When did asparagus start to look like it grew up down creek from the leaky nuke plant? Once upon a time all bundles of asparagus resembled packs of Ticonderoga #2’s, except they were green instead of school bus yellow, and tipped with terminal buds instead of pink erasers. And thin. Thinner than pencils. Not these Asparagus with Horseradish Cream, Chervil and Honey. These guys are hefty, but by today’s standards they’re mid-size. Larger examples abound, at least at our local WFM. Blame France–they started it. A handful of Februaries ago, in a more innocent age of asparagus, I was strolling through the open air market near Bastille with a Parisian friend when she paused before a box of giant asparagus, not yet widespread in the US. Gargantuan and lavender. She pincered a particularly fat one with two fingers, cocked an eyebrow upward as she examined it and then said, “C’est genial, ceci.” Nice, this one. Nice embraces a variety of meanings, but for purposes of this post I’m going to take it to mean delicious. After eating some I had to agree and since then, I’ve grown to prefer big asparagus. Once you get past the, uh, big factor there’s more there there, more asparagus flavor. Thin asparagus are the vegetable analog to spare ribs. Crazy delicious, but you need to eat a wheelbarrow of them before you cry, “Enough!” With the new Schwarzenegger stalks the crazy delicious remains, but embodied in fewer stalks to snap and peel (if you’re the snapping-peeling type) and, since asparagus are finger food, sigh, less opportunity to dribble sauce down your front.
Horseradish and cream are made for one another, but since we’ve gone all artisinal and farm-to-table the sauce has changed in a couple of ways these days. Unless you have eastern European Jewish–or Japanese*–antecedents, until recently you were probably making your horseradish cream from horseradish that came in a bottle, preserved with vinegar. When horseradish is grated or chopped, exposing its cut surfaces to air, it produces a compound similar to mustard oil, the source of horseradish’s ka-pow! heat. The compound begins dissipating almost immediately, which is why if you grate a supply of horseradish for home use you generally mix a little vinegar into it. Or buy it bottled, already grated and mixed with vinegar. Vinegared horseradish keeps its heat, at the cost of also adding an array of acidic grace notes–and I say this as someone who enjoys the sinus-scouring properties of wasabi, and both commercial and homemade horseradish with vinegar. Fresh horseradish, by contrast, is a subtler smoother experience. It’s nowhere near as harsh (after a few minutes) as the vinegar mix. You get some of the intense heat but without the acid notes of preserved horseradish. The heat does fade, however, so don’t make this a day ahead and then let it sit in the fridge. This is real cuisine à la minute. Make it and eat it.
Which brings me to my final observation. Spring asparagus provoke a ravening greed like no other. This recipe makes four first-course portions, with a very generous amount of horseradish cream. But we’ve since discovered that people love seeing asparagus as the centerpiece of a weekend lunch and will easily consume a half-pound of asparagus per person. In which case, prepare twice as many asparagus as this recipe calls for. Leave the sauce ingredients the same, just double the asparagus. Take it from me–there is nothing sadder than having lots of horseradish cream–and no more asparagus to swirl in it. Enjoy. Ken
*The Japanese condiment wasabi is traditionally made from the wasabi plant, a root vegetable in the same family, Brassicaceae, as horseradish. But wasabi plants are hard to cultivate and much wasabi, even in Japan, is made from various formulations based on ordinary horseradish and green dye.
Asparagus with Horseradish Cream, Chervil and Honey
- 1 Meyer lemon (or a small regular lemon), scrubbed
- 2 ounces fresh horseradish root, scrubbed
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 pound thick asparagus
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- ¼ cup minced shallots
- ¼ cup finely ground toasted breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup chopped chervil + chervil sprigs for garnish
- 1 teaspoon honey
- Using a fine grater, remove the zest from the lemon and set aside. Cut in half and squeeze the juice into a food processor. Add 1 tablespoon water.
- Slice the tough grey outer layer off the horseradish root. Using the finest grating disc of the food processor, grate the peeled horseradish. Exchange the grating blade for the knife blade. Add ¼ teaspoon salt. Cover and process until the horseradish is smooth. You’ll have remove the top and scrape down the sides once or twice. Avert your eyes when you remove the lid as the horseradish fumes can be very strong.
- When the horseradish is as smooth as you can get it, add the heavy cream. Process for 10 seconds and then stop and check the texture. It should be thick and creamy. It will turn into butter very quickly if you let it go too far. Stir in the lemon zest. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
- Hold an asparagus in each hand toward the root end of the stalk. Gently bend until the thick end snaps off at a natural point. You will have a short tough root end in one hand and a longer tender top of the stalk in the other. Discard the tough end or use it for vegetable broth.
- Peel the asparagus up to an inch below the pointed top. Swish them around in tepid water to allow any sand in the tips to fall out. Pat dry.
- Melt the butter in a large sauté pan.
- Add the shallot, cover with a round of parchment paper and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the asparagus and ½ inch of boiling water. Season with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to medium high. Cover with a round of parchment and steam, tossing the pan now and then to move the asparagus around. The asparagus should be tender in about 8 minutes. If there is still water in the pan, remove the parchment and continue cooking until the asparagus start to sizzle. Add the breadcrumbs and the chopped chervil and toss to coat the asparagus. Transfer the asparagus to a platter. Drizzle with honey and garnish with chervil sprigs. Serve immediately, offering horseradish cream on the side.
Jody Notes: Several years ago I found myself between meetings in the Lower East Side of New York and I made my way to a restaurant I had wanted to try, Prune. It was a perfect spring day, the doors of the small European-style restaurant were opened onto the street and the experience was everything I imagined. I ordered a glass of rose champagne and bowl of peas. But not just peas. Peas with butter, horseradish and a tiny piece of honey comb. They were so exquisite! Memories of those peas surfaced as I was thinking ideas about for asparagus. Last week I returned to Prune with Ken, Oliver and Roxanne for my birthday. We had such a good time. Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef and owner, joined us for a bit and we laughed and laughed. And the food was as good as ever.
Simply stunning use of asparagus. It’s perfect at this time of the year too – just coming in to season.
Thanks, Nick. Finally, something green! (Even if not QUITE local). Ken
I am so in love with your photos … they are good enough to eat!
Thank you. I envy the selection of spring vegetables that you have available to you now–vignarola time! Ken
Oh my!!! These look absolutely fantastic. Beautiful photos, mouth watering!!
Thank you, Hagen–and vegetarian too. Ken
I love this post. As one who grows asparagus, I love finding new ways to use it. One question, since I’m lactose intolerant and am trying hard to remove dairy from my diet, is there an alternative for the heavy cream?
Oh, that’s a tough one. The first thing that comes to mind is coconut cream, but that’s obviously going to affect the flavor (not necessarily in a bad way, but it certainly won’t be the same). I know there are various vegan options out there like pistachio cream (again, the taste issue), but have you considered silken tofu. It’s not something we do, but I know that vegan cooks sometimes whip it in a food processor until it gets the consistency of cream and then use it in what would otherwise be a cream-based sauce. Just be aware that it won’t get stiff, like whipping cream–and it won’t have the calories. Good luck. Ken
Wow. This actually looks amazing. My early experiences with horse radish at long seders may have ruined my palate, as you alluded to above. Maybe mixed with cream I can tolerate it again. Why do you shave the asparagus? I really want to try this out. The honey sounds like such a great touch. I live that the inspiration was France and prunr. I alsoreally like Prune. Hamiltons book was so well written. You guys might enjoy it. Great photos as usual. Can’t wait to try this.
Hi, Amanda. I hope you’re recovering from your early experiences with horseradish abuse. Perhaps this somewhat milder experience will ease you back into the fold. (As a sidenote, we had leftover horseradish which we grated and mixed with apple cider vinegar immediately after grating. I cavalierly put a teaspoon of it into my mouth. Ha! I thought the top of my head was going to come off. I held on until the heat wave passed. But man oh man was it hot–like i.v. wasabi to the sinuses.) The skin of asparagus, especially on the lower part of the stalk can be tough–some cooks peel the stems halfway, others do the entire stalk, especially with fat spears, for both esthetics and mouth feel. The honey–VERY LITTLE honey–is a nice accent. Try it with a bit less horseradish the first time–you might surprise yourself. Ken
Gabrielle Hamilton is as funny and quick in real life as she is on the page. I’m about halfway through her book. After reading her description of working for giant catering companies I may never down an oyster shooter at a wedding again. Ken
Wow. Asparagus paradigm shift. I’ve been seeking out thin asparagus and scoffing at the fat stalks. Certainly your stalk-snappy prose has enticed me to do so, but also these photos, which practically jumped off the page and into my mouth.
We’re heading off to Southern Spain next week. Do you have any favorite restaurants to recommend in Andalucia?
Southern Spain??!! Lucky you! I don’t have any restaurants off the top of my head, but let me check with Jody and get back to you. Sounds like a part of the world worth investigating for the next bike trip. Fat asparagus taste great–just make sure to snap off the tough ends. Ken
Hi Ken & Jody,
I was wondering…
Today, one blog that I read sent me an email that they were nominated for a particular category of best food blogs by Saveur.
I find it almost inconceivable that The Garum Factory isn’t in the running, and I don’t see a write-in area. I may have read somewhere in your past postings that it’s not something that you care about much. True? Have you been nominated before? You’ve never mentioned any nominations, where you may have published articles (stuff like that), that I remember. I notice many other sites post their successes in the medium, possibly have a book in the books, etc.
In my food blog reading world – just so you know – you’re the tops!
I mean it – truly & sincerely.
…and the photography kicks ass! (it’s a blog, not family hour, so I can get away with that, right?)
faithfully, zealously and seriously,
Oh yeah, i like my asparagus on the thinner side – not the beefy big football types…:) Love the toasted breadcrumb addition.
There’s no accounting for some people’s taste. :-) Ken
Hi, Jim–You caught me sitting here answering today’s comments. Regarding awards, we tend to stay away from the web-based pass-it-on-kind of award–much as their sentiment is heartfelt. We just don’t have the time to respond to them. We do care about SAVEUR. It’s one of the few food magazines that I still read, mainly because of its old-school orientation to food and regional culture, as well as single-themed issues. Go to http://www.saveur.com/article/blog/SAVEUR-Best-Food-Blog-Awards-Frequently-Asked-Questions to learn how to nominate us. Nominations and voting for the Best Blogs of 2014 have just begun (March 31st). And if you wanted to drop Saveur’s EIC James Oseland a note explaining how we saved your marriage and revealed who really kidnapped the Lindbergh baby, hey, I can’t stop you. :-) Thanks for the touchingly kind words. We can’t be all things to all people. What we want to be is a very good thing for some people who love food culture and cooking as much as we do, without getting snotty or precious about it, and maybe sharing a few tips along the way. Again, thank you. We appreciate good readers as much as (we hope) they appreciate us. Ken
Thanks, Violet. Fun work on your site! Ken
Lovely and as always I leave knowing something new. I didn’t realize the heady, sulphurous compound in horseradish diminishes quickly when exposed to the air. I am a great fan of the fresh stuff so will bear this in mind for the future. And now I feel asparagus would simply be too naked without it. Can’t wait to start swirling. Sophie
Pretty remarkable, how horseradish behaves. You’ll enjoy it with asparagus, while reading David Sedaris. :-) Ken
I really enjoy looking through your succession of photographs. It gives a sense of being right there and watching a very graceful and skilled chef performance. :) What a lovely way to prepare asparagus. Interesting placing parchment over the shallots while cooking. (?) And the horseradish cream is brilliant
Hi Seana–ranks for the kind words. You responded with exactly effect we’d hoped to achieve with the collage. Regarding the parchment, it’s an old – school European technique. A lid rests several inches above the cooking food. Condensation accumulates on the under surface of the lid and drips on food below. If there’s any acid in the ingredients it potentially reacts with the metal in the lid and then affects the flavor of what’s cooking. Using parchment eliminates all of that, plus it’s easy to just lift an edge and peek at what’s going on. Once you start doing the technique it becomes habitual. :-) Ken
An original way to eat glorious asparagus. Believe it or not I have never made my own horseradish – I am going to seek some out and make this. I can see it being a really hit with the family. best Torie
Be forewarned–it’s STRONG when freshly grated, which can make it fun, but not if it’s unexpected. Set aside a little to mix with a bit of vinegar to see what I mean. :-) Ken
Deliciosa receta, felicidades.
Thank you very much. Ken
Gee, I’m going to have to improvise because chervil can’t be found here in Chelsea in NYC for love or money.
That surprises me, but I don’t know Chelsea, so while I’m sure it’s available in NY I wouldn’t have a clue where to send you. Good luck. Ken
That looks just about perfect. OK, perfect. Can’t wait for the asparagus so come. We eat at Prune every time we’re in NY. We took a friend there once who clearly didn’t get it, and I was so annoyed.
That’s the worst, especially if you’ve built it up. Actually, the worst is being taken by friends to their favorite restaurant, having it been prepped in advance for the dining experience of a lifetime, and finding it not terribly good, and knowing that you have to slog through the whole meal before escape arrives. The funny thing is, since we’ve mentioned Prune we’ve learned of so many people who have fun memories of eating there. Ken
Okay so I just made it, and although it came out well, here are some tweaks: The horseradish purées better in a minichopper; such a small quantity really doesn’t work in a large food processor. Thanks to your photos I learned that the lemon zest gets added to the finished cream. That needs to be reflected in the recipe. Half an inch of water in a large pan doesn’t easily reduce. So I removed the asparagus and cooked it down. It still took quite a while. Finally, there’s twice as much sauce as a pound of asparagus needs. I hope it will keep for tomorrow.
Katie–Thank you for your kind proofreading. The lemon zest was added at the end of the instructions for the horseradish cream, as you suggested, but it and the listing for the horseradish in the ingredients both disappeared in the final draft. I can’t explain it except to say that the entire post was turned into a solid block of text after I saved it. I thought I had righted everything. Evidently not. Thank you. You’ve rightly identified while I’ll never make my living as a proofreader.
As far as the quantity of water in the pan goes, that depends on the size of the pan, the amount of heat, whether you use a lid or parchment, etc. We made four batches of the asparagus, and if anything found the pan almost too dry by the time they were cooked. Regarding the horseradish in the food processor, we tried it in both a blender and a food processor, just to see if we could offer people options. The blender didn’t work, but the f.p. did a great job, at least to our taste.
Regarding the quantity of sauce, I did mention that it would serve for twice as much asparagus, but in retrospect, a recipe for smaller amount would have served. The only problem was we tested it in those quantities, and we wouldn’t recommend something we hadn’t tried and eaten ourselves. Sorry if that left you with too much sauce. We did eat the remainder of ours the next day, with more asparagus. Ken
Katie… thanks so much for letting us know about your experience with the recipe. we count on our readers to keep us honest and accurate. btw… in addition to the asparagus, i ate the horseradish cream in a lobster soup, on a cheese sandwich and with some chicken. it kept for those 3 days and probably would have kept longer if i hadn’t eaten it all. cheers, jody
I like the way you think, Ken….when in doubt, blame the French! Gorgeous chervil-breadcrumb topping, and the drizzle of honey is inspired.
Thank you, Steve. I think chervil, with its faint flavor of licorice, is one of the most overlooked herbs and it’s really good with vegetables and fish. Ken
Hello! Just letting you know we’ve nominated you for the versatile blogger award. As always, acceptance is purely optional, so if you’re interest then please visit my post here http://arecipeforgluttony.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/versatile-blogger-awards/
I don’t know what happened to my first response, but Thank you! again. Ken
I think I’ll stop reading this blog. I cooked some asparagus yesterday. It was delicious but it did not photograph too well. Nothing photographs too well when compared with your perfection. If I only look at my own blog, I will be happy with the photography. Darn!
Thank you, Conor. But please keep reading. The only difference between our pictures is that you pour and take the shot at the same time whereas a supermodel pours for me while I take the shot. I don’t have enough arms to do what you do. Ken
You needn’t go to great lengths when the asparagus are fresh. Yours here look fantastic, Ken. Thanks, too, for the horseradish info. I’ve never bought fresh but have thought about using it as a garnish for beef dishes. Asparagus is just starting to hit our markets but, as you say, it’s “not quite local” yet. When it is, though, there will be tables of the spears throughout the farmers markets. You’re right about the size of the spears, too. I just bought some this morning and spent way too much time searching for a bunch of “normal” asparagus. This was another great, beautifully photographed post.
Hi John – thank you. You know, after I saw your comment I suddenly realized that I’d never seen horseradish I’m an Italian recipe. I’m sure there mist be a few out there, but… Nevertheless, it’s a great thing for one’s larder. I grated some into chicken soup the other night, a bit too much ad it transpired, but still good. Live and learn. Love your “normal” asparagus. Ken
Yay, great minds do think alike! Asparagus, lemons, shallots, and all… except I got my bracing, sharp flavors from preserved lemons, and you got yours from horseradish.
This recipe looks divine—I actually don’t think I’ve ever tried freshly grated horseradish (or at least I’ve definitely never cooked with it), but I have tried fresh wasabi root in Japan, and like you said about horseradish, it’s much less harsh than the processed/prepared storebought kind. Anyway, I imagine that your horseradish cream would be addictively delicious. It’s making me hungry just thinking about it!
And what a way to salvage some too-thick asparagus and turn them into a gourmet feast! (I agree with you that asparagus seems to be getting thicker, but I always still stubbornly hold out/search for the pencil-thin kind, which is of course much easier to find in April than any other time of the year, because I hate when the bottom of the stalks are undercooked and stubbornly stringy.) Peeling thick stalks just a little is a great idea, too.
Thank you, Allison! Sorry for the late reply–seems my mobile isn’t doing what it’s supposed to. Yup–preserved lemons are a great compliment too (at this point I’m trying hard not to add preserved lemons to EVERYTHING). Ken
This is definitely adult asparagus! I love your refined – and bright – flavors. This is a fantastic recipe for spring. Best, Shanna
Thank you, Shanna. All we need to do now is create a recipe that uses asparagus, rhubarb and ramps and then we can call it a day! Ken
Rhubarb vinaigrette over roasted ramps/wild garlic and asparagus? :-)
Beautiful photos of an asparagus dish!
Thank you, Dolly. Asparagus is fun to photograph this time of year–and then eat afterward! ken
You are tempting me to make asparagus, even if it’s no longer spring here. The idea of playing with horseradish and potentially clearing out everyone’s sinuses in a big way is irresistible (I’m a terrible dinner hostess aren’t I?), as is the idea of using chervil.
Hahahaha…. (did you hear what happened at their last dinner party?). It really is fun. I’ve taken to grating a bit on top of impromptu vegetable soup. There’s a kick… then it fades. Thanks. Ken
Jody, you are always GORGEOUS!…And of course, you and Ken are a wonderful TEAM…not only a wonderful family.
Wish you all HAPPY EASTER.
Hi, Luana–I seem to have lost a week’s worth of responses. Forgive me, I did appreciate your comment (and so did Jody). We do have fun together. Ken
Stunning photography! So happy I stumbled across your blog.
Thank you. We’re always happy when people find us. Ken
Beautifully vibrant photos and a must-try recipe! I love finding new ways to use delicious vegetables like asparagus. And, thanks for providing that interesting tid-bit about how Wasabi is traditionally made vs. how it is commonly replaced by horseradish.
A friend smuggled a wasabi root from Japan for me this past week. I’m going to grate it over sashimi tonight. We’ll see. Glad you like the post and found us. Ken
Reblogged this on Christophers-Cooking-World and commented:
Oh my gosh that looks so delicious. Maybe I will try it in my vacation
One should always eat well while on vacation. :-) Ken