The Best Technique for Cooking White Asparagus
White asparagus is a delicacy more appreciated on the continent. The Germans are so obsessed the have a festival in its honour. In France and Spain you will find it piled high in the markets. The ivory white stalks are made by building up a mound of earth around them, starving them of sunlight. It develops a tough skin which must be heavily peeled. It requires a longer cooking time – about 20 minutes. Perhaps it is this extra work that puts people off. But the end result is so delicious – soft and silky with a sweet flavour reminiscent of sweetcorn.
Most people don’t have asparagus steamers nowadays and boiling this vegetable for 20 minutes doesn’t sound that appealing. All the goodness is leached out and it ends up water logged. The best way I have found is this French method, perfect for cooking almost any vegetable. It works extremely well for green beans and is used in the classic dish, Carrottes Vichy. The beauty of this method is that all the nutrients, and most importantly flavour, is retained. And it is much quicker as there is no waiting around for large pots of water to boil. All that is required is a little water, a pinch of salt and a knob of butter.
The idea is to have a small amount of water boiling at the bottom of a pan. Add your chosen vegetable, make sure the pan is big enough so the vegetable can lie flat, or be spread around evenly in the pan. Add a pinch of salt and a knob of butter. Keep the lid on and cook until the vegetable is tender. The idea is to have just enough water to cook the vegetables, while it reduces it forms an emulsion with the butter to create the most delicious sauce. The amount of water depends on how long the vegetable takes to cook, the quantity of vegetables, and how fast you boil it. Better to add less as you can always add more if it begins to dry out.
Take a bunch of thick stalked and very firm white asparagus. Remove the tough outer layer with a potato peeler. Take a slice off the bottom to make them neat. Take a large pan with a lid, wide enough to hold the asparagus lying down. Put 100ml of water in this pan with a big pinch of salt and a generous knob of butter. Bring this to the boil and add the asparagus and cover. Boil the asparagus for around 20 minutes, or until soft. White asparagus is not supposed to be al dente, rather more voluptuous. If the pan is too dry add a bit more water. If there is too much water by the time the asparagus is cooked remove it to a large heated platter and reduce the water to make the sauce, which you can then pour over the asparagus. Check for seasoning last minute too.