Multifaceted Spring Treat, White Asparagus Gratin; Simple Ingredients for Great Taste

The Yomiuri Shimbun
White asparagus gratin

White asparagus is at its best in spring and makes for a delicious gratin dish. The recipe introduced in this article was provided by Noboru Tani, a leading figure in French culinary circles in Japan for many years.

Tani became a cook when he was 18. He went on to have further training in France twice, when he was 24 and 37.

He chose white asparagus for this article because, according to him, it is an ingredient that has long been loved in France. Tani’s restaurant in Tokyo directly imports white asparagus grown outdoors from France. Carefully selected ingredients taste good as they are, but Tani has his own ways to bring out their best flavors.

“I pursue the best taste possible by taking the ingredients and preparing them with the most fitting cooking methods and seasonings, while bearing in my mind the principles of French cuisine and own my knowledge,” he said.

To make white asparagus gratin, boil peeled asparagus and put it in hollandaise sauce, one of the foundational sauces of French cuisine. Then, bake the asparagus until it is partly browned.

The asparagus we used for the recipe was about three centimeters thick and weighed about 150 grams each. It would be ideal to get such big asparagus for making gratin at home.

To make the most of the flavor, it’s recommended to boil the asparagus in water in which asparagus peelings have been cooked. The boiled asparagus stalks should be slowly cooled in the water used for boiling them to keep them succulent and let them reabsorb the flavor that would normally be released into the water.

Hollandaise sauce has an eggy flavor and is often used with vegetables and fish.

“Sauces are very important for French cuisine,” Tani said. “This is one of the sauces I’d like people to try using.”

This time, the water used for boiling asparagus was added to the sauce to give it a fuller asparagus flavor. Salt can be added for taste.

“These days people tend to put everything into numbers. But I want you to imagine what kind of taste you’re after and adjust it by yourself to achieve your goal. That’s the real interesting thing about cooking,” Tani stressed.

The subtle flavoring of the sauce makes a perfect match to the condensed sweetness of the white asparagus. The asparagus tips are very tender, and the stalks become a little firmer toward the opposite end. The sauce, once it is slightly browned, adds a flavorful accent to the asparagus. This gratin is a dish which diners can appreciate in various ways, despite the simplicity of its ingredients.

With homemade mayonnaise

Boiled asparagus, when cooled down, goes well with homemade mayonnaise, too.

To make the mayonnaise, beat two egg yolks, add 60 grams of olive oil to it, and stir with a whisk, which should be constantly moved in one direction. When pouring olive oil to the eggs, start from a very small amount to encourage emulsification.

Add half a teaspoonful each of mustard and sherry (or wine vinegar) to the mixture, and it’s done.

White asparagus gratin

Ingredients (serves 2):

  • 2 stalks white asparagus
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 50 grams melted unsalted butter

  • Directions:

  • 1. Place an asparagus stalk horizontally and peel it by moving a peeler from the base of the tip toward the bottom, to smooth it out. Then put the peeled asparagus stalks in a bowl of water for a little bit.
  • 2. Fill a pan with water, add some salt and asparagus stalk peels, then bring it to boil. Skim off the foam and boil for about five minutes. Taste the water and add more salt if necessary.
  • 3. Boil the asparagus in the pan up to the point before it becomes too soft. This should take about seven minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the asparagus in the hot water. When they have cooled down, cut off the hard ends and make fine slits on the stalks. Reserve 15cc of the cooking water.
  • 4. Put egg yolks and the 15cc of cooking water (cooled down) in a small stainless steel bowl and whisk the solution to aerate it.
  • 5. Bring water to a boil in a deep pot. Float the steel bowl on the hot water, warming it with the hot steam, and stir the solution until it becomes thoroughly thickened. Adjust the amount of hot water so that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the bottom of the pot.
  • 6. Add melted butter to the bowl little by little and mix the solution constantly to aerate it. When it gets thickened, remove the bowl from the pot.
  • 7. Put the boiled asparagus on a baking dish and pour the hollandaise sauce on top. Bake until brown in a hot oven or grill.