“When I start seeing white asparagus cropping up in grocery stores, I know that spring is really here,” chef Philippe Haddad of F & B told me. Late April through May is the prime season for this crop, most popular in France, Belgium and Germany.
And yet, white asparagus can be hard to find fresh, often appearing on the forgettable canned vegetable aisle, a place that many home cooks eschew. While green asparagus is the skinny, feeble underachieving brother of the spargel family, white asparagus is the prom king, the muscular quarterback. When found fresh, the dense, meatier texture of white asparagus elevates spring dishes to a new level. The thickness almost triples the size of conventional green asparagus, rivaling the diameter of celery stalks.
Where pale color is usually a sign of blandness in vegetables, this is not the case. The lack of color comes from growing the white asparagus in the dark, buried under white sandy soils. The versatility of white asparagus allows it to make a solo appearance as a stand out side on menus, or as a companion to a firm, white fish like halibut or sea bass.
“It’s the perfect marriage of flavor,” said chef Haddad. “The key with cooking white asparagus is to make sure you don’t overpower the natural flavor. Minimal seasoning is all you need.”
A native of France and General Manager of Davios, Claude Guillaume orders white asparagus every year for his family from a small farm in France. It is a staple on their Mother’s Day table, despite the added difficulty it takes to prepare. Unlike its green counterpart, thick white asparagus has a tough, bitter peel that has to be removed before cooking.
Even with an extra step, white asparagus is worth scoping out at markets to cook this spring. Or if you don’t want to fuss with the peeler, you’ll find it cropping up on menus around town. Chef Haddad is changing up his preparations weekly, offering a white asparagus soup with chanterelles and a “Flemish style” dish with hard boiled eggs and parsley. The dish balances nicely with the acidity of a Louis Latour Pouilly-Fuisse Chardonnay 2012.
-By Alexa Lampasona for the Food & More blog