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Not just for sparrows

As I write, we’re on the cusp of receiving the first local asparagus in-store and, like many of our customers who have been asking daily, ‘When’s it coming?’, I am looking forward to its arrival.

Asparagus, or sparrow grass to use its folk name, has a relatively short season but the brilliant flavour of those vibrant green stems is unbeatable and puts the South American grown variety in the shade.

Now it might sound strange for a butcher to be singing the praises of a vegetable, but this humble green can be used in so many ways. Steamed, grilled, even barbecued, it offers up incredible flavour, and no doubt you’ve used it as a soldiers substitute for a dippy egg, but I have a fabulous recipe I’m holding out for this season.

It’s from Michael Caines (no, not the actor!), a Michelin starred chef who created this smashing dish for the Great British Menu, and combines chicken breast with asparagus, broad beans, wild mushrooms and a cider sauce.

Now this leads me nicely into introducing a new cider ‘brew’ from the Sandringham Estate. Having sold their delicious apple juice for many years, we’re delighted to add the estate’s cider to the shelves at our Dersingham shop. Buy a bottle and see what you think.

Back to the dish! Slice 25g of shallots and two cloves of garlic and sweat gently in 25g of butter. Add several sprigs of thyme and a bay leaf before adding 50ml of cider and reducing until almost disappeared. Add 500ml of chicken stock to the pan, reduce by half and add 50ml double cream and 100g of butter. Season and set aside.

Now poach four chicken breasts in water for 12-15 minutes, remove and stand for 10 minutes. Cook the asparagus and broad beans separately in boiling salted water until tender. Drain and refresh in iced water. De-pod the broad beans.

Heat a knob of butter in a pan and fry the chicken breasts slowly until the skin is golden and crispy. Fry 200g of mushrooms before adding to the sauce with the asparagus and broad beans over a gentle heat. Wilt 200g of baby spinach leaves before slicing and serving the chicken on top with the vegetables and sauce. Devilish and delicious!

Let me know how you get on with the recipe and how you enjoy eating your asparagus – but be quick, it won’t be in-store for long!