"Well you see," she started, using her Irish constructions, "I had a stove which was always too hot or too cool to cook on. So I used the asparagus pot on the burner which was too hot." After a few more questions I finally understood she was explaining that this was the pot with the least surface area off of which she'd have to scrape the burnt sauce. She used an ice cream scoop to stir because it reached and fit best.
She laughed as I sat in shock. An ice cream scoop? No wooden spoon? No, she didn't have one, but she did have an ice cream scoop. I'd pondered why she would use an ice cream scoop as I went off to the kitchen to reheat some pizza for her, leftovers from the night before. It was only later that she corrected me and reiterated that she'd used an ice cream spoon, not a scoop. "Why would I have an ice cream scoop?" she asked me. "I don't know," I replied. "Why would you cook sauce in an asparagus pot?" "I've already explained that," she answered. I have to get my hearing checked.
Back to my "new" (for me, anyway) asparagus pot. It's 24cm high, (26 with the lid, 28 if you include the handle) and has a 14cm diameter. The diameter is a function of European standards; stovetops generally have two small and two large burners, 14.5cm and 18cm respectively. I don't know which DIN or EIN numbered standard documents this but that's of no relevance. Then again, neither is an asparagus pot and I've seen fit to write about it anyway.
I've always cooked asparagus in high-rimmed pans. The green stuff I par-boil for 2-3 minutes, then shock cool, then serve cold or either cook in butter or just grill; the white stuff gets boiled almost beyond recognition. I really ought to try grilling it even though it requires peeling and much longer cooking times.
Germans go nuts for white asparagus; the town of origin a major consideration. Schrobenhausen, Abensberg and Pörnbach are the towns which Germans believe produce the best and their names on the box can double the price. Asparagus season is a big deal here and the stalks can be more than 3cm in diameter for the Class Ia goods. Most of us forinjers don't get it but everywhere you go for two months white asparagus can be found on the menu, usually accompanied by Hollandaise sauce and boiled potatoes. This simple meal costs at least €10 even if the Hollandaise is some premix crap out of a Tetra-Pak box from from Thomy.
Me, I love green asparagus. I could eat the stuff all day and night, par-boiled for about 2 minutes in heavily salted water, then shock-cooled in ice-water, dipping it in a sauce made from ground mustard mixed with a bit of vinegar and then mixed into three times that volume of Hellman's mayo, perhaps with some capers added for a bit of extra oomph. RIG prefers to bung thin baby asparagus in some foil with olive oil, lemon, pepper and almonds and then bake for a few minutes until the asparagus goes brighter. Her recipe isn't germaine to my asparagus pot story but its inclusion is important. She's not yet prepared this for me but insists I stop making her look like a complete incompetent in the kitchen even though she thoroughly enjoys having her own personal chef who also occasionally manages to clean up afterwards.
Cutting the bottoms off asparagus? Meh. It's always too much or too little. Just hold the stalk in the middle, grab the end and bend. Where it breaks is the point where no woody bit is left. If the stalk doesn't snap cleanly it's no good for anything but soup. The broken-off ends are excellent for cooking broth and soup stock.
White asparagus has to be peeled. The outer skin is woody and bitter as hell. The first time I bought some I wasn't aware of this and waited as my unpeeled asparagus boiled for 40 minutes without softening. My German flatmates were quite amused as they saw me trying to find something edible among the bitter and woody pile on my plate and enjoyed telling The Tale of the Dog and White Asparagus for the entire second half of 1993.
A few years ago I bought an asparagus peeling device. A hole at the top leads to six blades arranged to take off all the outer skin of a stalk with a single push. Unfortunately the thickest stalks won't fit through and about half of all stalks which do fit break as they're being pulled the rest of the way from below. My mother got a taste for white asparagus when she visited me and was tickled pink when I bought her one of these peelers. Mine now sits in the back of a gadget drawer next to an inside-the-egg-scrambler and some silicone egg poaching cups.
Inside the asparagus pot is a wire basket which is about half an inch smaller in diameter. The mesh is too wide for the thing to do double-duty as a noodle pot. Now that I think about it I'm seeing a problem: for the asparagus to be forced to stand I'd need about 2kg of the stuff and most thin stalks (like the fine, fancy green ones) would slip through the inner basket. That doesn't leave much room for water. The low amount of water means less heat can be transferred at any time which means slow-cooking the asparagus.
Asparagus, like broccoli and some other veg, loses flavours to water. Most foods will give up their flavours to oils or water but not both. This is why asparagus is best cooked on a grill or in a pan with butter. At the very least if it has to be cooked in water it should only be par-boiled. And yet I now have a pot designed to boil asparagus to death; a slow, painful, texture-destroying, flavour-draining death.
Still, I'll find some use for a tall, skinny pot with or without the internal chicken-wire basket. My new asparagus pot is hardly the most useless item in the kitchen. That honour probably goes to the wooden butter pat maker. Or the lemon zester. Or perhaps the honey dipper since I don't actually have any honey here. I'd feel bad about owning some of these things if I'd actually paid for any of them.
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