One of the things that really irritate me, are chefs that, even though they work at top restaurants, have no command of classic dishes. What kind of chef only knows how to cook meat by putting it into vacuum bags and sinking it into lukewarm water? To me a chef needs to know how to do a schnitzel or even something as boring as the classic Scandinavian meatballs. You need to crawl before you can walk. And you need to know your country’s gastronomic history and most people’s food diary. Having a lot of young chefs working in my kitchen, I always end up insisting that we do some very classic dishes. And every time, I can see their eyes almost rolling. Then I feel assured that I contribute positively to their upbringing.
In this part of the world, one traditional winter classic is ‘Meat Balls in Celery’. Granted: Often it looks like dead meat in shampoo. But the dish is the local, heavy variation on fricassé, and there’s no reason not to see how we can keep it alive. It is however Asparagus season and my kitchen is located right next to the best asparagus-grower I’ve ever met. So this week we swapped the winter celery for asparagus – fresh and fermented.
The recipe is quite simple; make a classic stuffing – fifty/fifty of minced veal and pork, and some bread softened in milk, salt and pepper.
Make a velouté – but take all your asparagus trimmings, the bottoms and boil them in the chickens stock. Strain and round of with cream. I admit it – I thicken it with a roux. Veloute is made with roux – no other way about it.
Poach egg-sized meat balls in the velouté. Serve, cover with crudité of asparagus and whatever is coming out of your garden.
I like using fermented asparagus for this – it gives the acidity and the salt in a capers-like manner. I ferment asparagus in 5 % salt brine for 5 hours. Then I pickle them in lactic acid-microculture for some weeks. To me that’s spring and soul food at the same time. I served it for lunch today. Half the treat was having my staff do meat balls; how often do they get to do that in the fansy-pantsy restaurants they are going to work in most of their lives?