Pan fried asparagus, two ways

It’s all about white asparagus in Berlin.  They bury it under mounds of soil and let it get thick.  To eat it, you peel the stems, boil them and smother them with butter sauces of some sort.

I’ve already eaten them in a restaurant this season but the few stems I bought sat forgotten in the refrigerator because I found a perky bundle of Spanish grown green asparagus at Lidl (€2.59 and then this week €2.oo vs €19.00 / kg at a local market ).  Normally, I would be joining ranks with all the many supporters of slow food (I never, never, never eat asparagus from Chile say).

In this case however, I defer to my esteemed chef friends who exercise common sense.  They buy the best produce they can afford in season.  Sometimes it can’t be as local as we would wish it to be, in the case of Germany because they genuinely seem to prefer the labour intensive white stems.

Green asparagus is one of my serious loves, perhaps because it means spring is here.  But also because they are so easy to prepare and go with so many things.

I never boil green asparagus, never.

What I do is I get my pan hot (not smoking) add a slick of sunflower oil (2 tablespoons worth) and put in the asparagus, making sure that the pan is large enough that each spear has contact with the pan from head to bottom, if not slice them in half.  Add salt and lots of pepper.  Then I turn the heat down to medium high and let the asparagus brown, turning the spears around with tongs to make sure they get a good coverage of brown marks. The skin on the outside will start to pucker a little, like the skin on your finger tips if you  were to linger in the bath for too long.

It takes a while, around 15 minutes. If you’ve never done it before, there is a risk of burning them (look out for smoking pans) or being too timid with the heat so nothing happens.  Get the heat balance right and the results are sensational.  Really.  The asparagus becomes sweet, there are darkened parts of hyper concentrated flavour and they are so juicy on the inside and firm on the outside (as opposed to wet over all from being simmered).

Honestly?  I’ve only cooked asparagus this way for the last three years.  I probably did it one time because I couldn’t be bothered to wait for that much water to come to the boil and then I was hooked.  Last year in May, I came across an asparagus stand at the Maryelebone market, it had an enormous line and it turned out they were handing pan-fried samples of their new seasons asparagus.  All the punters were amazed that a) you could cook asparagus that way and b) it could taste so good.

I served my first batch with polenta and poached eggs.  Instead of water for the polenta, I used milk that I steeped with rosemary and garlic for flavouring (just heat the milk in a saucepan, not letting it simmer then discard the aromatics, strain into a clean pan and whisk in the polenta according to the packet instructions).  If poached eggs scare you, fry a couple of eggs instead, all you are looking for here are runny yolks.  

Equally good. Boil up some potatoes. Make a gremolata by finely chopping a handful of parsley leaves, a clove of garlic and mixing the two with the zest of one lemon. (A little note here. Chop the garlic as finely as you can, don’t squash it in a garlic press. This way, you will get a tiny cube of garlic every now and then and it will be spunky and peppery and probably make your day instead of large slushy chunk of garlic.)  Make a lemon olive oil dressing by whisking 3 parts oil into one part lemon add a good dose of Maldon salt, toss the steaming potatoes in the gremolata and lemon dressing.  Taste, add salt and pepper.  Pan fried asparagus goes on top.  Poached eggs on top of that.

Serve it to a girlfriend, sip a glass of crisp white wine and hope for a good summer ahead.

18 Responses to Pan fried asparagus, two ways

  1. Luisa says:

    I like roasting asparagus in the oven - high heat, just for 10 minutes or so. They get all blistered and wonderful, with a teeny drizzle of balsamic on top afterwards they’re good, too. Love the sound of your polenta. I need to try it - I have a tiny case of PTSD when it comes to polenta, so am always trying to learn to love it! :)

    • Polenta is something they eat in Romania all the time, or at least they used to before they discovered frutti di mare : ) I like it soft, with salty white cheese (like feta) and sour cream.
      Last night my dad took me to a place here in Amman that specializes in humus and fool medammas. It would have blown your mind, not sure how they make their humus so smooth and creamy - have to get into a kitchen here and find out.

  2. Sylee says:

    Trade you my baklava photo for that first photo of the asparagus and poached egg! You’ve inspired me to brighten these gray day with some emerald spears.

  3. Andrea says:

    Green asparagus is relatively new to Germany, whereas white asparagus is something of a spring ritual here. One, that can only be fully appreciated if you grew up here, I guess. It’s about the memories attached as much as about the taste, and, as usual with anything german, eating asparagus in spring is taken rather seriously.
    Thank you for the asparagus recipes. I’m definitely going to try these soon. :)

  4. valerie says:

    We’re a few weeks away from asparagus here, but I’m sold to the green variety, which I discovered since moving to New York. I like them roasted in the oven (or grilled on a barbecue) previously dressed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and finely chopped garlic, or shaved finely lengthwise (very time consuming!) to eat raw in a simply dressed salad with shaved parmiggiano - it’s worth the effort!

  5. Giulia says:

    That’s how I cook them, hot, hot pan or even hotter BBQ. They need enough crunch to make them good and I like the sweetness this creates, that way you don’t need to smoother them in sauce.

  6. zeta says:

    Well, fried asparagus is very nice, but I still prefer its white cousin. And it is a cousin - white and green
    asparagus are NOT the same breed, you can cover green asparagus all you want but I won’t become thick and white. Just as german shepard doesn’t suddenly become a poodle just because you raise it in a very tiny flat.

  7. Yes, white and green but if you don’t cover (etiolation) white asparagus, it becomes green.
    I also have to agree with Andrea’s comment above, what you are used to, helps define what you prefer.

  8. Sasa says:

    Just about to give this a go, first asparagus of the season ^_^

  9. I tried green asparagus once and found the taste less compelling than the white one. This might be because tastebuds are trained that way. But I like the looks of green asparagus nevertheless and will try to prepare it as you did. I love all sorts of braised vegetables.
    Is there no need to peel those green stems at all?
    *worried* :-)

  10. Andrea says:

    Tried this today, pan-fried green asparagus; instead of parsley I tossed the potatoes in a wild garlic pesto. Heaven! :)

    • Good! I have two bunches of asparagus in my fridge right now. One from Lidl and then I bought another bunch that was grown in Beelitz just outside of Berlin, so they must be quite fresh.

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