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.
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!
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!
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!
I eat a lot of green asparagus on my own, too! I’m very happy to have been useful with the Spargel preparation though – I hope it turned out well 🙂
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)!
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!
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 🙂
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!
Thank you so much for sharing this!
“like a bulldog chewing a wasp” HA Nice
If only I could take credit for that one 😉
I never get the hollandaise on the first try, but usually the second. Homemade is the only way to go though – yum!
You can’t beat homemade Hollandaise, you’re absolutely right – although the trouble is, you then know exactly how much butter’s in it 😉
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.
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 😀
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!
I’m glad you enjoyed it! White asparagus time is a great time to visit 🙂
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??? 😀
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” 😀