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A Sweet White Season

Speaking off the toque: John Schuster

Speaking off the toque:John Schuster, executive chef at Charivari (2521 Bagby, 713-521-7231).

Q.You're featuring an all-white asparagus menu to mark the beginning of the season in Germany, where many of the best restaurants stage a similar celebration of the vegetable's reappearance. Looks aside, is there a difference between white asparagus and the green variety American consumers are used to eating?

A.Yes, there are several differences. White asparagus is sweeter. The green variety is more astringent as well as less sweet. It's mostly about the absence of chlorophyll as far as a chemical difference is concerned. To turn asparagus white, the growers put sand over the asparagus beds when the new shoots are about to come up in spring. Thus the spears are kept moister, develop less of a thick skin, which is needed to keep the moisture in an exposed part of the plant, and must be served fresher and faster if the delicate flavor, which gourmets appreciate, is to be preserved.

The official white asparagus season is from May 1 until June 24, the feast day of St. John and the longest day of the year. After June 24, the plants are allowed to rest up and store nutrients for the next year's crop. The white asparagus we serve is picked early in the morning on a farm about a 30-minute drive from the Frankfurt airport. Then it is flown directly to Houston, kept not in boxes but wrapped up in a special sort of acid-free paper. We begin serving this asparagus within 24 hours of when it was picked. When we get it at the restaurant, we repack it in damp linen towels and put them in the refrigerator, where they will stay fresh for only five to seven days. If you are buying white asparagus in a produce store, scratch a spear with your thumbnail. If it exudes a clear liquid, it is still fresh.

 
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