Basic preparation for white asparagus
Cut off the woody end of your asparagus, usually between 1 to 3 cm. You then have to carefully peel your asparagus with a sharp vegetable peeler. This step is crucial as a badly peeled asparagus won’t be a pleasure to eat. Start at the head of the asparagus and peel towards the bottom, being careful not to break them. Some people prefer to keep them in their left hand, so that they peel towards their wrist. I prefer to have them just lay flat on a cutting board.
For cooking, you can bundle the asparagus using kitchen string, although this step is not absolutely necessary. Then, cook the asparagus in boiling, salted water. Some people add a pinch of sugar to cut the bitterness. The time heavily depends on the size of the asparagus, but the norm is between 10 and 20 minutes. To know if they are done, pierce with a knife through the end of one asparagus. If it goes through easily, you’re done.
Remove the asparagus from the water with some tongs (the remaining cooking water is and excellent broth for a risotto with asparagus) and place them on a special asparagus dish or just on a napkin on a preheated plate, as to allow them to be completely drained of any excess water before serving.
There exist also some special asparagus pots with a basket that allows you to have the asparagus heads outside the water so that they steam rather than boil and stay tender. Personally, I have never tried it, as I find don’t find that the heads are overcooked using the classic method.
Basic preparation for a true French sauce hollandaise (Recipe adapted from “Le Grand Larousse de la cuisine”)
For 6 to 8 people:
Clarify 300g of good quality butter: heat the butter in a pot. If all melted, wait a few minutes to let the “petit-lait” separate from the butter. Then skim of the thin skin on the surface and carefully pour the butter in a bowl so that the petit-lait stays behind in the pot. The clarified butter is now ready for use, but make sure to keep it warm (not hot, otherwise you’ll ruin the sauce!), either on a very low flame, or better in a water bath.
Separate 5 eggs (room temperature) and combine the yolks with 3 tablespoons of cold water in a pot (best is an Inox pot). Add a pinch of salt, white pepper and put on a medium flame in a water bath. Heat progressively, stirring continuously, the mixture will then whiten and turn into a creamy thick sauce. Once reached this stage, remove your pot from the water bath, and continue to stir so as to lower the temperature a bit. Now slowly pour the clarified butter until you reach the desired texture. Depending on the size of your eggs you might not need all of your butter.
Taste for salt and pepper. You can also add the juice of half a lemon. I always do this as I find it gives the sauce a bit more depth and complexity.
It is crucial that your sauce is warm when you serve it with the asparagus, so keep it warm in a water bath, but be very careful not to let the temperature of the sauce exceed 55°C, otherwise it will curdle, and you cannot save it anymore! A good kitchen thermometer is actually a very good investment if you enjoy sauce hollandaise.
Finally, a wine recommendation for asparagus. It is actually not easy to combine asparagus and wine, but here’s a simple and affordable suggestion:
Muscat (2011) from Wolfberger in Alsace, France. Very aromatic, but dry wine, that will be a good company to the strong flavor of the asparagus, neither overpowering nor too weak in taste.