Asparagus is another spring produce, something I happily anticipate every year. I know one could buy it out of season from time to time, but to tell you the truth I never did, I only eat it when in season, I don’t even crave it in winter or autumn. And when I do buy it, I always try to buy our local produce, maybe a bit more expensive, but oh, so much more delicious!! There are these funny little cabins appearing all around Germany during this time of the year, in the form of a huge strawberry, and that is where we can buy local asparagus at the moment, a few weeks later they will start selling strawberries and later on in summer, different other kinds of berries. All from the fields in the region.
Compared to other countries where green asparagus seems to be the more popular sort of asparagus, in Germany white asparagus enjoys a higher position. I like both white and green asparagus, but if I was to choose one sort I like best, I would go for the green version. Nonetheless I do enjoy the white one very much, especially when eaten with sauce hollandaise, which, in my opinion, fits the white asparagus so much better.
The main difference between the white and the green asparagus lies in the way of cultivating it. White asparagus grows under the ground, soil is kept mounded around the stalks. This way there is no light reaching the plant and that results in the white color. Exactly the opposite happens with green asparagus, there is no dirt covering the plant, it grows in the sun and that allows it to produce the substances needed for the photosynthesis, making it green.
I find white asparagus to have a much more delicate taste than the green one, that is why I prefer it when eaten with such a delicate sauce as the sauce hollandaise. But otherwise don’t worry too much about the color of asparagus, you can swap one sort for the other in most recipes, just think about adjusting the cooking time accordingly.
So there is also a difference in the way of cleaning and cooking the two sorts of asparagus. I remove the lower third of both kinds before cooking, they are rather woody. The white asparagus also needs to be peeled, otherwise it would be tender on the inside, but the rough peel will make it difficult for you to even cut the stalk. I use a vegetable peeler for this purpose, I lay the stalk on the working surface and peel it in that position to avoid breaking the stalk. I start peeling underneath the head of the asparagus. In case of the green asparagus, I only peel the lower part of the stalk.
White asparagus needs between 15 and 20 minutes cooking time, according to how thick the stalks are. Green asparagus doesn’t need quite so much, it is mostly ready after about 12 minutes, the green stalks are always thinner than the white ones, in my experience.
And I never throw away the tough ends or the peel, I always use them to make asparagus broth, which is a delicate yet wonderfully aromatic broth which I then use for soups or risottos. For this purpose I gather the peel and tough ends from 1 or 2 kg asparagus, either white or green or a mixture and cook them for 20 minutes in water where I add 1-2 tablespoons of butter, some salt and some lemon juice. I strain the liquid and keep it in bottles in the fridge for about 1 week or freeze it.
A few more words about the sauce hollandaise and then I’m done for today’s post. This is one of the best sauces I’ve ever made and eaten, I know there is quite a lot of butter in it, but you have to try it, if it is only once a year. It is so delicate and velvety and out of this world, I am awed every time I make it. And there is no comparison to the stuff you can buy already made!!!!
- For the asparagus:
- 2 kg white asparagus (green can be used instead)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- For the sauce hollandaise:
- 250 g/ 8.8 oz butter
- 1 shallot
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 5 white peppercorns
- 5 tablespoons water
- 3 egg yolks
- some fresh lemon juice
- Bring a very large pot of water to a boil.
- In the meantime, wash the asparagus, remove the lower, woody ends and peel the stalks with a vegetable peeler, starting underneath the head of the asparagus. In case of using green asparagus, remove the lower, though ends and only peel the lower, thickest piece of the stalk.
- Add the salt, butter and sugar to the boiling water. Place the asparagus in the pot, cover and lower the heat. Cook the white asparagus for about 16 to 20 minutes, depending on thickness and personal taste (I cooked mine for 16 minutes, I like it to still have a bit of a bite) and the green asparagus for about 12 minutes.
- Remove the asparagus from the water and let drain very well (keep the cooking water if you want to make a broth). Place it on kitchen towels to make sure the water is absorbed thoroughly.
- After removing the asparagus from the water, you can add the woody ends and the peel to the water and cook them for about 20 minutes. The result will be an aromatic broth, which you can use for making soups, risottos or sauces.
- To make the sauce hollandaise:
- Melt the butter in a small pan on a very low flame, the butter should not get too hot.
- In the meantime chop the shallot very finely and place it in another small pan together with the vinegar, the crushed peppercorns and 5 tablespoons water. Bring to a boil and allow to reduce for about 3 to 5 minutes. Sieve trough a fine-meshed sieve and catch the liquid in a small metallic bowl that you can use for bain-marie. Discard the shallot and the peppercorns.
- Give the egg yolks to the vinegar reduction. Fill a pan about half way with water. The pan should have a size that will allow the metallic bowl with the egg yolks to sit on top of it. Heat the water but don't allow it to boil. Place the metallic bowl on top (make sure it doesn't touch the water) and whisk thoroughly until the sauce thickens (I use a hand-held mixer, it goes quicker than with a normal whisk). Remove the metallic bowl with the eggs from the bain-marie.
- Start adding the warm butter to the egg yolks very very slowly, while whisking all the time, I use the normal whisk now. Adjust the taste with some salt and a few drops of lemon juice.
- Serve immediately with the asparagus, boiled new potatoes and cooked ham.