The first culinary sign of spring in much of the U.S. and Europe is asparagus shooting up from the soil. Americans generally cut them off to eat when they reach seven to nine inches in length, to prevent them from getting woody, but Europeans — especially Germans — cover them with dirt to block out the sunlight and produce white asparagus, which are treasured for being more tender and less bitter.
Asparagus season starts in January in California, then moves north about this time to Washington, Michigan, Massachusetts and New Jersey, where the asparagus will keep popping up until June. There's no asparagus season here on the Gulf Coast, since the vegetable requires ground freezes and a dry season.
Still, there's lots of low-priced asparagus in stores right now, as imports from Peru and Mexico are competing with asparagus harvested in America, and the cost has plummeted from a usual $3.99 per pound to the $1.69 I saw in the H-E-B on Buffalo Speedway. That's not so good for U.S. farmers, since production has dropped from 50,000 acres ten years ago to about 25,000 acres this year, but it's certainly good news for American diners.
Asparagus stalks should be firm and not wrinkly. Asparagus as thin as a pencil won't require peeling. Thicker asparagus tastes just as good and can be peeled with a super-sharp vegetable peeler; strip the skin from tip to bottom on four sides, so that the stalk is somewhat squared. It's also a good idea to grab the whole bunch of asparagus and cut off the bottom inch or two to get rid of any woody parts (and simply to get it to fit in the pan).
No Special Pan Necessary
It's easy to cook asparagus consistently and tenderly; try the following method of power-steaming. It doesn't require the use of a tall cylindrical asparagus pan or specialized steamer, just a simple covered skillet or sauté pan.
1. Boil 1/2 cup of water in a separate pan or teakettle.
2. Place the spears in a skillet or saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Turn the heat on high.
3. Add the 1/2 cup of hot water to the asparagus pan, clamp the lid on tight and cook it on high heat for five minutes.
4. After five minutes, drain the remaining water, turn the heat to medium and return the pan to the stove. Add a few fat pats of butter and roll the spears of asparagus around to slightly sauté them in the melted butter.
5. Move the spears from the pan to a serving dish, and pour any remaining butter over the asparagus. Salt and pepper the asparagus, and serve.
The asparagus will come out a vibrant green — not the olive color of overcooked spears. It won't be limp, and it won't be tough, either. A hollandaise or other white sauce can be poured over the spears, but asparagus cooked this way will taste great with a simple dusting of finely minced parsley, a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese or a dip into Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise.
Here, Eat This
Boheme's New Lobster Pizzas
Unlike any pies you've had before.
Since Rishi Singh took over as executive chef atBoheme, the food has gone from microwaved bar fare to truly top-notch. The inventive chef is constantly dreaming up ways to elevate the cuisine at the space that's better known for being a bar than a restaurant, and he's doing it all from a food truck.
That's right. Boheme still doesn't have a kitchen. Singh and his crew are able to feed as many as 600 people on busy nights exclusively out of a food truck parked behind the bar, and the quality of what they put out under those circumstances is pretty darned impressive.
Take, for instance, the lobster pizza. Singh recently replaced the crab and shrimp pizzas on the menu with ones specifically designed to highlight the flavor of lobster claws. 'Cause go big or go home, right?
The pizza menu now features four different lobster pies, each one totally unique from the others. They're all served on Boheme's signature lavash crust, which is so thin that it serves mainly as a crunchy vessel to get the gourmet toppings from cardboard platter to hungry mouths.
"It's all about designing a menu which is simultaneously efficient and delectable," Singh says. "I generate the menu with considerable thought about the tools I have on hand, my main tool being the pizza ovens, and my space constraints, being a truck. It forces me to be innovative."
While lobster on pizza may not sound like the most innovative culinary trick in the world (remember Max's Wine Dive's chicken-fried lobster?), it's the fact that the combination of crustacean and pizza actually works so well that makes the dishes so impressive.