Asparagus is fleeting, this year more than ever. I’m talking about the Best Asparagus in the Universe, that grown by Baptiste Bourdon a few kilometers from Louviers.
Weather has been inclement, with such low temperatures that the asparagus has refused to grow in abundance. That which has pierced the soil and formed beautiful stalks, however, is better than it’s ever been. And I’ve been braising it with abandon. My favorite method this year I call Asparagus Four Ways, which has to do with the way it is cut.
There are some simple rules when working with asparagus, particularly when it is from the farm and still has soil clinging to it, or if its been grown in sand.
Wash it well, always with the point up, so that any grit or soil doesn’t get lost in the leaves.
Then, snap it by holding a stalk by the head with one hand, by the very base of the stalk with the other. This way, the stalk snaps where tough turns to tender. You can reserve the tough base of the stalk for soup, or discard it.
To prepare Asparagus Braised Four Ways:
- Cut the tip from the stalk and, if the tips are thick enough, cut them in half, lengthwise.
- Reserve about 5 of the fattest stalks.
- Cut half the remaining stalks in matchstick-sized pieces.
- Cut the rest on the bias, into about 2-inch (5cm) long pieces.
- Using a mandoline or a vegetable peeler, “shave” the fat stalks into ribbons.
- Prepare the garlic, and the herbs, then go to town!
BRAISED ASPARAGUS FOUR WAYS
ASPERGES BRAISES QUATRE FACONS
This dish can be made with both white and green asparagus, and it can be served hot, or at (warmish) room temperature. The cooking times depend greatly on the freshness of the asparagus and the conditions in which it was grown, so be sure to use these here as a guide, and check the asparagus as it cooks.
1-1/2 pounds (750g) fat, green asparagus, trimmed and rinsed (you can use some white asparagus, too, remembering to peel it first)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup (60ml) water
2 cloves garlic, green germ removed if necessary, cut in matchsticks
Several stems of fresh lemon thyme
1 stem rosemary
Several stems of tarragon, savory, or other favorite herb
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fleur de sel, for garnish
- Remove the heads from all of the asparagus, and slice the fattest ones in half, lengthwise.
- Slice one-fourth of the fattest asparagus stalks into paper-thin slices, using a mandolin. Cut half of the remaining asparagus on the bias into 2-inch (5cm) lengths. Cut the remaining asparagus lengthwise into matchsticks.
- Place the asparagus cut on the bias, in matchsticks, and any very fat heads, the olive oil, the water, and the garlic in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Season with salt and pepper, and strew the herbs over all. Shake the skillet so the asparagus is coated with oil and water, and when the water begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook until the asparagus is nearly tender but still bright green, for about 4 minutes. Add the asparagus cut into lengthwise slices, season with salt and pepper, shake the pan so that the slices are coated with some of the oil, cover, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Place the paper-thin slice of asparagus on top of the other asparagus, shake the skillet so that all the asparagus is mixed together season with salt and pepper, cover and cook for about one minute, then remove from the heat. Check the asparagus; if the strips are tender, remove the lid and either serve immediately, or let sit until you’re ready to serve.
- To serve, discard all the herbs. Carefully arrange the asparagus on four plates, arranging the asparagus so that all of the shapes show. Season with fleur de sel and serve immediately.