White Asparagus Soup with Butter Poached Lobster Tails

Did you know that asparagus has been used as a vegetable and as an ancient medicine, due to to its distinct flavor, and in medicine due to its diuretic properties and its purported function as an aphrodisiac. It is pictured as an offering on an Egyptian frieze dating to 3000 BC. In ancient times, it was also known in Syria and in Spain. Greeks and Romans ate it fresh when in season, and dried the vegetable for use in winter. Roman Epicureans froze its sprouts high in the Alps for the Feast of Epicurus. Emperor Augustus created the “Asparagus Fleet” for hauling the vegetable, and coined the expression “faster than cooking asparagus” for quick action.

By 1469, asparagus was cultivated in French monasteries. Asparagus appears to have been little noticed in England until 1538, and in Germany until 1542. 

Asparagus was brought to North America by European settlers at least as early as 1655. Adriaen van der Donck, a Dutch immigrant to New Netherland, mentions asparagus in his description of Dutch farming practices in the New World. Asparagus was grown by British immigrants as well; in 1685, one of William Penn’s advertisements for Pennsylvania included asparagus in a long list of crops that grew well in the American climate. sparagus became widely available in America during Colonial times, and was a particular favorite of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson enjoyed  asparagus while he was Minister to France. Given how much asparagus grew in his gardens at Monticello, he often served it for dinner to his guests at his Virginia plantation.

White asparagus is so loved in Europe that its fleeting appearance in the spring from, April to early June, is a cause for celebration and rushing to the farmers market or grocery store to make sure you get a few bunches before they are gone.

I discovered a bunch of white asparagus in my freezer. I had purchased them early in the spring at a farmers market. Not wanting them to go to waste, I blanched them and froze them, thinking I would use them soon…..

When white asparagus is out of season or not readily available, you can also used canned white asparagus or white asparagus that have been commercially prepared and packed in a jar. For the most part  asparagus prepared this way has been  pickled and can be stored for several years. Some brands label shoots prepared in this way as “marinated”. You can also purchase marinated  white asparagus on line from gourmet specialty food shops like EuropeanDeli.com, which sells LANDSBERG WHITE ASPARAGUS . Personally, I like to use the Roland Brand of White Asparagus Spears. The asparagus is packed in an 11.6 oz tall glass jar. They are carefully chosen to ensure a smooth texture, but remaining firm to the bite and touch. Their color is slightly off-white, almost ivory in color. They make a delicious salad appetizer with a light vinaigrette. Use in quiche or alone as a side dish. Traditionally prized in French or German cuisine, white asparagus is now used in many vegetable, salad and seafood dishes.

But what is the difference between white and the more common green asparagus?

Compared to green asparagus, the locally cultivated so-called “white gold” or “edible ivory” asparagus, also referred to as “the royal vegetable” .White asparagus has a milder flavor, is more tender and is grown underground. As a result of applying a blanching technique while the asparagus shoots are growing  underground, the shoots are cultivated by  being covered with soil as they grow, i.e. “earthed up”.

Since white asparagus does not get any light,  photosynthesis cannot take place and the shoots do not produce chlorophyll, hence the unusual color .The apical meristem does not fully develop, leaving the appearance to be short and sometimes stumpy.

Only seasonally on the menu, asparagus dishes are advertised outside many restaurants, usually from late April to June.  Freshness is very important, and the lower ends of white asparagus must be peeled before cooking or raw consumption. For the French style, asparagus is often boiled or steamed and served with Hollandaise sauce, White sauce, melted butter or most recently with olive oil and Parmesan cheese. Tall, narrow asparagus cooking pots allow the shoots to be steamed gently, their tips staying out of the water.

In Southern Germany, entire menus are dedicated to this springtime spear. During the German Spargelsaison or Spargelzeit (“asparagus season” or “asparagus time”). Schwetzingen , Germany claims to be the “Asparagus Capital of the World”, and during its festival, an Asparagus Queen is crowned. The Bavarian city of Nuremberg feasts a week long in April, with a competition to find the fastest asparagus peeler in the region; this usually involves generous amounts of the local wines and beers being consumed to aid the spectators’ appreciative support.

In Germany, roadside stands and open-air markets sell about half of the country’s white asparagus consumption. The asparagus season in Germany traditionally ends on the 24th of June.

An interesting way to use this treasured vegetable is in white asparagus soup or spargelsuppe in German. This soup highlights the delicate nature of the white flesh and is a great way to start any meal. In this version of spargelsuppe, the soup is made from puréed white asparagus and broth with some cream added.

To make the soup more interesting and suitable for serving as a special occasion meal, butter poached lobster tails was added to the dish.

Serves 2

Ingredients:
For the Parsley Oil:
1 bunch of fresh Italian Flat Leaf Italian Parsley
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the Asparagus Soup:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup vegetable broth
4 to 6 white asparagus
Salt, to taste
Ground white pepper, to taste
A splash of white wine

For the Lobster Tails:
2 uncooked lobster tails
2 tablespoons water
1 stick salted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon pieces

For Garnish:
Blanched green asparagus spears
Watercress
Zest of 1 lemon

Directions:
For the Parsley Oil:
Blanch the parsley, stems intact, for 10 seconds. Drain and cool under cold water and dry on paper towels. Place in a blender along with 1 cup of the olive oil and blend completely.

Place a chinois over a 4 cup Pyrex measuring cup. Pour the paste into the chinois. Using a spatula, press firmly on the paste to release the oil. Alternatively, you can arrange a coffee filter over another glass jar Secure the filter over the jar with a rubber band and use a ladle to carefully pour the parsley oil into the filter. Just know that the draining will take 24 to 48 hours. Pour the oil into a clean sterilized jar and cover tightly and set aside until ready for use.

Note: The parsley oil can then be used in a vinaigrette, in cold soup or to garnish chicken or fish. It will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week.

 

For the Asparagus Soup:
Trim about 1⁄2” from the woody ends of the asparagus. Lay spears on a work surface, then peel thin skin from each with a sharp swivel-blade vegetable peeler, starting 1 1⁄2” from the top and running the length of the spear. Spears are brittle and can snap when peeled in midair. Cut the asparagus into slices.

Heat a a medium saucepan over medium low heat; add the butter. Add the asparagus and gently sauté them in butter. Stir in the broth and the cream, increase the heat to a gentle boil and cook for 5 minutes or until the asparagus is completely fork tender. Season with salt and white pepper.

Puree the soup in batches in the blender. Place a clean kitchen towel over the lid and hold down the lid, so the hot soup does not splatter, and return the soup to the pan. Alternatively, you can use an immersion hand blender and puree the soup directly in the pan.

Add a few dashes of white wine if you think the soup needs acidity. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and white ground pepper, if needed. Cover and keep the soup warm.

For the Lobster:
Use sharp kitchen shears to cut shell of lobster all the way down its back. Turn over and cut bottom shell all the way down. Peel off shell and remove the tail meat.

In a sauce pan, bring 1 tablespoon of water to simmer over medium-low heat. Whisk in 1 piece of butter. When butter has melted, add another piece. Continue with remaining butter pieces, one at a time. Make sure the mixture does NOT come to a boil, otherwise the butter will separate.

Keeping the heat on medium-low, add the lobster pieces and cook for 5 minutes, turning the lobster pieces every minute or so. Make sure mixture does not boil. Remove lobster from the poaching butter and set aside.

To serve, ladle soup into warmed bowls. Arrange three asparagus spears in the soup. Lay the lobster tail on top of the asparagus spears. Add a few drops of parsley oil. Garnish with spicy cress and lemon zest, if desired.

 

Cook’s Notes:
You can use fresh chives as a substitution for the parsley in making the oil, if desired.

 

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B. Smith’s Swamp Thang with Deep Fried Julienne Vegetables

The Late Barbara Smith (1949-2020), was a famed fashion model and was the first African American woman to appear on the cover of Mademoiselle magazine. She went on to build an empire that included television shows, restaurants, her own furniture line (another first for an African American woman), and other lifestyle products from rugs to kitchenware. Called “one of the most formidable rivals of Martha Stewart” by The Wall Street Journal, Barbara Smith not only shattered glass ceilings, she also brought America a casual, elegant, easy style that is all her own. This recipe is from “B. Smith Cooks Southern-Style”, published in 2009. This cookbook focuses solely on the food – no table settings, no party plans – and gives readers more than 200 recipes and colourful tales from her incomparable career. Readers and home cooks alike will find a number of mouthwatering dishes based on Southern cuisine. One of her most popular dishes, The Swamp Thang ,was created at her Union Station restaurant in Washington D.C. The list of ingredients include shrimp, scallops, crawfish that are combined in a creamy light Dijon mustard sauce and napped over collard greens. The dish is finally dressed with deep fried julienne vegetables.
I would order this signature dish every time I visited her establishments in both D.C. and New York. And even though it always tasted slightly different every time I had it, I was never disappointed. The dish is Southern comfort food that has been elevated. The food always reflects the soul of the person who cooks it. And as a cook, I get the feeling that the dish was spontaneously created by whatever items were left in the pantry. It has a feel of a kitchen sink kind of recipe, which in my opinion are the best kind, because it leaves so much room for interpretation and the imagination of the cook. So as one who like to experiment, I added my own spin to the dish, by searing the scallops rather than adding them to the mustard sauce. It makes the dish all the more visually appealing.
Adapted from
“B. Smith Cooks Southern Style”
2009
Serves 6 to 8 Ingredients: For the Seafood Mustard Sauce:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided               
1 cup white onion, finely
1 cup red onion, finely diced
1/2 cup finely diced green bell pepper                  
1/2 cup finely diced celery          
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound medium scallops 
1 cup white wine                      
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves        
1 bay leaf                                  
2 cups fish stock                        
1 tablespoon lemon juice              
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce           
1 cup heavy cream                     
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard 
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 pound crawfish tails, peeled
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
Cooked Collard Greens,for serving
Deep-Fried Julienne Vegetables, for garnish (Recipe Follows)
Fresh chopped parsley, for garnish
Directions: In a medium Dutch oven, heat 3 tablespoons of butter over medium high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic and saute for 5 minutes, until vegetables are soft and the onion is transparent. Add the wine, thyme and bay leaf. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes. Add the stock, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce and return to a boil. Stir in the heavy cream, mustard and the Old Bay Seasoning. Reduce the heat to medium low. Add the shrimp and crawfish tails. Cook for 5 minutes or until the shrimp are pink. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the bay leaf from the sauce and discard. For the Scallops: Pat the scallops dry with paper towels. Season generously all over with salt and pepper. In a separate skillet heat the 1 tablespoon of butter over medium-high heat. Place the scallops in the skillet in a single layer, spaced about an inch apart. The first scallop should sizzle on contact. If it doesn’t, wait a few seconds to let the pan heat before adding the rest. Do not crowd the pan; work in batches if necessary. Cook the scallops undisturbed for 2 minutes. If the scallop doesn’t release easily from the pan, let it cook for another few seconds until it does. Flip the scallops over. Cook the scallops on the second side undisturbed for 2 to 3 minutes more. Both sides of the scallop should be seared golden-brown and the sides should look opaque all the way through. The scallops should feel firm to the touch, but still slightly soft, like well-set Jell-O; do not overcook or the scallops become tough and chewy. To serve, place a helping of collard greens to the center of a plate. Nap the seafood mustard sauce over the collard greens. Garnish with the deep-fried julienne vegetables. To finish the dish, add the seared scallops and sprinkle with parsley. Enjoy this classic signature dish from B. Smith. For the Deep-Fried Julienne Vegetables: Ingredients:
1 cup 1/4-inch julienne zucchini            
1 cup 1/4-inch julienne yellow squash       
1 cup 1/4-inch julienne carrot              
1 cup 1/5-inch julienne sweet potato        
1 small julienne shallot
1 cup whole milk    
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
Directions: Add the vegetables an milk to a 1 gallon resealable plastic bag. Place the bag in a bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 200 o F. In a deep Dutch oven or caste iron skillet, add enough oil to reach a depth of 1 inch. Heat the oil over medium high heat to 350 o F. In a shallow dish, combine flour, salt and pepper. Using a colander, drain the vegetables and toss them into the seasoned flour. Transfer the vegetables to a large sieve and shake off the excess flour. Working batch, deep fry large handfuls of the vegetables in the hot oil for 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown. Using a wire spyder or skimmer, or slotted spoon, remove the vegetable from the oil and drain on paper towels. Keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.
Photo Credit: Tangie Holifield, 2020
Photo Credit: Tangie Holifield, 2020
Cook’s Notes: Shrimp or even chicken broth will  work well in this recipe. If you cannot find fresh crawfish, you can substitute frozen crawfish tail, just make sure that you defrost them before using. Remove the side muscles from the scallops if needed. The side muscle is a little tag of muscle tissue on the side of the scallop that secures it to the shell and may still be on the scallops. It will feel a bit tough and its fibers run opposite the rest of the scallop. Just pinch it with your thumb and first finger and pull it away. If you miss one, don’t worry; they’re a little tough to chew, but are safe to eat. Cook the scallops as the last thing you do before serving dinner. Prepare everything else so that the scallops can be served immediately after cooking, while they are at their best.

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Grilled Salmon Steaks and Cucumber Salad

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Salmon steaks, cut crosswise through the backbone, instead of fillets makes got the prefect grilled fish. The steaks are thicker, making them easier to flip while grilling. A yogurt-based cucumber salad packed with fresh herbs acts both as a sauce and a side dish for salmon in this low-carb seafood dinner.

Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 seedless English cucumber,thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
4 salmon steaks
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh dill, finely chopped
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint, finely chopped

Directions:
Set grill or grill pan to medium-high. In a large bowl, season the cucumber and red onion with the salt, tossing to combine. Let stand at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, with paper towels, blot the salmon until dry. Brush on both sides with 2 tablespoons of oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place salmon on grill and cook 5 minutes per side, until cooked through. Meanwhile, drain cucumber and onion well.

In the same large bowl, whisk together the Greek yogurt, vinegar, dill, mint, and remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Fold in drained cucumber and onion. Serve with salmon.

Grilling Notes:
To prevent sticking, be sure your grill is very clean and very hot before placing the salmon on it. When flipping, if the salmon does not lift from the grate easily, wait 15–30 seconds, then try again.

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All photographs and content, excepted where noted, are copyright protected. Please do not use these photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this photograph and all other contents, then we kindly ask that you link back to this site. We are eternally grateful and we appreciate your support of this blog.

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