German food is most of the times very simple and quite hearty. At least in this region, the simpler, the better. Local ingredients are superlative and they don’t really need much more than a simple cooking. Germans know that and they love to eat tons of their best ingredients when they are in season. It is hard to describe the obsession around asparagus right now. I mean, also in other countries you see asparagus everywhere when the season comes, but you don’t see ‘Hier Deutsche Spargel’ on the windows of every shop remotely related to food. Remotely. If they sell something edible, you can bet they’d offer you asparagus right now.
Asparagus for Germans is fat, thick and white, not unlike the ones we eat in Veneto, the region where my parents come from. In the UK on the other hand the green, thinner and milder asparagus was far more common. I find the green one to be a more versatile ingredient but these white ones offer an explosion of flavour. And since they are cultivated in this very region, you can find extremely fresh ones at the farmers market. For the best texture freshness is vital. You barely need to peel the bottom of the thicker asparagus – they are soft and crunchy, all in one.You should eat them after cooking them a handful of minutes, no more. In Italy we serve them with eggs; here they serve them with a particular type of cooked ham called – guess what? – ‘Spargel Schinken’, asparagus ham. I still have to fathom the depth of differences between the zillion types of Wurst, Schinken, Speck… on offer. The task is made harder by the fact that I am not a huge fan of preserved pork, unless it comes on my own terms and conditions.
I always thought that in terms of food culture, what really differentiates one country from the next one in Europe, is how we like our coffee. But after years abroad my taste has changed: I still place on top of my list the extremely concentrated and hot espresso served in Southern Italy, find the more watery espresso they serve in Northern Italy (where I actually formed my preferences in terms of coffee) to be most of the time barely drinkable, and I am starting to develop a taste for good filter coffee. You can’t really enjoy an espresso as much as you would a huge mug of filter coffee, when it is really cold and really dark outside, and it is going to be so for months. So after a few years I am starting to think that what really makes a clear, national difference between countries in Europe is how we like to cure our pork. For sure I still can’t find anything that I like as much as Italian prosciutto and salame. And by ‘like’ I mean I can barely eat cured pork of non Italian origin. It’s not poshness – it is just taste. The only exception is Spain: I really liked their hamon. But you have to be a non pork eater to dislike it.
Anyway. Spargel Schinken is ok, but I still prefer my asparagus with eggs or with something else. And by something else, I mean this lovely homemade chicken ‘ham’ of… Japanese origin :P. Talking about traditions. I love this recipe for all the reasons presented on the original website, but above all, because it is really quick and easy to make. It does not take more of ten minutes of active time and is the ideal recipe to fit into any cooking schedule. You will barely notice the effort, and over a couple of days you’ll find yourself provided with a great staple for quick protein in lunch boxes. The added bonus is that I do find fantastic – and relatively cheap – local free range chicken at the market.
The classic German asparagus salad contains simple boiled potatoes – did I mention before how good potatoes are here? – and a bit of Schnittlauch, ie chopped chives. Great lunch box fare.
Torihamu, asparagus and potatoes salad
For the torihamu:
1 chicken breast, 250 gr
1 tablespoon crushed pink peppercorn
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the salad:
1 torihamu, thinly sliced
300 gr white asparagus tips
500 gr salad potatoes (here I buy the yellow ‘Annabelle’)
bunch of chives
Maldon sea salt
more pink peppercorns
Optional: endive, radish and cucumber for serving
For the torihamu: I advise you to go there for all the details. This is how I did it: I marinated the chicken breast with honey, salt and pink peppercorn in a ziplock bag for two days (48 hours). I took off the chicken from the bag, washed it, and let it soak in cold water for an hour (will do slightly less next time, it was a bit on the low side for salt). I patted the chicken dry and wrapped it in foil (very easy, and worked like charm!). Baked it at 120 C for about 30′, removed the wrap, and let it bake for a further ten minutes until slightly coloured on the outside.
Let the torihamu cool (will survive in the fridge for a week).
Peel the potatoes, cut in even chunks (I just cut my baby ones in half), and steam until tender (10′ with a pressure cooker for my Annabelle, but they do take ages to cook).
Cut in two the asparagus tips and steam them (a couple of minutes in pressure cooker).
Mix potatoes, asparagus, chopped chives, olive oil, salt and a bit of pink peppercorn. Top with the sliced torihamu, a bit more chives, and serve on a bed of sliced radishes, cucumber and endive, if you like. It is good also cold, and in a lunch box as well.