Boil the eggs for six minutes then put them into a bowl of ice and water to cool quickly.
Place all the vegetables, herbs and leaves into a large bowl and gently toss with a little dressing. Check for seasoning and add a little salt if necessary.
Arrange the salad on a serving plate. Carefully peel the eggs then cut them in half, placing the halves onto the salad. Spoon some extra dressing over the salad just before serving.
– 3 tbsp chopped parsley
– 2 tbsp chopped chervil
– 1 tbsp chopped tarragon
– zest from ⅓ of a lemon
– 2 pinches salt
– 2 tsp white wine vinegar
– 1 tsp lemon juice
– ⅓ cup vegetable oil
Pound all the herbs using a mortar and pestle until the dressing is quite smooth, adding the lemon juice, vinegar and oil towards the end.
2015 Hentyfarm pinot meunier, Henty, Victoria ($35) – Liam O’Brien, head sommelier, Cutler & Co
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 8, 2016 as "Spring vegetable salad, herb dressing and soft duck egg". Subscribe here.