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Whiter shade of pale compliments of the chef

By C. J. Henderson | China Daily | Updated: 2013-06-08 07:57

Whiter shade of pale compliments of the chef

Slow-cooked white asparagus with butter-glazed potatoes and Australian beef. [Photo by Fan Zhen / China Daily]

Whiter shade of pale compliments of the chef

China is the biggest producer of white asparagus in the world, though it is rarely seen in local restaurants. This could be because it has such a short-lived season, which begins in April, and by the end of June, "it's gone," chef de cuisine Andreas Block of Fairmont Beijing's The Cut explains.

White asparagus is more popular in Europe, and the German chef was delighted to discover it here in Beijing, and decided to design a four-course menu celebrating the precious vegetable.

Block has brought a very ordered cooking process to The Cut, the Fairmont's signature steakhouse.

His four-course white asparagus menu is put together so well, it is almost mathematical the way he has balanced flavors and textures to bring out the best in this "edible ivory".

The stand out was, strangely, the soup course.

The bowl features an artful arrangement of smoked trout, pistachio puree, pieces of blanched white asparagus and two perfectly formed apple pearls. A thin, creamy soup is poured at table, completing the canvas.

The pistachio puree and salty trout goes beautifully with the creamy asparagus. Apple pearls add that extra hint of sweetness. In fact, the combination of tart apple, nutty pistachio, salty trout, sweet and creamy asparagus made this the showstopper.

What followed was nothing less spectacular. Smoked yogurt is an innovative companion to the bitter-sweet braised asparagus and the sweet, ocean flavor of Alaskan king crab layered on the plate.

Pine nuts provided a buttery touch with the smoked yogurt pulling it all together.

Block explained his foray into yogurt smoking.

"It makes so much sense. It goes so nice with this sweet crab and the fresh salad and asparagus. I had heard about smoked yogurt but I had never made it myself. So I had to figure out how to make it. First, I hang the yogurt overnight to remove as much water as I can. Then I lay it flat in a container with ice so it stays cold and put it in the smoker for about 10 minutes. And then we just season it with a bit of honey and vinegar."

For the main course, Block created a very traditional plate featuring the white asparagus as the headliner.

It is a simple dish of white asparagus that has been sauteed slowly for 40 minutes. The stalks are cooked yet still a bit crunchy and has a delightful sweetness that paired so well with a thick hollandaise sauce.

The side dishes are a few boiled baby potatoes in butter and your choice of Italian ham, halibut or steak. The fish was fresh, but the steak was an outstanding slab of Australian Angus beef cooked to perfection.

After such a classic main, we were in for something a little more risky, or, as Block says, "innovative".

A white asparagus and honey mousse served on a bed of Raz El Hanout (a kind of Moroccan spiced cookie), dotted with stalks of asparagus pink from being cooked in raspberry juice.

The mousse had a very interesting flavor that we couldn't quite place until Block mentioned white chocolate. Though the flavor of asparagus is there, the creaminess of the dessert really does suggest white chocolate.

"Even on our regular dessert menu, we have three desserts that are not that sweet. I wanted to make a dessert menu that is light on the stomach. Because most people who eat here have a steak ... You don't want cheesecake after a big steak meal."

You are in good hands when dining at The Cut. Everything is accounted for, even portion control. The chef is doing complicated mathematics with his menu, and getting the right answers every time.

Whiter shade of pale compliments of the chef

Whiter shade of pale compliments of the chef

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