White asparagus cocktail

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It’s asparagus season. North Limburgers like me respond to asparagus the same way hobbits respond to mushrooms. Actually we respond the same way to mushrooms too: asparagus and mushrooms are our regional specialty.

We grow and eat asparagus stems white though. To keep the stems white, they need to be kept away from sunlight, and therefore they are grown in raised beds. Then, starting around April 15, temp workers walk between the beds from the break of dawn till noon, spying for cracks in the flattened tops of the beds that signify the tip of an asparagus plant trying to break through.

Once they spot the rebel plant, the workers dig through the side of the bed until they reach the stem and then use a long, spatula-shaped knife to cut the stem at the bottom. The stem is taken out and the hole filled up again.

The stems dry out quickly so the sooner you cook them the better. White asparagus has a delicate taste that is typically brought out with ham, egg, melted butter, but it can be combined with many other ingredients. Serve with cold, white wine.

Today I ate:

Asparagus Cocktail Willem Alexander

This apetizer was invented by chef Herman van Ham of restaurant De Hamert in Arcen, just North of Venlo. He named it in honour of the Dutch crown prince.

Ingredients for four

  • cocktail glasses
  • 800 g asparagus
  • an orange
  • 200 g chicken fillet
  • 5 dl chicken bouillon
  • 2 dle mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp of cream
  • sherry
  • ginger
  • “kerry” (curry powder containing coriander, turmeric, cumin and so on)

Preparation

  • Put the asparagus in cold water for 15 minutes before peeling it.

Meanwhile, start on the sauce:

  • Whip two table spoons of cream until it’s stiff, then mix in two dl of mayonnaise, a dash of sherry, a bit of ginger, a knife tip of curry powder and a few drops of lemon. Put the sauce in the fridge.

Back to the asparagus:

  • Peel the asparaguses (asparagese?) using a sharp knife or a thin-peeler. Be careful to get all the skin off. It’s very hard to see the skin, but remains hard when cooked, so you’ll notice immediately if you’ve left bits in. The skin is slightly smoother and shinier than what’s underneath.
  • Cut off about half an inch of the bottoms, which tend to be a bit drier.
  • Put the asparagus in a pan of water, making sure the stems are entirely in. Since you’re going to cut up the asparagus later anyway, you can cut the stems in half if need be. Just make sure the tips stay whole. Bring to boil, and let it boil for about 8 to 10 minutes (depending on size and freshness).
  • Take the pan off the heater, put a cover on it, and let the asparagi (?) warm for another fifteen to twenty minutes in the hot water. Test if the asparagus is done by sticking a fork in a bottom.

While cooking the asparagus, get started on the chicken:

  • If you often need stock, use fresh chicken bouillon (have it ready). Otherwise, cheat and used ready made bouillon.
  • Poach the chicken filet in the bouillon for about 15 minutes. Poaching means: heat at a temperature slightly below boiling point.

Putting it together:

  • Cut a few slices of orange.
  • Cut the asparagus and chicken into smallish parts.
  • Put the asparagus and chicken in cocktail glasses, saving the tips for last (mix it up a little). Cover with sauce. Garnish with orange slices and cooked asparagus tips.

Vegetarian variant: use Quorn instead of chicken, and herbal bouillon, and a vegetarian mayo. I’ve tried that once and it tastes similar enough.

Asparagus season lasts until June 24.

Based on a recipe by Wiel Basten, Het Asperges Boek (ISBN: 90.6486.040.8). Asparagus photo by Stephan Mosel, some rights reserved.

5 Comments »

  1. This white whine…is that a drink or some sort of post-colonial complex?

    Comment by Darth Paul — May 21, 2008 @ 5:55 pm

  2. Thanks, fixed.

    Comment by Branko Collin — May 21, 2008 @ 7:17 pm

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