Asparagus season! Finally! I have been eyeballing the Tyrian Steak & Asparagus dish for months now, internally drooling and ticking the days off on my calendar, the X marking the beginning of the season. I know, I know, basically everything is available at any given time (if you ignore outrageous prices), but some things, for me, just have to remain a seasonal thing, something to look forward to and revel in once it arrives. Cherries, strawberries, plums, mushrooms… and asparagus. Only once did I make the mistake of giving in to the allure of a box of pretty-in-white asparagus I found some time around christmas. Apart from them having a terrible texture and no flavor, eating asparagus in winter was just plain weird.
My little corner of the world is quite famous for its asparagus, so as soon as the season comes to a full swing it’s on our menu at least once or twice a week. From May to the official end of the season on June 24th I used to watch my mother and grandmother having meltdowns or, alternatively, having impressively convenient bouts of deafness in the kitchen whenever someone as much as thought about asking for a Hollandaise to go with their asparagus. The first time I made a Hollandaise myself was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing, so I couldn’t work up a proper panic. I remember I had a bunch of green asparagus and a nice slab of rumpsteak waiting to meet my trusted pan, destined to end up on my plate as a thai-style beef salad, but when I found 2 spare eggs in the fridge I changed my mind and decided to have a go at the dreaded Hollandaise. By doing so, I was recreating something I always look for (and hardly ever find) on menus during the asparagus season: Steak, Asparagus and Sauce Hollandaise. After a quick trip to the market for some fresh white asparagus to go with the green spears I was ready to roll. I admit, I bought a jar of the hollandaise’ish, yellow’ish goo, next to enough ingredients for 3 attempts – just in case… Turned out, I didn’t need either of them, the sauce was a rousing success.
So, this time around, I used this Tyrian dish…
…as an excuse to come up with this~!
200g White Asparagus
200g Green Asparagus
or: 400g White Asparagus – I only used the green spears because I had them waiting already.
½ a Lemon, juice
A pinch each of Salt, Pepper and Sugar
1) Carefully peel the white asparagus with a veggie peeler. Don’t throw out the peel just yet, store them in a small pot for later. Trim off the woody ends and place them in a pan or pot large enough to fit their length.
2) The green ones are less fussy. Just trim off the woody ends and set them aside.
3) Add enough water to the pan holding the white asparagus to cover them. Dust them with a pinch of salt and sugar and add a squeeze of lemon juice. The salt brings out the flavors, the lemon juice adds a kick and makes the white shine a little brighter and the sugar counters the bitter-tasting compounds asparagus spears sometimes develop on their way through the soil.
4) Bring the asparagus to a gentle simmer on medium heat. The cooking time of the white spears depends entirely on their individual thickness, ranging from 5-10 minutes.
5) To check if they’re done, you’ve got three options:
– Prod at a thick end with a sharp knife, about halfway into the asparagus. If it slides out easily, they’re cooked through. They should be soft enough for the knife but still have some bite to them.
– If you’re unfamiliar with them, I’d advise you to designate one spear in your pot as guniea pig and taste-test, or more accurately bite-test, pieces of it every couple of minutes until you reach its thin end.
– Alternatively you can test them with a fork – not by poking it through the asparagus but by balancing a spear on it. It’s cooked „al dente“ if it just bends a little. The more the ends bend down, the softer it is. Do-over time if the ends just hang right off the fork.
6) As for the green asparagus, simply add them to the white ones once the water is simmering. Blanch them for about 3-4 mins, then take them out again, rinse them with cold water and and set them aside. They are going to meet the pan in a bit, so you don’t want the residual heat cooking them too far in the meantime.
7) Once the white asparagus is just a little undercooked, take them out of the water, top them with flakes of butter, cover them with a lid of sorts and keep them warm until serving time.
8) Don’t discard the water yet. Add a handful of the asparagus peel, another pinch of salt and sugar and bring it to a boil. As soon as it reaches boiling point, take it off the heat and set it aside, you’re going to need this for the sauce later.
Well, since for once they’re merely the sidekicks to the star of the dish, there’s not much of a fuss about them. Basically, fry them up the way you like them best and be done with it. Here’s what I do anyways~
2x 150-200g Rumpsteaks
Coarse Sea Salt
1 Clove of Garlic, crushed with the flat side of a knife
1 Tbsp Rapeseed Oil
1) Take the steaks out of the fridge about an hour before sizzling them up.
2) Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan set on high heat.
3) Generously salt the steaks from all sides.
4) Once the pan is piping hot, place the steaks inside – make sure you lay them down in the pan away from you so you don’t risk being splattered with hot oil.
5) Once the sizzling has settled down a bit, add the crushed clove of garlic and the butter. Baste the side of the steaks facing up from time to time.
6) Cook the steaks to the core temperature you like – check my Steak-101 for temperatures and the pressure-test if you’re unsure about these things. Remember to take them out before they reach the exact grade of done-ness you’re looking for, taking residual heat and resting time into consideration.
7) Take them out of the pan and place them on a warm plate. Give them a couple of cracks of your pepper mill, drizzle them with a bit of the garlic-butter-oil from your pan and cover them with aluminum foil to rest.
8) Here’s where the green asparagus come back into play. Turn the heat down to medium and set the pan you’ve used for the steaks back on. Don’t clean it out, just remove st~icky or burned bits.
9) Add the green asparagus to the pan for about 3-4 mins, basting them with the leftover steak cooking liquids until you’re satisfied with their consistency.
10) Take them out and tuck them under the covers with the white asparagus.
The Sauce Hollandaise
Crunch-time! Actually, the time to do crunches comes afterwards… One of the main reasons I don’t cook this up more often is the simple fact that I, whether I like it or not, know exactly what goes in and what calory-count those things add up to. A tablespoon of the stuff cozies up to the steaks, for crying out loud… shame it’s so damn delicious. If you’re like me, with a tendency to start chewing on numbers instead of tasting the food in front of you whenever the conscience kicks in, sometimes it’s worth to adjust the meals around it to fit in a grade-A calory-bomb that is a Sauce Hollandaise. If you’re not as OCD about these things… consider yourselves envied and lucky! enjoy! dig in! Just not every day, it’s really not healthy.
Here’s a couple of things you should know in regards to the Hollandaise before you get started:
– Don’t be too scared of having a go at it, it’s well worth the effort and not the „masters only“ witchcraft many people would like you to believe – I know I keep wondering why people are so on edge about it.
– A Sauce Hollandaise is an emulsion, meaning a combination of two (or more) liquids that usually don’t blend – the best examples for this would be water and oil. In this case it’s egg yolks and butter. To keep the sauce from reacting like water and oil – small bubbles of oil gathering just below the surface after whisking oil into a glass of water – you need to give it a little extra TLC.
– Using a waterbath to gently heat the yolks without exposing them to direct heat, is a good way to start. Egg yolks start coagulating just above 70°C, so to keep them from turning into a bowl of really oily scrambled eggs, keeping the temperature steady, below 70°C, and even is the key.
– To reduce the amount of water in the ingredients – and by doing so intensifying the flavor – use clarified butter or ghee. Both are basically the same thing, pure butter-fat, impurities and water (depending on the brand and type of butter, it can contain 15-25% water) removed.
– Try to get your hands on really fresh eggs if you can. The yolks are a little bit more happy about being beaten into an emulsion with all nutrients still intact. Apart from that using fresh eggs is also a question of food safety – the eggs in the finished sauce aren’t quite cooked through, just emulsified, so fresh eggs really are a must here. Plus they taste better. Whenever there’s a Hollandaise, a poached egg or a sunny-side up coming our way I take a quick trip to the farmer’s market to hunt down fresh organic eggs. If the egg is supposed to be the star of a dish, a little stroll around the market to get your hands on the best quality shouldn’t be too much of a bother.
– Whenever you’re trying to emulsify something, adding the ingredients at a slower pace makes it easier. Add the butter to the eggs in a slow and steady stream, incorporating it as you go, gives you more time to notice the signs of something going wrong and to act on it. Stop adding butter as soon as you see a greasy layer swimming on top and stir until it’s well and safely incorporated into the egg mixture before continuing to add more.
– The sauce should be served immediately, but it could sit in its warm waterbath for about 30 mins. If it thickens too much during that time, add a teaspoon of warm water and whisk until the sauce is smooth again.
– The Hollandaise is a base for many other classic sauces. One of the best known variants of it is a wonderful accompaniment for a simple steak (without the asparagus), a Sauce Bernaise – simply add finely chopped tarragon and chervil leaves to the Hollandaise and dig in…
– Quick-Saves for a Hollandaise:
1) In case the eggs curdled up a bit, strain the remaining liquids into another bowl, add another yolk, a pinch of salt and a few drops of lemon juice and 1-2 tsp of warm asparagus stock and return to the whisking routine.
2) In case the eggs curdled up into scrambled eggs, serve them on thin slices of pumpernickel with a sprinkle of finely chopped chives and start over with the sauce.
3) In case the emulsion starts splitting, take the bowl off the heat immediately, add a teaspoon of cold water or the cooled asparagus stock, give it a good whisk and see if that helps. If it doesn’t, fill your sink with ice cold water and/or ice cubes, hold the bottom of the bowl into it and use a stick blender to hopefully blend the quickly cooling butter back into the yolks.
Now that’s all I can tell you before it’s really time to start whisking. Here we go:
½ Shallot, finely cubed
½ Tsp mixed Peppercorns
½ fresh Bay Leaf
1 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
1 Tbsp White Wine Vinegar or White Balsamic Vinegar
35ml strained Asparagus Stock, the cooking water intensified by the peels
50ml White Wine
90g clarified Butter or Ghee
2 medium Egg Yolks
Salt and Sugar to taste
1 Splash of Lemon Juice to taste
Opt: a Pinch of Cayenne Pepper
1) Place a shallow pan on medium heat. Add the oil and sautée the shallot cubes, peppercorns and the bay leaf until the shallots turn translucent. Make sure nothing sticks to the bottom and turns brown.
2) Deglaze the pan with the wine, vinegar and stock. Turn the heat to low and reduce the liquids down to 80-90ml. This doesn’t take long, so keep a close eye on it. Take a whiff to determine if the bite of the wine and vinegar are gone. If it’s still there, add another tbsp of stock and simmer it for a couple of minutes more – you want to capture the taste of the two, not the alcohol of the wine or too much acidity from the vinegar.
3) Strain the reduction through a fine sieve into a small bowl to remove the solids.
4) Set a small pot onto medium-low heat and clarify the butter (unless you’re using store-bought ghee – in that case just melt it and set it aside to go back to room temperature). This is simply done by melting unsalted butter and heating it up to a gentle simmer. Butter in itsself is an emulsion which will split in the heat. The water contents will sink to the bottom and cook off, the milk proteins will rise to the top and gather up in convenient foamy islands you can easily skim off with a slotted spoon.
5) Give the pot an occasional tilt-and-swirl and sit back until the simmering settles down a bit – a sign of the water on the bottom being almost gone – then strain the liquid through a muslin-lined sieve or a simple coffee filter if you have one at hand to remove the last remnants of the milk solids.
Let the now clarified butter cool off to room temperature, just don’t let it sit long enough to harden again. Using clarified butter will thicken the sauce more quickly and shave off a couple of minutes of the time the eggs could use to curdle up.
6) Now for the interesting part… Prep a waterbath by bringing a pot of water to a gentle simmer on medium heat. Once it starts steaming nicely, turn down the heat to medium-low and set a glass or stainless-steel bowl on top. Make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the surface of the water – much like chocolate, egg yolks are much more forgiving when they’re cooked with gentle, indirect heat from a steaming waterbath.
7) Add the egg yolks and the wine/vinegar reduction to the bowl and start whisking them while they’re being warmed up by the steam. Remember, you need to keep them below 70°C, so once you hear or feel the water in the pot starting to boil, take off the bowl for a couple of minutes.
8) Whisk the eggs and the wine reduction until they come together in a nice and fluffy manner.
9) Take the bowl off of the steaming pot – don’t turn that one off yet, just in case… – and start adding the butter in a slow and steady drizzle while whisking to incorporate it into the eggs. Don’t stop whisking until the sauce is smooth and creamy.
10) Switch to a wooden spoon for the next bit, to check the consistency of the sauce and season it.
11) The sauce has reached the right consistency once it evenly coats the backside of a spoon without dripping off, or if it slowly drips off the spoon into a slow-speading, creamy pool on a plate rather than pile up in a mound or spread like a watery puddle.
12) Give it some more time on the waterbath if it’s too thin and add more warm water/asparagus stock in teaspoon-fuls if it’s too thick.
13) Have a taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, cayenne and a few drops of lemon juice.
14) Free the steaks and asparagus from their resting containers and serve them with a generous helping of the sauce.
I really, really hope you guys give the mother of french sauces a chance and succeed in making it, because this is such a treat… before I go ahead and drool on my keyboard, one last tidbit of info: it’s called „Hollandaise“ even though it’s as french as it gets, because, back in the days of the rise of french cuisine, the best milk and butter came from Holland. Ta~dah. I think, now I’ve written down absolutely everything I know about this sauce.