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.
One charmed fall weekend Jody and I were asked to judge the oyster shucking competition at the annual Wellfleet OysterFest. A free weekend in Wellfleet. Close proximity to more straight-from-the-ocean bivalves than I could ever reasonably consider eating. Bring it on. Watching pros shuck oysters inspires equal parts terror and admiration. The goal is to shuck a couple dozen oysters as fast as possible. Winning times are usually around two minutes – that is, an oyster every five seconds. Chipped shells, mangled oysters, debris and, oh yes, the occasional splash of blood, are all penalized. Everyone who competes professionally has a story about watching an inattentive shucker putting the the blade of an oyster knife through a palm or the base of a thumb. And that’s the rub, isn’t it? As someone who has shucked a fair number of oysters in his life, I still take a deep breath before I do it and I make damn sure I’m paying attention. Here’s a tasty alternative: Grilled Oysters with Wasabi Mayonnaise.
As a recent presidential candidate might have said, had he been a cook, which seems doubtful: Grilled oysters self-open.