The first time I tried white asparagus, I thought tasted awful. Not because it was undercooked or overcooked or because I’d had the misfortune to bite off a piece still attached to its bitter peel, but simply because I was expecting it to taste like green asparagus. Well, white asparagus doesn’t taste anything like green asparagus, not at all, it’s softer and has a much subtler, earthier flavour, and if you also expect it to taste like the green stuff when you try it for the first time, you probably won’t like it either. So now, as a seasoned white asparagus eater, my best advice for enjoying Germany’s white gold is to consider it as a different vegetable altogether.
This means you’ll need to treat it differently, too, ensuring it’s very fresh when you buy it, then peeling it and cooking it gently for a little longer than you might do green. I’ve written a bit of a white asparagus primer if you’d like any more tips on how to choose and prepare it.
In Germany, subject to slight regional variations, white asparagus is traditionally served very simply, accompanied with boiled potatoes or pancakes, some ham and a generous helping of melted butter or Hollandaise sauce. The last of these has a reputation for being tricky to make but you shouldn’t be nervous about giving it a go: as long as you keep the heat low, stir it very, very slowly and don’t take your eye off it for a second (no pressure) you should end up with a lusciously smooth, rich, creamy sauce. If it splits, stir in a bit more egg yolk and it should come back together without any trouble. On which note, when separating the eggs, don’t waste the whites; put them into a tupperware and straight into the fridge or freezer and save them for meringues, macarons or chocolate mousse – there are all sorts of delicious ways you can use them up.
How to cook white asparagus (with Hollandaise sauce)
For the asparagus (serves 4)
2 kg white asparagus
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
For the Hollandaise
4 medium-sized egg yolks
1 tbsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice
a pinch of salt
a pinch of cayenne pepper
225g (8oz) butter
2 tbsp cold water
700g thin-skinned new potatoes (Annabelle or Gala)
8-12 slices of good quality cooked or air-dried ham (optional)
First prepare your asparagus. Peel the spears from below the head all the way to the base. If the cut ends are no longer so fresh that they’re wet, slice a small piece off them until they are. Put the ends and peelings into a wide, shallow pan and cover with water, bring to the boil and leave to simmer for 15 minutes to create a light stock. Remove all the bits with a slotted spoon and discard them before adding the butter, salt and sugar and carefully placing the asparagus into the liquid, ensuring the spears are all submerged. Cook gently for 10-15 minutes, until you can slide a knife easily through the thick end of the spears. Gently lift them out of the stock and leave the asparagus in a sieve for a couple of minutes to let the water drain off it. Keep warm until you’re ready with your potatoes and Hollandaise, but make sure they’re not completely covered, otherwise they’ll continue to steam and end up overcooked.
Wipe any dirt off your potatoes, put them in a pan, cover them with cold water, bring to the boil, add a little salt and leave them to simmer for 15-20 minutes or until they slide off a sharp knife when you prod them.
Whilst your potatoes and white asparagus are cooking, you can concentrate on the Hollandaise, which will require your undivided attention. Whisk the egg yolks in a medium-sized bowl with the lemon juice, salt and cayenne pepper. Heat the butter in a non-stick pan until it has just melted – you don’t want to let it get too hot – then add the water and then drizzle the mixture very, very slowly into the egg, whisking constantly. Now pour it all back into the pan, place on a very low heat and keep stirring (or whisking, if you spot any lumps) until the sauce is smooth and thickened – it’s the right consistency when it coats the back of a spoon.
Serve your asparagus with potatoes, the Hollandaise and if you fancy it, 3-4 rolled up slices of ham per person.