The first asparagus of Spring have arrived! I can't tell you how much we look forward to this moment. There is really nothing better than tasting freshly picked asparagus straight from the farm. (And someday we hope to have them in our garden!). They are available in our region starting now until around the end of May. We visited our local farm this week to pick up one bunch of white asparagus and were happy to find that the first gariguette strawberries were also available. That's all this farm does is asparagus and strawberries - talk about a niche! At the season's beginning, we use them immediately, but around mid-season, I'll buy up a significant quantity in order to preserve them. I really like serving white asparagus as a first course all on its own, but sometimes by adding a little more to the plate, it can turn into a light lunch, as is the case in this photo. Throwing some pre-cooked asparagus into a tossed green salad or into a risotto are other favorite ways to use them.
Cooking something “à l’anglaise” is a technique that is used for many vegetables such carrots, green beans, spring peas, leeks and in this case, asparagus. The main idea is to poach the vegetable in a large quantity of water with a large quantity of salt, to cook it to “al dente”, or crisp-tender, and to immediately stop the cooking by placing the vegetable in ice water. It is ready for reheating at a later point. White asparagus can be served warm with a hollandaise or mousseline sauce (a hollandaise sauce that is “lightened” with whipping cream), or served cold with vinaigrette. A flavored mayonnaise also makes a nice accompaniment (with either hot or cold asparagus)!
Ingredients – for 4 people
16 medium to large white asparagus stalks
(about 4 per person when served as a 1st course, depending on menu)
6-8 liters (24-32 cups) water in a large stock pot – approximately
20g rock salt per liter (0,6 oz salt per quart or 4 cups)
Bowl of cold water with ice cubes, ideally
- Clean & prep asparagus. Rinse asparagus under cold water. Starting from 2cm (almost 1 inch) from the point, peel from top to bottom, using either a paring knife or vegetable peeler. Cut 1 cm (½”) off of each bottom, or until it has no signs of dryness. For smaller quantities, you can cook the asparagus as individual stalks. For larger quantities, bundle them together in same-sized groups of 8-12 stalks, and tie together with a kitchen string before cooking.
- Poach “à l’anglasie”. Bring water to a boil. Use a big stockpot for bundles of asparagus, or other sized pot to cook the quantity you have. Or, use an asparagus basket which allows you to stand the asparagus vertically, thereby cooking the bottom in water and effectively steaming the tops, which take less time typically to cook. Taste to make sure the water tastes “salty like the sea”! If not, add more salt. Add asparagus. Cook asparagus al dente. Exact cooking time varies, but can take about 10-25 minutes. Start checking after 10 minutes to see what’s happening. Test by piercing with a knife; there should be only a slight resistance. Caution: overcooking will result in mushy asparagus tips. EITHER SERVE IMMEDIATELY or proceed to next step if preparing in advance.
- Cold Shock. Immediately drain asparagus from hot water and place directly into your cold-water bath which has been previously prepared and waiting for this step! Let vegetable sit in cold water only as long as it is needed to cool them down, and not longer. Drain and reserve for reheating later.
- Reheating guidelines. I like to reheat in a frying pan, but a steamer also works well. If using a frying pan, heat the pan, over medium high heat, add a drizzle of olive oil, a knob of butter and/or duck fat (optional) – coat the pan well with oil and add the asparagus, making sure they are well coated also. Continue over medium-high heat until heated through and ever so slightly browned. Season with salt and pepper. Add fresh herbs or spices just before serving, such as thyme and oregano, cumin, or herbs de Provence…
White Asparagus cooked “à l’angaise”, reheated in frying pan with cumin & served with a Hollandaise sauce. Cooking lesson 18-May-2018.