Springtime is measured by one glossy green length of asparagus after another - perfect for picnics, great in tarts, brilliant with eggs, but best eaten in the hand.
Everyone laughs when they see asparagus growing for the first time. You’re kidding me. Really? Each little spear stubbornly pushing up out of the earth like an alien life-form. Tall skinny triffids. You don’t believe me? Take a look.
And then this unlikely, slightly odd, green extra-terrestrial brings so much pleasure to the table. At the height of its season, it’s better than any luxury food you can name. That first sighting of it at the market is irresistible - ridiculous price and all - but the price drops within a week, and it’s game on.
You don’t need to be told how to cook asparagus, but here goes anyway.
Snap the stalks towards the bottom, where they break naturally. No need to peel the ends, as chefs sometimes do. In fact, please don’t.
Cook them FLAT in a frypan of simmering salted water.
Cook them quickly – 2 minutes for thin spears, 3 minutes for thick – and drain them when they’re still bright green, because they’ll keep cooking.
Toss them back into the dry frypan off the heat, within a slurp of extra virgin olive oil or a tablespoon of good butter, sea salt and pepper, and move the pan around until well-coated.
Eat in the hand.
If you want to go to a little more trouble, make a creamy, rich, buttery hollandaise with a hint of lemon juice.
The trick to a great hollandaise is to incorporate the butter gradually, so be patient. Pretend you’re adding vermouth to gin for a dry martini.
3 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp hot water
Half tsp sea salt
Pinch of cayenne or paprika
180 g butter
SERVES 3 to 4
1/ Whiz the egg yolks, lemon juice, hot water, sea salt and cayenne or paprika in a food processor until smooth.
2/ Heat the butter in a small pan until just melted. Skim off a spoonful of the frothy milk solids that gather on top and discard; don’t worry about the rest; won’t kill ya.
3/ With the motor running, slowly – like, slowly - pour in the hot melted butter until the sauce is thick and glossy. If too thick, whiz in a tablespoon of warm water.
4/ Serve, or keep warm in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of hot water, off the heat.
Like sweetcorn, the sooner you can eat asparagus after picking, the better, as the natural sugars turn to starch as soon as its stalk is cut.
Asparagus soup is a good idea if you have way too much. Cook up some leeks until soft, add chopped asparagus, cover with chicken or vegetable stock and simmer. Blend to a puree, season well, add a touch of cream, and serve with grated parmesan and pepper.
Cut the spears on the diagonal and wok-fry, then add minced pork and ginger and garlic and soy and your fave source of chilli, and serve with rice.
Toss in olive oil, roast at 220C for 10 minutes, then #putaneggonit and a few folds of prosciutto for a lazy weekend brunch.
Asparagus season runs into broad bean season very nicely – serve a great big platter of asparagus stalks, broad beans and peas and anything else green – broccolini? – at your next barbie.
Totally go for it in season, and completely ignore it out of season.
Thanks for reading! And liking, commenting, subscribing, or sharing.
Special thanks to my right-hand man, Terry Durack, for being my right hand while mine is in a splint. (Lucky I can eat asparagus with my left hand, right?)
I’d also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands and waters upon which I work, live, cook and play; the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. I fully support the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice to be enshrined in Australia’s Constitution.