The asparagus season has started and as a result asparagus is currently everywhere on menus and in the markets in both green and white forms. Asparagus is not a vegetable that I have cooked with that often and when I have used it in the past, it’s always been the green version. However the white version is considered something of a delicacy over here on the continent and having never eaten it before I decided now was time to try it out.
I’d always assumed that the white and green versions of asparagus were different varieties, but the internet has now revealed to me that they are in fact one and the same! To make white asparagus you plant the roots deeper so that the stalk grows underground et voila – white asparagus. The moment the stalks break through the surface you have to dig them up as they will start to turn green once they encounter the sunlight. Any purple tinges on the tips are this start of the colouring process.
Revelations on growing methods out of the way, I turned my internet research and attention to what flavours would work well with my asparagus. I’d read that the flavour of the white spears was a bit more subtle than in the green spears and I didn’t want to overpower them. The pairings I found online often contained strong flavours so it seems that the taste of the white version is pretty robust.
The first dish I made was a light lunch of white asparagus with a poached egg, tarragon sauce and toasted almonds.
For this I boiled the asparagus in salted water and topped it with a poached egg, a cream and tarragon sauce and some almond flakes which I had toasted in butter. It was divine! The tarragon worked well with the woody flavour of the white asparagus and didn’t overpower it at all. The toasted almonds gave what was otherwise a fairly soft dish a lovely bit of texture and crunch. This was a really nice spring dish!
With my remaining spears I decided to make a side dish of grilled white asparagus with gribiche sauce to go with a lovely pork escalope I was frying.
Gribiche sauce is a traditional French oil and egg emulsion with capers, cornichons and lots of herbs, it’s similar to a tartare sauce. While I’m all for making things from scratch when you have the time, this was a week night so I decided to make a cheats version and use pre-made mayonnaise as my base rather than whisk the oil and egg together myself! This meant that the finished result was a little thicker than it should have been, but otherwise it worked fine!
Griddling the asparagus gave a lovely hint of smokiness to it and seemed to enhance the overall richness of its flavour. However while still tender, it was a little chewy compared with the boiled spears.
Even though the flavour of the white asparagus is earthy and subtle, and the texture a little more firm than with the green asparagus, I think both these dishes would also work just as well with the green variety, particularly the gribiche sauce.