In the spotlight
This pie is my “simmered at the last minute” dish! “Simmered,” because the chicken should cook gently inside the puff pastry; “at the last minute,” because the pie should be served as soon as it comes out of the oven. These two features represent an important part of the French culinary tradition and give the cook the sweet pleasure of waiting, and the guest the immediate joy of the flavors.
This now-iconic torte served at Bar Boulud in New York and London has a very thick, custardy filling that’s encased in a shell of buttery dough made with granulated sugar and almond flour to lend a bit of crunch.
Ingredient of the week
Asparagus has always grown wild in the Mediterranean basin and Asia Minor.
In Ancient times, the Romans invented asparagus farming (Apicius gives a recipe for pureed asparagus with egg), the Egyptians immortalized this "stalk of love and pleasure" (asparagus had at that time a reputation as an aphrodisiac) in their bas-relief sculptures, while the Greeks also ate it and used it as a medicinal plant.
Centuries later, Louis XIV of France became obsessed with it to the extent of wanting it on his table during all seasons of the year. He liked to dip it into soft-boiled egg. His head gardener, La Quintinie, devised a way of growing it in greenhouses and in hotbeds.
Asparagus farming was introduced at Argenteuil, France, in the 17th century. Charles Depezat, a gendarme who was stationed there during the 1870 Siege of Paris, took back a number of plants with him on his return to his village of Vineuil, in the Loir-et-Cher region. This is how the Loire Valley asparagus industry was born. Its cultivation later spread to Aquitaine and southern France.
The technique of growing asparagus in hotbeds was adopted in most of Europe, but it never gained a foothold in North America, where green asparagus was preferred.
During his time at the Savoy in London (1890–1897), Auguste Escoffier became strongly convinced of the need to encourage the cultivation of green asparagus – also preferred by the English – at Lauris, in the Vaucluse region of France.
Asparagus has spread to all the continents. China is the leading exporter of preserved asparagus. Peru, the United States, Mexico, and Spain are the leading producers.