Springtime in Germany means white asparagus season and plenty of asparagus festivals to commemorate the occasion, known as “spargelzeit!” Why may you ask? Well, white asparagus is native to Southern Germany, where these ivory beauties are known as “spargel.”
During the short season, from mid-April to June 24th, white asparagus is hand-cut, treated, and made available to markets worldwide, embracing its refined flavors and delicacy.
Though heavily consumed in Germany, France, and Switzerland, I fell in love with this type of asparagus in Northern Spain. I have been scouring markets in North America ever since to find and prepare them in different ways; pickling them, boiling them in a bath of butter and water, and even grilling them!
For this recipe, you are in for a treat! We tenderize the thick pearl stocks and serve them with a lightly smoked bearnaise sauce.
So, let’s get to it!
What is White Asparagus?
White asparagus is the same species as green asparagus, grown under different conditions. Unlike green asparagus, which is exposed to the elements, white asparagus is grown under piles of sandy soil called “hillings.” Under these mountains of dirt, they avoid the production of chlorophyll and therefore do not change color. They remain white as they mature.
Where to Buy White Asparagus
Where to buy white asparagus depends on where one is located in the world. However, one piece of advice remains true, wherever you are. White asparagus can only be found when it is in season, between April and June.
If you are in North America, you can find it lurking around your grocery stores or, even more likely, farmers’ markets. However, if you are in Europe, it is much more abundant during these months in various markets. You may also find it sold at the seasonal asparagus festivals.
How to Select White Asparagus
Choose white asparagus that is firm, stands upright easily without becoming limp, and is smooth to the touch.
Peel the White Asparagus Before Cooking Them
White asparagus is much thicker and more fibrous than its green counterpart. Use a vegetable peeler or a paring knife to peel the ends of the asparagus to avoid eating stringy, tough, and woody asparagus spears. Removing only some of the skin will take away that displeasing waxy texture.
How to Clarify the Butter for the Bearnaise Sauce
Place a pot on the stovetop at medium-low heat to clarify the butter. Add the butter and allow it to melt. As it begins to bubble, a white foam will appear. This white foam is the lactose or milk solids in the butter. Use a large serving spoon to remove the white foam from the butter by skimming it from the top.
Mince the Shallots for the Bearnaise Sauce
The base of various French sauces usually includes some shallots. Bearnaise is no exception to this rule. We use the shallots to add flavor and texture to the bearnaise sauce.
It is essential to mince the shallots for the sauce to avoid a displeasing bite. The “ciseler technique” is the best method to mince shallots. Watch this video to learn this technique.
Tips for the Perfect Bearnaise Sauce
- Reduce the vinegar and wine, leaving only a teaspoon before adding the eggs.
- Ensure the eggs are fresh.
- Ensure the eggs are at room temperature before whisking them into the sauce.
- Whisk the sauce until it generously coats the back of a spoon.
- If the sauce appears too thick, add a bit of water. If the sauce seems too thin, apply some heat during the whisking process.
- Be patient when whisking in the clarified butter, as it takes time to develop the right consistency.
How to Store and Reheat White Asparagus
Store white asparagus in an airtight container in the refrigerator and consume it for up to 3 days.
To reheat it, add the stalks to a baking tray lined with foil, and cook them in the oven for 3-5 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).
What to Eat with White Asparagus
Love Your Leftovers
If you have extra Bearnaise Sauce, you can:
- Smother it on a steak
- Slather it over grilled corn-on-the-cob
- Dollop it onto roasted potatoes
- Make eggs benedict
- Drizzle it over an omelet
- 2 bunches white asparagus approximately 30 spears
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1.5 tsp salt 1 tsp for water, 1/2 tsp for salting the asparagus
- ground pepper
- 1 shallot minced
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp cold water
- 2 egg yolks room temperature
- 8 tbsp unsalted butter melted and clarified
- 2 tbsp tarragon finely chopped
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
Cut the Vegetables
- Mince the shallots using the ciseler technique. View the instruction video above in the Need-to-Know section.
- Clean the asparagus.
- Snap off or trim the woody ends from each asparagus spear.
- Use a vegetable peeler or a paring knife to peel the ends of each asparagus spear.
- Finely chop the tarragon leaves.
Melt and Clarify the Butter
- Place a saucepan on the stovetop at medium-low heat. Add the butter and allow it to melt.
- Turn the stovetop down to low heat if it begins to bubble.
- To clarify the butter, skim the white foam off the top of the pot with a large serving spoon to remove the lactose or milk solids.
- Set aside.
Sauté Shallots and Reduce Wine
- Place another saucepan on the stovetop at medium heat.
- Add white wine, vinegar, minced shallots, and tarragon.
- Bring the liquid to a simmer and sauté occasionally. Allow the liquid to reduce to 1 tsp in volume.
- Turn off the heat.
Whisk in the Egg Yolks, Water, and Spices
- Whisk in two fresh, room temperature egg yolks and cold water.
- Add salt and smoked paprika.
- Whisk well.
Slowly Whisk in Clarified Butter
- Place the saucepan back onto the stovetop at low heat.
- Slowly add clarified butter while whisking the sauce vigorously.
Finish the Bearnaise Sauce
- Once the butter is added, remove the saucepan from the heat and continue whisking.
- Whisk the sauce until it doubles in volume and generously coats the back of a spoon. This process can take between 10 and 15 minutes.
- Pour the sauce into a room temperature bowl and allow it to cool.
Boil the Asparagus in Generously Salted Water
- Add the asparagus to a saucepan and cover the asparagus with water.
- Add 1 tsp salt.
- Place the saucepan back onto the stovetop at high heat.
- Once the asparagus begins to boil, boil them for 1 min and 30 seconds until fork tender.
- Drain the water and cover the asparagus with cold water. Drain.
Grill the Asparagus
- Toss cooked asparagus in olive oil, ground salt, and pepper.
- Place a griddle cast iron skillet onto the stovetop at high heat. Brush the skillet with high-heat oil.
- Add the cooked asparagus to the hot griddle cast iron skillet and cook for 3 minutes on either side. If you do not have a griddle cast iron skillet, you may use the barbeque instead.
- Place cooked asparagus onto a plate.
- Drizzle bearnaise sauce onto asparagus spears.
- Garnish with salt and pepper to taste and extra tarragon leaves.