How to prepare, cook and enjoy white asparagus
We all like our food fresh, when it comes to vegetables, storage is very important. Recipes never talk about this part because they give you the ingredients and a cooking description but it is quite unlikely that you use everything you purchase in one go.
It is then also good to know that vegetables do not ‘die’ instantly after harvest, there is an ongoing metabolic activity going on in vegetables after harvest. This includes the intake of oxygen, breaking down of starches and sugars and the release of carbon dioxide, this activity is referred to as ‘respiration rate’.
Metabolic activity makes vegetables wither. They dry out with the release of moist and change color. For some vegetables the respiration rate is higher than for others. Asparagus have a very high respiration rate. At refrigeration temperatures it is about five times greater than for onions and potatoes and three times greater than for lettuce and tomatoes. Asparagus are therefore quite perishable and are best consumed within 48 hours of purchase. If you have come across some great looking asparagus and need to store them for one or two days, rap a damp cloth or wet kitchen paper around the base and give them a light vacuum. If you do not have a vacuum sealer, wrap them completely with a damp towel.
To prepare white or green asparagus you need to peel them, the skin of thick green asparagus is quite tough and the skin of white asparagus is not edible and bitter after cooking. Asparagus are brittle and when peeled when held up or in your hand, they can easily be broken.
The best way to peel asparagus is by placing them flat on a chopping board let the tip stick out of the board so you do not have to lift them. A little too much pressure during peeling is enough to break them. Cut about 1 inch from the base and hold them one by one gently by the tip between you thumb and index finger. Using a vegetable peeler carefully peel the skin, which starts just under the tip, from tip to base.
Personally I like to use a peeler as pictured because the peel does not get stuck too much in the peeler.
When you have peeled them all, place them in a flat shallow pot, add the water, butter, salt and lemon as per the recipe and cover with a piece of cloth. If you want to preserve and use the flavorful asparagus stock later, top the asparagus with the skin peel then the cloth.
Covering asparagus with a piece of cloth ensures they remain under water, asparagus float in water and to ensure even cooking the cloth keeps them below surface. Bring to a boil, when the water boils lower the heat.
Now, depending on the thickness of the asparagus, simmer for 5 to 8 minutes and if you pierce them with a small knife and they feel softened, turn of the heat and leave to stand for 20 minutes. Or until serving time, Asparagus are best kept in their own flavored stock.
The only ‘Classic’ way to eat white asparagus is with bone- ham, Hollandaise sauce and a one (1) minute boiled egg. Variations are boiled potatoes and soft boiled egg. Nice, but wrong.
Below is the most classic of classic recipes to eat white gold.
When you happen to visit a German speaking country or the South of Holland, this is how asparagus are served.
The recipe is for a starter size dish and serves 4
16 medium sized white asparagus
1 good tbsp. unsalted butter
1 pound bone ham (sliced)
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
- Cook the asparagus as described above, by peeling them, then place them in a shallow pot, cover with water. Add the butter, salt and lemon.
- When the asparagus are feeling soft when pierced with a small knife, about 5 to 7 minutes, turn of the heat and leave for 20 minutes or so.
- The sauce is a bit of the tricky part when you are not familiar with Hollandaise sauce.
- Melt the butter and keep aside.
- Bring a small pot of water to a simmering bowl.
- Place the egg yolks in a mixing bowl with the white wine vinegar. Make sure that the mixing bowl fits nicely on top of the bowl with simmering water.
- Start whisking the egg yolks until they become fluffy and of yoghurt thickness. This is the tricky part, if the egg yolks become too hot you may end up with scrambled eggs. When you notice that the yolks start to curdle, remove from the heat add a bit of water ½ tbsp. and continue whisking.
- When the right consistency is achieved, add the melted butter slowly, (like making mayonnaise)
- Add so much melted butter until you reach the white part on the bottom of the pan, this is the water from the butter.
- Season the sauce with a pinch of salt and keep warm.
- Prepare the eggs by placing them in a pot of cold water, bring to a boil, boil for one minute and give them a quick rinse under cold water.
- Place the ham slices on top of the asparagus and bring back to boil. This to warm the ham and will take about 2 minutes.
- Remove the ham from the asparagus. Divide the asparagus over 4 individual plates. Arrange the ham slices on the side. Tap the eggs bottom down on the kitchen sink so they stand up straight and place an egg on every plate. Top with the sauce and serve warm.
- Your guest can now chop the top of the egg and dip an asparagus in the egg.
An absolute delicious experience!
When you love your asparagus this way, here is the good news. Asparagus freeze very well when vacuumed. Buy some extra vacuum and freeze them. Raw and pre- cooked both methods work perfect.
By Marinus Hoogendoorn