The sweetness of the maple seems to heighten the richness and duck crumble adds texture. I serve this with little hazelnut purée ‘bon bons’, which have been set with a Japanese root starch called kuzu, something fairly new to me that is becoming a very useful part of our larder. When cooking eggs in this way, the key to perfection is to use only the freshest of eggs.

Serves 6

Ingredients

6 fresh duck eggs

Duck crumble

500g duck skins

150g water

Craquant

400g glucose syrup

400g caster sugar

100g water

200g hazelnuts, toasted and skinned

Hazelnut bon bons

200g milk

150g water

100g hazelnuts, roasted and skinned

25g kuzu, ground to a powder in a spice mill

200g toasted hazelnuts, finely ground

50g unsalted butter

Caramelised white asparagus

12 white asparagus spears

50g unsalted butter

50g maple syrup

White asparagus velouté

100g unsalted butter

100g chopped onions

50g white of leek, chopped

250g white asparagus stalks (from above)

150g potatoes, peeled and sliced

500g milk

500g vegetable stock

For the hazelnut purée

200g hazelnuts, toasted and skinned

250g milk

100g double cream

40g water

3.5g bicarbonate of soda

12g hazelnut oil

To serve

12 hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and broken into medium pieces

3 fat white asparagus spears, sliced wafer thin and kept in cold salted water

6 sprigs of hedge bedstraw

Method

Duck crumble

Lay the duck skins out on a board and burn off any stubble with a blowtorch, being careful not to scorch the skin. Roll up individual skins like a Swiss roll. Leave in the freezer overnight. Mince the frozen duck skins through a fine-medium mincing plate. Place in a saucepan and add the water. Bring up to the boil and cook slowly, stirring from time to time, until the water has evaporated, leaving some rendered duck fat in which to cook the rest of the duck skin ‘bits’. Cook until the duck skin solids are golden and crisp. Drain well on kitchen paper.Season and keep warm.

Duck eggs

Fill a water bath or large saucepan with water and heat to 64ºC. Add the eggs and keep the temperature at a constant 64ºC for 21/2 hours. Drain and keep warm.

Craquant

Place the glucose syrup, caster sugar and water in a heavy-based saucepan and dissolve on a gentle heat, then bring up to the boil and cook until caramelised to a golden amber colour. Fold in the hazelnuts, then immediately pour on to an oiled lipped baking tray. Put to one side until cold and very crisp. Then break up the caramel, place in a food processor and pulse to a coarse powder. Store in an airtight container until needed.

Hazelnut bon bons

Place the milk, 100g water and the skinned hazelnuts in a saucepan and bring up to the boil. Pour into a blender and blend until smooth. Season, then leave to cool. When cool, pour the hazelnut mixture back into the saucepan and whisk in the kuzu. Place on the heat and beat until the mixture starts to thicken and then becomes very thick. Remove from the heat and spoon into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm nozzle. Scatter the ground hazelnuts in a tray and pipe on 18 blobs of the thick hazelnut mixture; each blob or ‘dumpling’ should be about 6mm high (this will make more mixture than you need, so freeze the rest for a later date). Place in the fridge to set.

Caramelised white asparagus

Carefully bend the asparagus spears; they will snap just at the right point above the tough bottoms. Keep the bottom parts for the velouté. Peel the top parts to within 2cm of the tips. Keep the peelings for the velouté. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the trimmed asparagus and blanch for 3 minutes, then refresh and drain. Place on a towel to dry.

White asparagus velouté

Melt the butter in a medium heavy-based saucepan. Add the onions, leek and asparagus stalks and peelings and cook for 5 minutes without colouring. Add the potatoes, milk and stock and bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Pour into a blender and blend to a smooth, fine purée. Push through a fine sieve and season. Keep warm until needed.

Hazelnut purée

Combine all the ingredients, apart from the hazelnut oil, in a medium heavy-based saucepan. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer very gently for 10 minutes. Pour into a blender and blend until smooth, drizzling in the hazelnut oil at the end. Season. Keep warm.

Finishing the caramelised asparagus

Melt the butter in a cast-iron frying pan, add the blanched asparagus and cook until golden. Add the maple syrup and cook until caramelised. Season and keep warm.

Finishing the bon bons

Heat the remaining 50g water and the unsalted butter in a saucepan and bring to the boil, then season. Add the 18 little ‘dumplings’, then remove the pan from the heat and leave to warm through in the residual heat for 2 minutes. Scatter 100g of the craquant on a tray and roll the ‘dumplings’ around in this until coated. This needs to be done at the last minute to make sure you retain the texture from the craquant.

Serving

Make a swipe of the hazelnut purée on each plate, then place 2 asparagus spears coated in a little of the duck crumble and craquant. Crack an egg and carefully remove the cooked egg from the shell, then place it on the plate. Top with crumble and add the bon bons and cracked toasted hazelnuts, then lay 3 pieces of sliced raw asparagus on the plate and garnish with hedge bedstraw. Finally, place the velouté in a jug and serve with the egg at the table.

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