To me, there are few things that signal the arrival of spring as strongly as asparagus. Those spears start popping out of the ground and making an appearance at the markets and that’s when you know the weather has turned. Summer is around the corner and everything feels a little lighter somehow.
I like asparagus in every which way and because the season is so short I can get enough of it. I serve it raw in a salad, blanched as a side vegetable, in an Asian stir-fry, on its own with and hollandaise sauce or roasted with a light balsamic glaze. Dipped in a soft boiled egg, with crumbled feta on top or wrapped in Parma ham it makes a perfect lunch or light bite.
You might not know this but a few years back Harland and I worked on an asparagus farm in Norfolk, England. While we were there we learnt a few tricks of the trade. Because the asparagus plant is closely related to lilies, it’s best stored like a flower in a glass of water in a cool place for optimal freshness. When trimming the bottom off the spear, bend the spear and allow it to snap naturally. That way you can remove the stringy wooden end which isn’t very pleasant to eat. Some people then peel the bottom of the spear but personally I find this a waste of time. Most people look for the big fat spears when shopping for asparagus but, honestly, I prefer the thin delicate thin ones. What you should look for though is a nice tight head that has not yet flowered.
I’m sure you have one lingering question at this point. "Why does it make my wee smell?" I hear you cry. Well, simply put there’s a sulphurous component which is broken down in the intestine and makes its way to the urine in a very short space of time after eating asparagus. So it smells.
Totally worth it, don’t you think?
If you’re not sure what do do with asparagus, or if you have been put off by overcooked stringy stems before here’s a simple and inspiring way to cook asparagus beautifully. We’ve served it alongside a stunning piece of rump steak along with a German potato salad. Tuck in and enjoy!
For the potatoes:
1 kg potatoes, scrubbed and diced
20g flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 small carrots, peeled and grated
For the dressing:
½ lemon, zested and juiced
3 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
For the steak:
800g prime rump steaks
2 tbsp rice bran oil
½ tsp sea salt
1 tsp coarsely ground pepper
For the sauce:
2 tbsp butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup salt-reduced beef stock
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
For the asparagus:
500 g asparagus, trimmed
Olive oil for frying
½ lemon, juiced
Salt and pepper to taste
Dice potatoes into 2-3 cm pieces and place in pot, just covered with salted cold water. Bring to a boil and cook for 12-15 minutes, until just tender. Once cooked, drain and run under a cold tap.
While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Gently bend one spear of asparagus and it will snap at the part where it is too woody to be eaten (bottom of spears). Gather the remaining spears and chop off roughly the same amount and discard the woody bottom bits. Finely chop the shallot and crush the garlic, measure out the remaining ingredients for the sauce.
Combine all dressing ingredients in a large serving bowl. Once cooked and cooled, toss the potatoes in the dressing. Grate in the carrot, and sprinkle over the chopped parsley.
Handy hint: The shallot-mustard sauce will be made in the same pan used for cooking the steak so a flat-bottomed pan is more suitable than a griddle or barbeque surface. You may need to cook the steaks in two pans to avoid stewing the steaks.
To cook the steak, heat a large flat-bottomed pan over a high heat. Pat the steaks dry with paper towel and rub with oil and salt and pepper. Once the pan is smoking hot, cook steaks for 1-2 minutes per side for medium-rare, flipping once only. Add on a couple minutes per side if you like your steak more well done. Once the steaks are cooked, remove from the pan and place on a chopping board to rest covered with tin foil.
Cook the sauce and asparagus at the same time while the steak is resting.
For the sauce, remove the steak pan from the heat for a minute to cool down. Place the pan back over a low heat and melt the butter. Add the shallot and garlic. Cook gently for 2-3 minutes, until soft. Add the beef stock and wholegrain mustard, then let the sauce simmer for 2-3 minutes over a medium heat, stirring occasionally to keep shallots from sticking.
Once the sauce is underway, cook the asparagus. Heat a large pan with drizzle of olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the asparagus to the pan and sizzle for a few minutes, until the spears turn to a lovely bright green. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.
To serve, place rested steak on to a plate, along with potato salad and asparagus on the side. Drizzle some shallot-mustard sauce over the steaks and tuck in!