CELEBRATE SPRING’S DELICIOUS BOUNTY WITH A SEASONAL STAPLE: ASPARAGUS, PLUS SEVERAL WONDROUS WAYS YOU CAN DRESS IT
BY CHEF DAVID BURKE
When I did stages in kitchens in Paris, the chefs got delicious fruits and vegetables at the peak of their season right from the farms. A successful restaurant always has a chef who is tuned into food costs, and an added benefit for using farm produce in season is its abundance, which reduces the price. But when I became a chef in the ‘80s, most American restaurants were not connected to the farms like they are today. In fact, the famous Union Square Market had only begun in 1976 with just a few stands. Fortunately, when I became executive chef at the River Café in the late ‘80s, the owner, Buzzy O’Keefe, was ahead of his time and insisted that we use the best and freshest of all our ingredients as close to the source as possible. Chefs before me had built relationships with farmers in Long Island, upstate New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. When you get great produce fresh from the farm, it tastes, looks, smells, and feels so much better. There is very little that needs to be done to super fresh vegetables, berries, and fruits to make them taste fantastic.
Asparagus, a perennial, is one of the first spring vegetables harvested in our area. Today my restaurants in New Jersey and New York have access to specialized trucking services that bring produce directly to us from local farms.
In late spring you can find stalks in produce departments and farmers markets that are thick or thin in a variety of colors, from white to green to purple. White asparagus are grown in mounds of earth to keep them from the sun, which results in a lack of green color. You don’t need to peel asparagus unless the stems are tough, and then, only the lower half of the asparagus. I save the peels and tougher bottom of the stalks to make asparagus butter, sauce, or vinaigrette (these recipes can be found in Cooking With David Burke).
Ever since culinary school I have loved experimenting with asparagus. The sweetness and grassiness of the vegetable is so elegant, making for a stellar ingredient to play around with. Its beautiful green skin and pointed tip make it a great tool for plating, too. Here are a few fun ways I prepare asparagus:
This is my favorite way to plate with asparagus. I’ll basket-weave cooked stalks together to make a “raft,” and plate the protein of the dish on top. You can use steamed, roasted, or grilled asparagus.
Select thick asparagus spears for this recipe, then coat with olive oil, place on a sheet pan, and roast in preheated 425-degree oven for 12-15 minutes.
Roasted asparagus makes a great brunch dish too. Sauté mushrooms and chorizo sausage in a glug of olive oil until browned. Assemble your asparagus on a plate, top with mushrooms, sausage, and a slice of goat cheese. Keep warm. Fry an egg or two and place on top. Serve along with your favorite breakfast beverage.
Coat trimmed and peeled asparagus with a generous amount of olive oil. Place the spears on a pre-heated grill. Grill until slightly brown and tender.
Asparagus tastes great tempura fried, so try some with your favorite tempura batter the next time you have a few stalks on hand and serve it alongside soy sauce and duck sauce.
Cut thin slices of asparagus spears on the bias and stir fry quickly in canola oil just until tender. Serve with a splash of soy sauce and top with toasted sesame seeds.
RAW ASPARAGUS IN SALADS
Slice asparagus spears thinly on the bias and add to a Caesar salad.
Add thin slices of asparagus on top of chunks of watermelon, tomatoes, and thick slices of burrata. Drizzle with very good balsamic and EVOO, sprinkle with fleur de sel and freshly ground pepper.