Usually, spring is the season for asparagus but, nowadays, they are available all year long. Europeans especially Germans appear to love white asparagus more than green asparagus. Although we generally prefer green asparagus, we go for the white when they appear in the grocery store. I am not sure where this one came from but probably Chile. I posted white asparagus before. I made a different sauce this time.
Digression alert: One of the reasons we can get asparagus all year round is because (believe it or not) they are part of the U.S. “war on drugs”. In an effort to encourage farmers in South American countries south of the equator to produce something other than drugs, the U.S. opened trade to other agricultural products, one of which was asparagus. How successful the effort was in reducing the supply of drugs I’m not sure…I suspect farmers are now producing both products. The asparagus production occurs south of the equator in their spring when it is fall in the northern hemisphere. So we get the asparagus produced in the U.S. in our spring and summer and those produced in South America in our fall and winter. Maybe not such a successful weapon to win the “war on drugs” but definitely a win for great cuisine.
If you happen to cook white asparagus often, it may be worthwhile to get a special peeler which must be a very common kitchen item in Germany, I suppose. For us, I just use a good, sharp vegetable peeler. It is necessary to peel the skin of white asparagus except for the tips otherwise, they are too fibrous no matter how long they are cooked. The center may become soft but the skin remains hard and unpleasant. There are some tricks to peeling white asparagus. Since they are so brittle, the stems breaks very easily particularly if you try to hold the stalk in your hand while peeling with a regular vegetable peeler. So this is how I do it: I first break off the root ends by bending the bottom portion by hand until it snaps. I discarded the bottom part. I then lay the stalk flat on the cutting board and roll it 90 degree as I peeled, so that the asparagus is always supported by the board. (This does not work well if the asparagus is not straight or your peeler is not sharp). No matter what you do, you may break a few. In that case, you revert to the classic cooking technique known as “camouflage” by arranging the stalk as though it has not broken and cover it with sauce like I did. I do not discard the peel at this point.
I arranged the asparagus in one layer in a sauté pan or large frying pan, spread the peels on top and pour enough water to just cover. I put on the lid and cooked on low flame for 30-40 minutes. I then removed the lid and turned up the flame to medium and let it continue cooking for 10-15 minutes or until only a small amount of the cooking liquid remained. The purpose of this exercise is to make a liquid that has a highly concentrated white asparagus flavor. I removed the peels and discarded them. I then set aside the asparagus on a plate keeping them warm.
Sauce: This time I made a Béarnaise-like sauce but did not add melted butter to qualify for Béarnaise. I added champagne vinegar (1 tbs) and white vermouth (2 tbs) to the reducing simmering liquid and reduce a little further. I added tarragon (dried, 1/2 tsp). When only a very small amount of liquid remained (3-4 tbs), off heat, I added a beaten egg yolk (I first tempered the egg by making a “liaison“–adding a small portion of the reduced liquid into the yolk and mixing well). I added the liaison back to the pan and vigorously wisked it while moving the pan on and off the flame until I achieved a saucy (or mayonnaise like) consistency. I could have made a real Béarnaise sauce by further drizzling in melted butter but the consistency of the sauce was just fine and I decided not to add the butter. This happened because the liquid was a very small amount as compared to the egg yolk. I just wanted to make a quick sauce and did this (brave) quick method. Fortunately, the sauce did not break or become scrambled egg (by the way, I used an egg yolk from a pasteurized shell egg). I tasted the sauce and added salt and freshly ground white pepper. It tasted good with a nice acid and tarragon flavors.
There is something about the taste of white asparagus. It is distinctive and different from the green kind. The sauce had a concentrated flavor of white asparagus with a nice but gentle acidity from the champagne vinegar. It almost tasted like Béarnaise sauce without butter. I saw my wife lick her plate clean after finishing the asparagus, when she thought I wasn’t looking. I take that as her seal of approval for my sauce.