I first experienced the tender stems of white asparagus on a bike-barge tour from Amsterdam to Brussels in April of 2011. Like the gorgeous expanses of flowering tulip fields, white asparagus heralds the beginning of Spring and is revered as the ultimate Spring delicacy in Germany and The Netherlands where the traditional specialty of White Asparagus with Hollandaise appears on nearly every restaurant menu. The difference between white and green asparagus is in the way they are grown: white asparagus is grown underground. Growers cover the spears in mounded dirt or black plastic tunnels so that they’re not exposed to light and don’t produce chlorophyll (which would turn them green).
Six years ago, as part of a Five Star Foodie Challenge to make a dish using white asparagus, I had a rather difficult time finding the pale stalks, but Bristol Farms came through for me. Now, I see them in supermarket chains right next to green asparagus, and even purple asparagus. This, of course, is Southern California where we’re lucky to have many varieties of specialty produce available to us – other parts of the country may not be as fortunate. However, you may be able find white asparagus in jars alongside the canned vegetables, or just use green asparagus. Either way, this simple, yet elegant, salad bursting with fresh flavors of asparagus prepared two ways and complemented with sweet crab meat is a beautiful way to hail Spring’s arrival at a leisurely weekend brunch or as a vibrant addition to your Easter table.
To honor the white asparagus and its delicate flavor, I kept it simple, adding only sweet crab meat and fresh ingredients from the garden that would complement, without overpowering, the ivory spears. To add a signature touch, I created a bright sauce of green asparagus and shallots and a white balsamic and Meyer lemon vinaigrette to lightly dress the vegetables. Garnished with slivers of purple radishes and edible flowers, we savored bites of Spring with a bottle of bubbly while gazing upon the pastel hues of our rose garden in bloom and the tender green shoots dotting the garden beds.
- 1 bunch white asparagus stalks peeled
- 1 lb. crab meat
- 1 bunch watercress
- Garnish: French radishes and chives edible flowers (optional)
- Asparagus Sauce
- 12 green asparagus chopped into 1 inch pieces
- 1 shallot diced
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons half & half
- Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
- ¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice preferably from Meyer lemons, strained
- ½ cup canola oil
- 1 teaspoon finely minced shallot
- 2 teaspoons finely minced chives
Prepare white asparagus: Cut off 1 inch of the asparagus stems and discard. To peel the stalks, gently hold the tip and using a vegetable peeler to shave the length of the stalk. Blanch the spears in boiling water for about 4 minutes. Remove and transfer to an ice bath to stop the cooking.
Prepare the green asparagus in the same manner, but cut the spears into 1 inch pieces. After you blanch the white asparagus, allow the water to come to a boil again and blanch the green asparagus for about 3 minutes. Remove and place in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Use 1 cup of the stems for this sauce. Reserve the tips and remaining stems for use in a salad, omelet, risotto, or pasta dish.
For the Asparagus Sauce: Heat the butter in a skillet over med heat. Sauté the shallots for 2 minutes. Add the asparagus and sauté for another 2 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a blender and puree – I prefer mine a little chunky for textural contrast against the smooth spears of asparagus. Add the half & half, pulse to blend.
Prepare the vinaigrette: Whisk together the vinegar and lemon juice in a bowl. Slowly whisk in he canola oil. Stir in the shallots and chives. Or the easy way: place all ingredients in a glass jar and shake to combine. Refrigerate in a covered container for up to 2 weeks (the chives will darken after 1 day).
To assemble the salad: Form a mound of the Asparagus Sauce in the middle of your platter, top with crab meat. Surround with watercress and garnish with sliced purple and/or red radishes and finely chopped chives. Drizzle with vinaigrette.