When you live in Germany, it’s hard to bypass white asparagus come April, May and June. It’s literally everywhere – in supermarkets, in every! single! cooking show on TV, on special menus in restaurants and in conversations with family and friends. You might even be a bit annoyed in case you don’t (yet) love white asparagus, because everyone will just go on and on about how it’s so expensive during the first weeks of harvest and then, as prices decline, how they just ate the softest, most tender and tasty asparagus.
There’s a whole system to finding the best white asparagus in your area. I don’t purchase white asparagus at the supermarket; the quality is inferior and they tend to sell foreign asparagus – from Spain of all places – rather than of German origin. So, I go to the open air market in my borough and buy white asparagus there, having access to a wide selection in terms of pricing, thickness and quality. Their prices are unbeatable and the quality of the asparagus is amazing. Luckily my husband doesn’t care much for asparagus, so I get to eat it all by myself most of the time!The most popular way to eat white asparagus in Germany is in combination with (newly harvested) potatoes and Sauce Hollandaise. There are other popular ways, but they include meat, puff pastry or lots of cheese. I find it’s a sin to drown a perfectly healthy food with such a delicate, fragile taste in huge amounts of fat, which will only steal its thunder. No need to expand on that, yeah?
For a few years the classic way was actually the only way that I ate white asparagus – or knew how to eat white asparagus anyway. When I still lived with my parents, my mom would often make this dish during the late spring and early summer. For Sauce Hollandaise she used a packaged powder which was heated with a bit of water. You then added a huge chunk of butter, waited until it melted and voilà, Sauce Hollandaise. When I moved out, I never bothered to learn how to make Sauce Hollandaise, handling egg yolks kind of grossed me out. After my celiac disease, I quit eating Sauce Hollandaise altogether, because the packaged powder I used to purchase wasn’t gluten-free and any of the alternatives that I tried failed to convince me. (Sadly most restaurants also purchase packaged Sauce Hollandaise and don’t bother to make their own, a fact that will remain unexplicable to me forever, I guess!)
Anyway, this year, I wanted to eat white Asparagus with Potatoes and Sauce Hollandaise so badly that I decided to get over my fear of egg-yolks. And, fellow culinary experts and companions weary of culinary experiments, let me tell you: it was absolutely worth it! Homemade Sauce Hollandaise tastes much, much better than a packaged version ever could, it’s so much lighter and frothier, the texture of anything you can purchase ready-made – which contains egg yolks of questionable origin, lots of chemicals, artificial (cheaper) thickeners – sometimes not gluten-free! – in order to save on egg yolks, inferior fats which are not environmentally friendly (e.g. palm oil), and often a strange sour taste – simply does not compare! It’s such a shame more people don’t make their own Sauce Hollandaise, since it’s easily and quickly made and not expensive at all! Plus, with all the fresh ingredients, you get a refreshing, zesty addition to your white asparagus and new potatoes!
The required instruments are also available in virtually any kitchen: a small pot, some water, a bowl and a whisk! The ingredients are also simple: eggs, butter, a bit of salt and pepper and a dash of lemon juice! To those of you who, like me, are weary of the egg yolks, let me advise you: no need to worry, it’s not gross at all and the creamy taste – which tastes more of butter than of egg yolk – will enchant you! I dare you to go for it. (Let me know how it goes, I’d love to hear from you!)
White Asparagus with Sauce Hollandaise and Potatoes
500g white asparagus per person (purchase asparagus stalks of about equal width in order to ensure they are done simultaneously)
3 medium potatoes per person
Salt to taste for steaming the asparagus and the potatoes
1 egg yolk per person
20ml of a good dry white wine – or water
30g butter per person
Fleur de sel, freshly ground pepper and lemon juice to taste (you can also add a little nutmeg, if you like – I didn’t!)
Peel the white asparagus with a vegetable peeler, starting at the lower end of the tip and moving downwards, once all around. Cut off a small portion of the asparagus’ lower end.
Fill a large pot with salted water and place the asparagus into it, if you can in an upright position. You can also cut off a small end of the asparagus in case they are too long to fit into the pot vertically. (Should you have a proper asparagus pot – they are very tall in favor of only steaming the tips and boiling the ends – then of course you should use it!)
Bring the water to a boil and allow asparagus to cook for about twenty five minutes. (You should make your Sauce Hollandaise during this time) The asparagus is ready, when it is tender and no longer tastes bitter. Drain asparagus (or remove asparagus carefully from water with the help of pasta tongs), and place on a large platter or individual plates. White asparagus tends to lose a bit of water, so either wait a little before serving or wipe any excess water with a paper towel. (You can use the water that you boiled the asparagus with as a base for broth or soup, if you like!)
Peel the potatoes. Place into a pot with salted water and boil until they are al dente, about fifteen to twenty minutes. (I suggest bringing the asparagus and potatoes to a boil at the same time so that they can be ready more or less simultaneously) Once the potatoes are cooked, drain pot and set aside, keep the lid of the pot, storing heat.
While the asparagus and potatoes are cooking, begin making your Sauce Hollandaise.
Set up a water bath with a small bowl and a small pot. Ideally, the bowl should cover the pot entirely (be careful to not touch the bowl directly with your hands, as it can get quite hot). Place the egg yolk(s) into the bowl and add a few drops of wine or water (about 20ml). Begin whisking even before the water underneath your bowl heats up. Once the egg yolks have been beaten into a heavy froth – this will take you about eight to ten minutes – melt the butter (e.g. in a bowl in a microwave) and carefully pour it into the egg yolk froth, still whisking steadily. Please ensure that your sauce doesn’t actually boil, as this can mean losing the fluffy lightness, which is why you are going through the trouble of making your own sauce to begin with! Season your Sauce Hollandaise with salt and pepper and a dash of lemon juice. Whisk once more and serve immediately.
(My friend Leanne asked me to add that what to do in case your Sauce Hollandaise breaks. This could happen in case there is too much heat underneath your bowl, causing the sauce to break into a boil and coagulating). Please don’t fret though. You can add a bit of hot water and continue whisking. The result will not be as frothy and fluffy as it would have been without breaking, but it’s definitely still edible, full of zest and delicious!)
Either arrange the (hot) white asparagus and potatoes on a plate and then pouring the sauce over it, or pouring it into a gravy boat and placing it on the table for people to serve themselves. In case you can’t serve the Sauce Hollandaise immediately or have leftovers, you can definitely reheat (adding a bit of water until you find the sauce is liquid enough) it in a water bath – I suggest bringing it to a boil now though – and whisk it until somewhat frothy.