Austrian chef Wolfgang Ranner shares his expertise on the prized white asparagus that is now in season.
Chef Wolfgang Ranner is the award-winning group executive chef of Brotzeit German Bier Bar & Restaurant. He has over 30 years of culinary experience in Europe, China and Southeast Asia under his belt. Here, he shares his expertise on the prized white asparagus that is now in season.
Why is white asparagus so valued in Germany? White asparagus is part of the German food culture. It’s almost a cult—the Germans love their “king of vegetables”. In some regions, there are white asparagus peeling contests, white asparagus gourmet routes and white asparagus festivals known as Spargelfeste. There are also white asparagus queens crowned during white asparagus season, which usually takes place between mid April to end June.
What’s the key difference between white and green asparagus in terms of taste and texture? White asparagus is a very special ingredient. It never sees the sun—which is why it is white. Its tip never emerges beyond the soil, and it must always be covered. Harvesting white asparagus is very labour-intensive as the spears are fragile, and it can only be done by hand. Compared to the white asparagus, the green variety grows much faster under the sun. Because of this, its skin is thinner, and there is no need to peel it. It is also stronger in taste, with vegetal and green notes. It is crunchy in texture. The white asparagus, on the other hand, has a very unique and distinctive taste. You will need to peel the white asparagus before cooking it, and it has a much softer texture.
How does German white asparagus differ from white asparagus from elsewhere in the world? The soil contributes to the taste of the white asparagus, just like for wine, where the same varietal shows different characteristics because of the soil types. German white asparagus is always highly regarded for its quality. It has a purplish tip and tends to be slightly bitter.
How do you choose the best white asparagus? The best white asparagus is the one that’s freshly picked, which is why we fly in our white asparagus fresh from the farm. Choose those with a beautiful white colour, perfectly straight spears and tightly closed tips. A fresh quality white asparagus should ‘shatter’ like glass and break when you drop it on the floor. Do not store it for extended periods. Keep it for one to two weeks, and it becomes soggy.
What is the best way to cook and enjoy white asparagus? I like my white asparagus the classic way—blanched and served with parsley potato, brown butter or hollandaise. Add some smoked ham or cooked ham on the side, and enjoy with a glass of wine or a beer. This is a dish that Germans often prepare at home; it can be found in restaurants as well.
White asparagus can be tricky to pair with wine. What would you recommend? White asparagus can have a slight bitterness. It goes well with white wines that are dry, not too acidic and with a little fruitiness. At Brotzeit, we recommend the 100 Hügel Weisser Burgunder Wittmann Pinot Blanc ($14 per glass, $68 per bottle) to go with our white asparagus menu. You can also try pairing with a Sylvaner or a Riesling.
COOK AT HOME
- Make a small incision about 2cm long from the white asparagus tip. Peel the outer layer of the white asparagus all the way down. Make sure you peel it thoroughly, otherwise the white asparagus will be fibrous and chewy. Trim the end of the white asparagus.
- Meanwhile, prepare a pot of boiling water. Add 1 part salt, 0.5 part sugar and a squeeze of lemon to the water. Blanch the white asparagus in boiling water for an about 6 mins (depending on the size). Serve with hollandaise or brown butter.
DINE OUT AT BROTZEIT
At Brotzeit, the annual white asparagus menu is always a highly anticipated event, especially amongst the German community in Singapore. From white asparagus soup topped with honey baked ham ($16) and white asparagus with grilled beef tenderloin ($38) to a sumptuous platter ($78) featuring white asparagus, black forest ham, honey baked ham, smoked salmon, poached eggs and parsley potatoes with hollandaise sauce, there are choices galore for white asparagus lovers.
There’s even a white asparagus dessert with strawberries and panna cotta ($10)! Available from now till 11 June.
Cover: Classic white asparagus dish
This was first published in Wine & Dine’s May 2017 issue, A Meaty Issue – ‘Expert Opinion’