In search of The Perfect Asparagus
THESE DAYS, it’s hard to imagine true seasonality in food, even though you may read about it every day. While everything seems to be available always, corn on the cob isn’t right for December, blueberries won’t cut it in March, and root vegetables, even if they’re made into a salad, are Verboten in July. You get it—but here’s another ploy: there’s a huge difference between organic and seasonal, and most people just don’t know the difference. You may be able to buy organic tomatoes year-round, but that doesn’t mean they’re good, and if we’re going to split hairs, let’s talk about local. I see that directional claimed on lots of menus, but just let’s not forget that local can mean as far as seven hours away.
These are all buzzwords for today and their importance is paramount—never to be diminished—but, gosh, are they misused. And misconstrued. Not to preach, but if you care, you’ve just got to learn the difference. Nothing’s always great. That’s life!
Growing up, I had a foodie mother who also happened to be a complete, zillion-percent Francophile. We had a house in Southwest France, and every time we had more than three days off from school she would haul us there. My best memories of France—unlike America in the ‘70s and ‘80s—are about what foods were best at what time of the year. Let’s just say I fell in love with flavor: those succulent summer melons from Cavaillon, the heirloom tomatoes from a nearby farmer in late August, the delicate sweet pea and lettuce salads in the spring, the pureness of the fall’s figs. Fig Newtons back home in Atlanta didn’t taste like that. At Christmas there was a fat duck to cook, and baby lamb or rabbit in April, although nobody could ever convince me on that one.
Trust me: asparagus season is now. Spring. Don’t miss it. I’m not saying you can’t enjoy it at other times, but the year-round stringy sticks just don’t hold a candle to the scrumptious majesty of those jumbo spears in May. Even the white ones—which I normally don’t eat because they’re tasteless—are redeemed a bit in season, if only fleetingly.
Here’s my secret for what I consider to be Perfect Asparagus. Nothing more, nothing less. Perfect every time—I guarantee it. Do it in the spring for maximum results. And, as a bonus, here’s the easiest, best Hollandaise sauce in the world, which you can whip up in the Cuisinart or in the blender. Such a snap. And let’s face it—everything, even aspirin, is better with Hollandaise sauce.
A confession: Pollyanna I am not. I do serve asparagus at other times of the year, so don’t shoot yourself if you’re guilty. But the message is clear: there’s a right time for everything. Stay confident: don’t be shy about shying away form ingredients or trendy menu items if you don’t think the season is now. It’s easy, and you’ll appreciate the real glory of true seasonality in its essence. And, most of all, remember: don’t believe everything you read.
Yeild: 4-6 servings
Just follow these easy directions, and I guarantee you will have Perfect Asparagus. Nothing more, nothing less—and excellent first course with vinaigrette or a Hollandaise sauce, or to serve as an accompaniment to any main dish.
2 bunches asparagus
2 teaspoons plus ½ teaspoon salt, divided
2 tablespoons salted butter
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
In a medium-sized stockpot over a high heat, bring the water to a boil and add two teaspoons of salt. With a vegetable peeler, lightly peel half of the asparagus stems on all four sides.
Prepare an ice bath. In a large bowl, combine 1 cup of cold water and two cups of ice cubes.
Drop the asparagus into boiling water and boil them for 30 seconds exactly.
Remove the asparagus into the ice bath so as not to cook them further, and then drain them in a colander.
In a small skillet over a medium heat, melt the butter and add ½ teaspoon of salt and the ground black pepper. Place asparagus on whatever serving platter you desire, pour the butter over the asparagus, and serve.
Yield: 1 cup, 16 tablespoons
4 egg yolks
1 tablespoon water
8 tablespoons butter (one stick)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
1 pinch ground white pepper
Combine all of the ingredients except the butter in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process the ingredients until they are pale and sticky, approximately 3-4 minutes.
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it is bubbling, pour it into a measuring cup to make it easier to pour, and then immediately pour the bubbling butter through the top sleeve of the food processor slowly, droplet by droplet, while it is running.
When the butter is fully incorporated, the sauce is finished. Turn off the processor, and serve the sauce immediately.