JULIA’S HINTS FOR COOKING ASPARAGUS:
Peeled asparagus cooks more quickly than unpeeled asparagus.
Select firm, crisp asparagus stalks, moist at the cut end with tips that are compact and closed.
Fat spears are just as tender as the thin ones and easier to handle when peeling.
Plan on six to ten spears for each person.
A vegetable peeler isn’t as useful as a sharp small knife for peeling asparagus. The knife is able to go deep enough to shave off the tough outer flesh, especially around the lower part of the spear.
Use a kettle wide enough to hold asparagus horizontally.
Cook in boiling salted water.
When a boil is reached, reduce heat and boil slowly, 12 to 15 minutes or until you can pierce the butt-end of the asparagus with a knife.
Spears should bend slightly but not be limp and droopy.
The best test for doneness is to eat a spear.
Remove asparagus and drain. Cut off strings and serve at once. Or keep warm up to 30 minutes, covered with a napkin. You can set the platter on top of the kettle of boiling water. The texture will be slightly affected but not the taste and color.
Julia recommends serving the asparagus with Sauce Hollandaise, Sauce Mousseline (with cream), Sauce Maltaise (with orange) and Beurre au Citron or lemon butter sauce – the easier and perhaps best way.
To prepare asparagus tips, hold a thin asparagus stalk by the butt end and moving your fingers up toward the tip, bend the spear until it snaps in two, usually at about the halfway point. Cut tips so each is 1-1/2 inches long. Scrape off scales below the tips and wash. Tie in bundles about 2-inches in diameter.
Boil 2 pounds tips in 6 quarts boiling water with 3 tablespoons salt 5 to 8 minutes or just until tender. The stalks can be peeled and cooked about 5 minutes then used for soups or purees.
Julia recommends serving cold asparagus with a vinaigrette, herb mayonnaise, mustard sauce or ravigote sauce.
Julia recommends cooking a 10-ounce box of frozen asparagus in a saucepan or skillet. Bring 1/2 cup water, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon butter to boil. Add asparagus. Cover and boil slowly 5 to 8 minutes or until tender. Remove cover, raise heat and boil off liquid. Correct seasoning (salt and black pepper) and arrange in vegetable dish with sauce.
Beurre au Citron (Lemon Butter Sauce)
For broiled or boiled fish, asparagus, broccoli, cauflower.
Equipment: 2 to 4 cup, medium-weight enameled saucepan, wire whip
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pinch white pepper
4 ounces (1 stick) chilled butter, cut in eight pieces
2 to 3 tablespoons hot fish or vegetable stock or hot water
Boil down lemon juice with the salt and pepper until it has reduced to 1 tablespoon. Remove from heat and immediately beat in 2 pieces of chilled butter. Set over very low heat and beat it the rest of the butter, a piece at a time, to make a thick, creamy sauce. Immediately remove from heat. Just before serving, beat in the hot liquid by driblets to warm the sauce. Correct seasoning and serve in a barely warmed sauceboat.
All tips and recipes taken from, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck. (Knopf, 1961)