Asperges blanches

White asparagus

White asparagus has a distinctly different flavor from the green variety. It is generally served as a starter in France, but can also happily accompany a main course, for example roast meat, poultry, fish or a risotto.

Preparation is quick. However, the spears must be peeled. They are then steamed (preferably) or boiled, and may be served with any of a number of sauces: mustard vinaigrette, balsamic vinaigrette, hollandaise, melted butter with lemon juice, etc. In the photo above, the spears are drizzled with a lemon-y cream sauce with chives. Recipes for various sauces are provided below.

As the quantities given are for one person, multiply by the number of people around your table. The number of asparagus spears to serve per person will depend on their thickness — sometimes they are bigger in diameter than a man’s thumb. As a general rule, I’d count 5 thick spears or 6-7 thinner spears per person.

5-7 white asparagus spears per person
salt to taste

Wash the asparagus, which may be dirty as it is grown in sand. Cut off the bottoms of the spears. Using a vegetable peeler or a very sharp knife, peel the stalks but not the tips.

Put an inch of water in your steamer and bring it to a boil. Add the steamer basket and fill with the asparagus. Cover the pot. Alternatively, you can boil the spears.

Cook for 5-10 minutes. Check for tenderness by inserting a fork in a spear. If it’s still crunchy, continue to cook. If it’s tender, turn off the heat, and remove to a colander.

Serve on individual plates while warm, drizzled with your chosen sauce.

For an elegant variation, cut the spears into lengths of about 3 inches (7 cm). Pile them up, drizzle with your chosen sauce and add some fresh herbs. In this photo, I used a sauce of sesame oil and lemon juice, sprinkled the asparagus with toasted sesame seeds and added some fresh cilantro.

Sauces for white asparagus

1) Vinaigrette à la moutarde / Mustard vinagrette.

This is France’s classic mustardy salad dressing.

2) Sauce au vinaigre balsamique / Balsamic vinaigrette.

For an added touch of elegance, toast some hazelnuts, crush them and sprinkle them over the aspargus before drizzling with this sauce.

3) Sauce hollandaise / Hollandaise sauce.

Hollandaise is one of the crowning glories of French cuisine, and it marries supremely well with asparagus. But it’s rather tricky to make. If you’re pressed for time but want a sauce with an eggy flavor, try the next one on the list (sauce mimosa).

The recipes that follow will serve two people.

4) Sauce mimosa / Mimosa sauce

1 egg
2 tbps. olive oil
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. finely snipped fresh parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Boil the egg until it is soft-cooked, not hard: Place it in a pot of cold water, bring to a boil and cook for exactly three minutes. Tip out the water and cool the egg under cold running water. Peel it.

Chop the egg finely on a plate. Transfer to a small bowl. Add the remaining ingredients. Stir well.

5) Crème aux herbes / Herbal cream sauce

4 tbsp. crème fraîche or sour cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. snipped fresh herbs, such as chives, dill or cilantro
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the cream in a small bowl and stir to smooth. Add the remaining ingredients. Stir again. For an interesting variation, add a pinch of curry powder.

6) Beurre fondu citronné / Melted lemon butter

2 tbsp. butter
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. When it’s bubbling, add the lemon juice and salt to taste. Grind in some black pepper. Serve warm.

7) Sauce au sésame / Sesame sauce

2 tbsp. sesame oil
2 tsp. lemon juice
salt to taste

Combine all the ingredients. Stir well.

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