White Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce | Spargel mit Hollandaise (recipe)

White asparagus with hollandaise sauce and potatoes
White asparagus with homemade Hollandaise, new potatoes and cooked ham

I have a confession to make: the first time I tried white asparagus (Spargel), I thought tasted horrible.  Not because it was undercooked or overcooked or because I’d had the misfortune to bite off a bitter bit, but simply because I was expecting it to taste like green asparagus.  Well, white asparagus doesn’t taste like green asparagus, not at all – it’s softer, with a much subtler 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 Spargel eater (and unashamed Spargel lover), my first tip for enjoying Germany’s king of vegetables is to consider it as a different vegetable altogether.  My second tip?  Drench it in melted butter.

My husband recently suggested that the reason seasoned green asparagus eaters remain unconvinced by white asparagus is as follows: green asparagus is, broadly speaking and unless you’ve boiled it to the point of disintegration, very, very good.  White asparagus, however, can go either way: it can be the softest, tastiest, most delicate Spring delight, or you can have a mouthful of bitter woodiness that’ll make you screw your face up, and then you’ll be off it for weeks.

Happily, there are precautions you can take to prevent this.  German white asparagus is graded, so if you buy the fatter, straighter, pricier spears, you’re increasing your chances of not ending up looking like a bulldog chewing a wasp whilst you eat it; and if you peel them carefully and snap the woody ends off where they naturally break when you bend them, you should avoid eating anything bitter altogether.  I find the peeling process rather therapeutic myself, but I understand most people find it incredibly dull.  If you can’t face such a monotonous task yourself, you can often find someone with a great big peeling machine to do it for you.  There’s a chap at the Wiesbaden farmers’ market who’ll do the job for 1€ a kilo.

Though white asparagus is mostly served very simply, just with boiled potatoes or pancakes and a generous helping of melted butter, my favourite Spargel dish involves a slathering of Hollandaise and some slices of cooked ham.  Hollandaise sauce 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 and 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 in the fridge or freeze them and then make yourself a treat.  Meringues, macarons, chocolate mousse; there are all sorts of delicious ways you can use them up.

Lastly, if you’re wondering what to drink with your white gold, the trusty Wine Rambler provides some recommendations below.  But first, on with the food…

White asparagus with Hollandaise sauce

For the asparagus (serves 4)

2kg 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

To serve

700g new potatoes (Annabelle or Gala)
8-12 slices of good quality cooked ham (optional)
Fresh parsley (to garnish)

First prepare your asparagus.  Peel the spears from below the head all the way to the base.  (You shouldn’t need to snap the ends off, but it’s advisable if they’re no longer so fresh that they’re wet.)  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 and discard them before adding the butter, salt and sugar and carefully placing the asparagus into the liquid.  Cook gently for 10-15 minutes, until you can slide a knife easily through the thick end of the spears.  Leave the spears in a sieve for a couple of minutes to let the water drain off them before plating up.

Whilst you’re making your asparagus stock, prepare your potatoes.  Scrub or peel them, 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 minutes or until they slide off a sharp knife when you prod them.

On to the Hollandaise: 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; 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 nice and thick.

Spoon the Hollandaise over the asparagus and serve with the potatoes and slices of ham, if you wish, and garnished with the parsley.

What to drink with white asparagus

Glasses of Riesling from Peter Jakob Kühn
Riesling at the Peter Jakob Kühn winery

The Wine Rambler says, “Asparagus is said to be difficult to match with wine as it can make them metallic or bitter.  However, a fresh, citrussy white should do fine.  My standard recommendation for asparagus would be Silvaner, a very food-friendly white wine, or a dry Riesling.  Sauvignon Blanc would also work, though it’s harder to find a local one as it is not common in Germany (Mosbacher in the Pfalz make a lovely one).  For asparagus with hollandaise, a lightly oaked Chardonnay would be a good choice as it matches the sauce better, or perhaps a good Pinot Blanc – Germany does lovely Weissburgunder, for instance from Baden“.

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  1. says: Anne

    This is great!! I’ve only just recently started attempting to cook white asparagus at home, rather than just enjoying it at restaurants. You will laugh, but the first time I cooked them I treated them just like green ones! Then after being severely disappointed that they were ‘raw’ and chewy, I kept boiling them for longer and longer. You can probably guess that I hadn’t understood to peel them!! I was quite a bit more successful in my last attempt, as I had been advised by staff at the lovely Villa im Tal, that I should peel them twice 🙂 (you can see a not very good pic of my asparagus meal there on my blog – was delicious!) Thanks for the tip about asparagus gradings, now I’ll know to choose fatter ones! I’ve actually avoided them, as thought I should go for something of similar thickness to the green ones I’m accustomed to. I shall give your Hollandaise a go as well, as I like the idea that it doesn’t have vinegar!

    1. I’m amazed you could even eat white asparagus with its skin on, my whole face screwed up just thinking about it! My husband and I have walked past Villa Im Tal a couple of times but we thought it was some kind of event space – I’ll have to check out your blog post 🙂 And let me know what you think of the Hollandaise… be warned though, it’s very rich!

  2. says: natalye

    Thanks for sharing this! My husband is not a huge fan of Spargel so we haven’t had any (and I buy the green and eat it on my own usually). But today I convinced him to get some white asparagus, since the season took place while we were abroad and I don’t want to miss out. I have had it but never actually prepared it, so your information is helpful!

  3. says: Anne

    I must admit we didn’t eat much 🙂 It was kind of like eating artichokes by pulling them between your teeth to get the tender part inside – ridiculous I know! Just bought another batch of ‘PEELED’ artichokes from Karstadt, so plan to try out your cooking technique and Hollandaise recipe this evening!
    I also initially thought that Villa im Tal was just an events venue, but my husband popped in and was told that they operate as a restaurant and only close to the rest of public if someone hires out the whole space. The food was really delicious, but it is a little more expensive. Maybe more of a special occasion dinner location. Apparently they are also open in the day and offer light lunches (not tried yet though) and you can even go in just for coffee and cake on Sundays. This was a relief to hear, as I don’t have a huge appetite and was so full that could only try a little of my husband’s delicious desert of Kaiserschmarren (Austrian sliced & caramelised pancake)!

    1. You are a veritable fountain of Villa Im Tal information – thank you! Perhaps we’ll save it for a special occasion then. I LOVE Kaiserschmarrn, I tried it last year in Würzburg whilst heavily pregnant – I was ravenous and there was nothing but cake in the café my in-laws had taken us to so B persuaded me to have it to prevent me from having a pregnancy hunger meltdown 😉 I did think at the time I should try making a gluten-free version – thanks for the reminder!

  4. says: Anne

    oops! Just re-read what I’d typed. I meant ‘peeled Asparagus’ not artichokes! I cooked them last night as planned and according to your instructions. they turned out very well and Hollandaise sauce was delicious – much better without the vinegar – just lemon. We had them with Parma ham 🙂

    1. Ha! Don’t worry I realised you meant asparagus 🙂 Very pleased to hear your Spargel turned out well and you enjoyed the Hollandaise. If you’ve got any left over, put it in the fridge – I’ve discovered it works really well as a spread with bread and ham!

  5. says: Ginger

    You are so right – just ate the second batch this Spring … Sauce Hollandaise all the way …
    The trick is – at least according to my cousin – to use a mixer (Pürierstab) instead of a whisk. Works a treat.

    1. Oh! I’m not sure I wouldn’t be a bit scared of using mine for Hollandaise, I only feel confident about it when I’m whisking r e a l l y s l o w l y !! I haven’t made it at all yet, am waiting for the season to kick in properly. But I cannot WAIT 😀

  6. says: mellissaa

    I was in Germany last May and I ordered a meal at a restaurant and it came and looked a lot like this. It was not what I was expecting at all but it ended up being so tasty!

  7. says: bavariansojourn

    Delicious! I definitely only liked it once we had lived here a little while, and had had it on around 3 occasions! I remember some guests of mine bringing me some as a gift lovingly wrapped in newspaper when we lived in Denmark. I then had to spend ages preparing it and cooking it for them. They weren’t stupid were they??? 😀

    1. Haha! Very clever! I think I might start taking ingredients with me when I go to stay with friends… “Here, as a thank you for having me, please accept this basket of items which together will make up roast beef with Yorkshire pudding” 😀

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