Now that summer is just around the corner, asparagus' time to shine is coming to an end. If you haven't had a chance to try my recipe for ale battered asparagus I recommend you pick up some spears this weekend before it's too late. They would make a great accompaniment to bbq'd steak for Father's Day.
The King of Spring, asparagus, is one of the first locally grown vegetables available each year. Although you may find spears available in grocery stores all year round, the taste and quality of locally grown dramatically differs from the imports. Similar to corn and peas, asparagus contains a lot of sugars at the moment of harvest. As soon as the spears are cut from the underground crown, those sugars begin to transform into starches. Fresh spears taste sweet and slightly herbaceous while old asparagus will taste bitter and astringent. All the more reason to purchase your vegetables direct from the farmer and as close to home as possible.
When selecting asparagus, look for firm stalks with tight, closed tips. The cut ends should look fresh and moist, never dry and woody. The best way to store asparagus is similar to storing cut flowers: with the ends submerged in water (tips up) and loosely covered with a plastic bag. Store them in the refrigerator and eat as soon as possible. To trim asparagus, forget the advice to break the ends off by snapping wherever the spear wants to break. Instead, use a knife and cut the ends off where the colour noticeably changes from white to green. If the outer skin of the asparagus is chewy or fibrous, use a peeler to remove it before cooking. Save the skins and woody ends to create stocks for soups or to cook rice in.
Asparagus is suitable to a wide variety of cooking methods and can actually pair quite well with other foods. Thick asparagus can be shaved thin lengthwise and used raw in salads or as a pizza topping. Blanching asparagus briefly in salted boiling water until just knife tender then shocking the spears immediately in ice cold water ensures the vegetables keep their vibrant green colour and firm texture. Add blanched spears cut into 2-inch pieces to risottos, soups, tacos, potato salad or under Eggs Benedict. Drizzle asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper and barbeque to caramelize the outer skin leaving the interior tender and juicy. Asparagus can also be pickled in a brine, steamed in the microwave, or wrapped in phyllo dough and baked. What are some asparagus flavour pals? Butter, cream, and olive oil are a few. Mushrooms, cheese, mustard, citrus, bacon, onions, potatoes, smoked salmon, lake perch, horseradish, ginger, celery, parsley, and eggs are a few others.
As soon as the weather warms up I’m outside not only plotting and planning gardens and patio set-ups, I’m also baking and frying. The barbeque gets fired up, of course, for asparagus pizzas and burgers, but so does another rarely used piece of cooking equipment: the deep-fryer. If you avoid fast food joints, eating something deep-fried is a royal treat. By using the fryer outside, I eliminate the long-lingering cooked oil aroma from filling up the kitchen but still am able to enjoy light and crispy ale battered asparagus that is fit for a king or queen. A mayonnaise-like lemon-garlic sauce served on the side with the spears makes a great snack for celebrating the first local veggies of the year.
Ale Battered Asparagus - Recipe
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 bottle of beer (341 mL)
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 cloves fresh garlic
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg yolk
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
Zest and juice from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (chives, parsley, tarragon, etc.)
1 lb fresh asparagus, trimmed to 5-inch lengths
2-3 Litres Safflower Oil
I Eat Locally Because I Can!
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