24 June 2010

Recipe: German Spargel Dinner

So, yesterday I posted a picture of my (likely) last taste of German white asparagus. Forget the green stuff; in Deutschland, white is the king of vegetables. Unfortunately, the season is relatively short. Here in Mainz, it officially ends with the coming of Johannesfest. I'm not exaggerating; after this weekend, there will be no more available asparagus until next spring. The fields are abandoned and remaining crops will be allowed free reign to grow into whatever asparagus grows into when we stop picking it.

I'm excited about the upcoming festival (one of the big 3 they have out here) but I'm sad to think that the coming of the Festival marks the end of Spargel season.

There are virtually innumerable ways to prepare this veggie, but I chose to stick with a classic, traditional dish that graces menus across the country between May and June. Although many restaurants will attempt new, bold ways of preparing Weißspargel, you can always find the classic preparation as well, namely steamed or boiled asparagus with a side of Salzkartoffeln, basically boiled potatoes. It's usually served with lemon, melted butter, or the incredibly decadent Hollandaise sauce. Most restaurants also offer the option of adding a side of protein in some form (the sign from this restaurant offers ham, salmon filet, or a veal steak). This preparation is really all about the Spargel.

I have included a link to printable versions of each individual recipe at the end of this post.

German Spargel Dinner

Servings:Prep Time: 50 min. Cook Time: 20-30 min

This classic German meal is designed to highlight an undying love and respect for that which Germans consider the King of all vegetables: White Asparagus. Given the short season, it's eaten in bulk, but don't be concerned by the portions given below. A one-pound serving of asparagus only contains 100 calories, so enjoy!

Here's what you need:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 TB fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • whisk
  • bowl (preferably stainless steel)
  • small pot
  • larger pot (large enough to fit your bowl, but not so big it will fall in)
  • REALLY strong arm
  • 2 lbs white asparagus (1 lb per person)
  • appx. 1/2 gallon water
  • 1/8 cup salt
  • 1 TB sugar
  • Large pot, saute pan, or asparagus pot.
  • 6-7 waxy potatoes - baby red-skinned, Yukon gold, etc. Look for potatoes appx 2-3" across, about 3-4 per person. Scrub well, remove any eyes or imperfections. Do not peel!
  • appx 1/2 gallon water
  • 1/4 c. salt

Here's what you do:

Timing tips:

Make your Hollandaise first. It's very labor intensive, so it's really not great for multi-tasking. Simply store your sauce in a pre-warmed Thermos until ready to serve.

If you have the stove space and pots available, you can cook the potatoes and the asparagus at the same time. If not, cook the potatoes first, as they will retain their heat longer. Once drained (and optionally, peeled) place in a bowl and cover with a towel. You could even stick the bowl in your microwave (it will act like a giant insulated cooler).

Since the potatoes take twice as long as the asparagus, start them about 10 minutes earlier. Do not try to cook them in the same pot to save time - it won't go well, trust me. Likewise, don't simply remove the potatoes from their water, then plop the asparagus in. The water will be too salty for the asparagus, and will contain lots of potato skin residue.

Directions for the Hollandaise (inspired by recipes from Mardi @ eat.live.travel.write. and Tyler Florence on FoodNetwork.com):
  • First, clarify your butter:
    • Place your butter in a small pot over low heat. Allow it to melt without stirring. When it's fully melted, you will see 3 distinct layers: a scummy layer on top (which you need to ladle off carefully), a clear yellow liquid layer, and a milky white layer under that. The clear yellow is what you want. You can either ladle it out carefully, or you can decant it (pour it slowly out of the pot, without allowing any of the milky white out).
    • The yellow is your clarified butter - the white is the water and milk solids (the parts that allow your butter to splatter, explode, and burn). You can discard the white part.
    • Set aside, and keep warm.
  • While your butter is melting, take your egg yolks and lemon juice, and whisk briskly in your bowl. (Make sure to keep an eye on the butter however, the water can overheat and cause it to splatter. It's fine to pause your whisking and deal with the clarified butter once it's melted). After about 5 minutes or so, your yolks should thicken and become lighter.
  • Traditionally, you place your yolks in the bowl over about an inch of simmering water. Some directions say to place them over the heated water before whisking, some say after. I'll be honest, in my experience, it really doesn't seem to matter. Essentially what you're doing is heating up the egg yolks so that when you add the butter, you're mixing two equally warm parts. If one or the other is too hot, the sauce will break, period. Continue whisking your yolks until they are hot, but take care not to over-heat them, as they can start to curdle (i.e. scramble). Mardi of eat.live.travel.write. (c/o her husband) suggests removing the bowl from the pot intermittently to avoid overheating the yolks.
  • Once warm, remove your bowl from the simmering pot. SLOWLY start to whisk your warm butter into your warm egg yolks.
    • If you are alone, get a towel, roll into a tube, and wrap that tube into a circle (like a giant towel-bagel). Place your bowl over this circle. This accomplishes 2 things: a non-skid surface, so you can whisk one-handed, and it insulates the yolk mixture from cooling too rapidly (again, temperature is what causes your sauce to break). If you have someone you trust, use the buddy system. One person holds the bowl, whisking constantly, the other pours in the butter in a slow stream.
  • I personally don't trust anyone else, so I whisk solo. As you incorporate your butter, you will notice the mix will thicken considerably. Continue adding a tablespoon or so at a time, whisking to fully incorporate before you add more. This can be a very slow process, but the more time you give yourself, the less likely you will be to have a broken eggs-in-butter sauce. Continue until you have added all of your butter.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside in an pre-warmed insulated Thermos (a good-quality metal travel mug works well, but avoid plastic, unless you want your morning coffee to taste like buttery lemons). This recipe makes about 2 cups of sauce - feel free to cut back by 25-50% for the purposes of this dinner.

Directions for the potatoes:
  • Bring your water to a boil. Once boiling, add the salt and stir to dissolve. Stirring is very important to the life of your pans - don't skip it.
  • Carefully add your potatoes to the boiling water. Allow them to boil about 15-20 minutes. To test for doneness, pierce one of the larger potatoes with a fork or thin paring knife. If it goes in with little resistance, and slips off easily, it's done. Drain.
  • Optional: If you prefer peeled potatoes, allow them to cool a few minutes after draining. The skins will peel off easily. 

    Directions for the asparagus:
    • Peel and trim your asparagus. Unlike green asparagus, the white kind must be peeled. Start about an inch down from the top of the asparagus, and peel all the way down. Trim the cut ends off.
      • If you have just a basic pot or even just a large saute pan, cut the asparagus into 3-4" long pieces. Make sure to set aside the pieces from the top of the stalk.
      • If you have an asparagus pot, tie the asparagus into bundles; don't cut the length down.
    • Bring your water to a boil. If you are using a saute pan, only put in about an inch or so of water. For an asparagus pot, only fill as deep as you need to fully submerge the stalks of the asparagus, while keeping the delicate tips out of the water. Once boiling, add your salt and sugar and stir to dissolve. 
      • If you are using a pot or saute pan, add the stalk pieces to the boiling water for 5 minutes, then add the top pieces.
      • If you have an asparagus pot, place your bundled stalks in, making sure the tips remain above the water level.
    • Cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes (more if you like your Spargel a little mushy). Once done, drain and serve immediately.

    Simply plate a heaping helping of Spargel on the plate, top with some of your Hollandaise, and serve with a few boiled potatoes. I actually served mine with a little smoked salmon as well - the salty fish is enhanced by the buttery Hollandaise, especially when you place a little of each on a bite of the potato. Heaven.

    Individual Recipes

    If you want to try any of these recipes independently, you can click through to the printer friendly versions listed below.

    Salzkartoffeln (Salted Potatoes) Printer Friendly

    Sauce Hollandaise Printer Friendly Recipe adapted from Mardi @ eat.live.travel.write and Tyler Florence on FoodNetwork.com

    Gekochten Weißspargel (Boiled White Asparagus) Printer Friendly


    1. Love all the details on the sauce! I'm more likely to just drink my hollandaise out of the thermos like soup. I don't think mine would make it a meal. :)

    2. So delighted to find you!! I saw your tweet through @recipetaster's RT and am SO glad to find someone to teach me more about German cooking. :-) One of my dearest friends is German and I love visiting her and eating her fabulous food. :-)

    3. @Naomi: I totally understand what you're saying! Beyond the total shock that I managed to pull the Hollandaise together (with a PLASTIC bowl and whisk... and not much else) I had a heck of a time waiting until the rest of the food was ready!

      @RamblingTart: Thanks so much! I owe @RecipeTaster - he's always RT'ing, he's awesome :) I'm having a lot of fun learning about German food while I'm here and playing around with local ingredients!

    4. OMG My Oma makes a Spargel Suppe and I have always been looking for this flavour profile!!!

      Another great post Shea :)

    5. Thanks Christel :) I had been meaning to try making Spargelsuppe, but never got around to it... Oh well, guess I have to wait until NEXT Spargel season!


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