White Asparagus, a.k.a. the White Gold, is only available for a short period of time. The official season usually starts at the beginning of April and ends traditionally on the 24th of June (Saint John). Depending on the weather conditions, the first white asparagus might already be available in March. So most of the times, this vegetable is only (freshly) available for about 6 – 8 weeks.
Each year, our boys look forward to asparagus season. Once they see the first stalls being put up next to the asparagus fields, they will bugger me until I finally buy some. When we pass a stall, they will yell in unison ‘LOOK, THEY ARE SELLING ASPARAGUS!!’.
Probably THE most traditional way to eat white asparagus, is cooked in salted water and served with a rich buttery Hollandaise sauce, boiled potatoes, cooked ham and hard-boiled eggs. Or the Belgian way, à la Flamande, cooked white asparagus with egg mimosa (roughly mashed hard-boiled eggs with fresh parsley, salt, pepper, grated nutmeg and clarified butter). We all love them both ways. And then there is of course asparagus soup, often made from the trimmings and peels of the asparagus. So good.
As good as the traditional ways are, I do like to think out of the box once in a while. I had just bought 1 kg of fresh asparagus and I was contemplating what I would do with them. As I had a craving for some Asian food as well, I decided that I could very well use the asparagus for that. By the way, I had bought a bag of what they call ‘buitenbeentjes’, literally ‘misfits’. That can be any fruit or vegetable that does not meet the ‘esthetic’ standards. Not perfectly round and shiny apples, misshapen cucumbers or, in this case, asparagus that are not all of the same size and are a bit crooked. Those fruits and vegetables are perfectly all right. They are fresh and taste great. They just might not look as appealing as the ‘perfectly shaped’ ones. Well, I could not care less how they look. I think it’s a great initiative to sell these fruits and vegetables at a lower price, instead of throwing them away. We waste too much food as it is already.
So back to the dish. I had no idea whether it would be a good match, but I figured: why not? So I combined the white asparagus with ground chicken, spiced it up and served it on soba noodles. And let me tell you, this is a dish you’ll want to make over and over again. The salty and spicy flavors of the chicken and sauce combined with the delicate, somewhat sweet flavor and soft texture of the white asparagus… oh my. And if the plates are wiped clean and I get an immediate request to ‘please make this again’… I’d say: mission accomplished ;-).
Not so much into asparagus? You can easily swap it for other vegetables, like broccoli or mushrooms. Or give this Korean Beef a try.
White Asparagus 'Oriental Style'
- 1 kg white asparagus
- 2 cubes chicken stock
- 1 l water
- 150 g soba noodles
- 500 g ground chicken
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 3 tsp Hoisin sauce
- 3 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp (light) brown sugar
- 1 tsp Sambal Bajak*
- 2 tbsp chopped spring onion**
Peel the asparagus and cut off the hard bottom ends, about 3 cm.***
Cut the stalks into smaller pieces, about 3-4 cm long.
Put into a pan with the water and chicken stock cubes and bring to a boil.
Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the package.
Meanwhile, heat up the sesame oil and brown the ground chicken.
Mix the Hoisin sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar and sambal.
Add sauce to the browned chicken and stir.
Add the spring onions and stir again.
When the asparagus are fork tender, carefully take them out of the broth with a slotted spoon and add to the chicken.****
Carefully fold in the asparagus.
Serve with the soba noodles.
*In Sambal Bajak, the chili peppers are fried with oil, onions, terasi, garlic, candlenuts and other spices. The paste is milder than Sambal Oelek/Ulek and much more fragrant. You can use other types of chili sauce for this.
**I did not have any fresh ones at hand, so I used dried spring onions
***Do not throw the peels and hard ends away. If you boil them in chicken stock , they make a great soup! Boil for at least 30 minutes, let sit overnight, strain. Heat it up, add some cream and fresh parsley, serve with warm bread.
****You can use the broth to make soup or sauce.