Friday, May 29, 2015

Amazing Asparagus ~ Spring's Treasure

Local asparagus season has begun, with peak retail months of supply from April through June. A member of the lily family, the ‘spears’ grow from a crown that is planted 8 to 10 inches deep. I don't have enough garden space to grow asparagus but am lucky enough to have a friend who is willing to share the harvest!  

Beautiful, fresh cut, Denman Island asparagus
Store fresh asparagus clean, cold and covered. Break off the stem end as far down as snaps easily. Wash in warm water several times and remove any loose scales, dirt or sand. To maintain freshness, wrap a moist paper towel around the stem ends, or stand upright in two inches of cold water (my preference). Cover loosely with plastic wrap, refrigerate and use within 2 or 3 days for best quality.

When purchasing, choose bright green spears that are tender (easily punctured), with compact tips that have a slight purple tinge. If the tips are open, the vegetable is past its prime. Very thin, wilted or crooked stalks may be tough or stringy. Fat spears are more likely to be tender than thin ones. 

The key to perfect asparagus lies in the cooking. It is not necessary to peel green spears. A quick steaming that leaves it tender and crisp, rather than mushy and soft, is all it takes to achieve optimal texture and flavor. Do not cook asparagus in aluminum or iron pots as the flavor can be affected.
To steam; tie the spears into a bundle, it will be easier to handle. Cook by standing upright on the stem ends in ½ inch of boiling water; the water cooks the stems and the tips are then cooked by steam. This is why asparagus cookers are tall upright pots. Cook uncovered for the first 3 minutes then cover and cook to tender-crisp stage—about another 2 to 5 minutes. Remove with tongs and save the leftover water for soup or sauces.
To stir-fry; cut spears diagonally, leaving tips whole. Stir-fry pieces in butter or hot oil, in a skillet or wok at medium high heat. Stir constantly until tender-crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. 
Roasting is my favorite cooking method; roast in the oven (or on the BBQ) for about 6 to 10 minutes (depending on their thickness) or until tender-crisp.

Enjoy spring’s most treasured bounty.
Till next week ...Bon Appétit!

ROASTED ASPARAGUS      Yield: 6 servings 
This method is super fast, easy and pretty much fool proof with a beautiful al dente finish.

2 lbs. thick asparagus spears
Extra-virgin olive oil
Fleur de Sel

Hollandaise Sauce, optional

Preheat oven to 450˚F. Lightly oil a large baking sheet. Trim and wash asparagus spears, pat them dry. Arrange spears in a single layer on baking sheet; sprinkle them with olive oil and toss to coat lightly. Roast spears 6 to 10 minutes, depending on their thickness. Turn them at least once, until they are tender but still somewhat firm. Arrange on a serving platter, sprinkle with Fleur de Sel and set aside to serve warm or at room temperature. Can be served with Hollandaise Sauce.

HOLLANDAISE SAUCE         Yield: 3/4 cup
In Culinary terms this is one of the five Mother Sauces, an emulsified sauce made with egg yolks and clarified butter. This sauce should be fairly thick, though at the same time it should be light. The sauce will thicken as the butter is added and as the eggs cook.                                   

2 tsp. dry white wine (or water)
2 egg yolks
½ cup butter, melted and clarified
Juice of ½ a lemon (about 1½ tsp.)
Sea salt
Pinch of cayenne 

To clarify the butter, slowly melt in a small saucepan over medium heat and skim off the surface foam. Pour the clear layer of butter into a glass measuring cup, leaving behind the milky residue in the bottom of the pan, which can be discarded. Let clarified butter cool to lukewarm. Meanwhile, in the top of a double boiler (or in a stainless steel bowl over a pot of simmering water), combine the wine and egg yolks. Whisk constantly and vigorously until the yolks are thickened, pale yellow and double in volume. (If the eggs begin to scramble, or the mixture is cooking very quickly or gets too hot, remove the bowl from the heat and whisk to cool.) Remove the eggs from the heat and whisk for 30 seconds to cool slightly. Remove the saucepan from the heat and set the bowl over the hot water. Slowly drizzle in the clarified butter whisking constantly. When all the butter is incorporated, whisk in the lemon juice, salt and cayenne to taste. (If the sauce is very thick, add a few drops of wine or warm water to adjust the consistency so it is creamy and light.) Serve warm.

Photo by Sally Rae

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