Every spring when I was a teenager, I remember watching Good Morning America and without fail, there was a cooking segment that introduced the asparagus season and whenever I saw the episode featuring asparagus, I knew that spring had officially arrived (since we didn’t have seasons in the tropics). I think that that morning show was where I learned how to choose the perfect spears and how to snap the woody bottom off so that only the tasty tender bit remained. Over the years I have eaten all colours – green, purple and white asparagus. As a child, my only experience with white asparagus (as with many of you) was in a can – gross and mushy, but I remember my mother revering it because it was so expensive and gourmet. Of course when I finally ate fresh white asparagus, it tasted nothing like the stuff in the can! In Barcelona’s La Bocaria market, white asparagus were piled high and so incredibly cheap that I couldn’t believe my eyes! Next time I visit Barcelona, I have vowed to stay in a serviced apartment to be able to cook those lovely beauties.
It seems like purple asparagus is even rarer to find and as it has a higher sugar content than its green relatives, it has a sweeter flavour. If you cook it quickly, it will retain most of its purple hue but if cooked for an extended period of time (like I once did), it turns green again (much like purple peppers/capsicums). When I worked as an apprentice at Chez Panisse, I remember purple asparagus on the menu a few times and I also remember that we peeled about 1/3 of the bottom of each spear to expose the tender bits and avoid the woody thicker skin at the bottom – it is one of the many images that I associate with that restaurant.
Asparagus is beautiful boiled/steamed and served with a little bit of sea salt, stir-fried with beef Asian style, accompanied with Hollandaise sauce or even used to make a chilled cream of asparagus soup topped with fresh crab. Mmmm…
Recently I have noticed beautiful bunches of green asparagus at my local greengrocers and although I wasn’t sure whether they were domestically grown or not (since it is autumn here), I couldn’t resist them and decided to use them to make easy and very tasty canapés. (I read some statistics recently that I found interesting – most of the asparagus grown in Australia is grown in Victoria and that 67% of Australia’s production is imported to Japan as opposed to 5% from California’s production.)
Digging into my Japanese repertoire, I decided to make teriyaki-marinated beef asparagus rolls. If you live in a city where you are able to get beautifully thin sukiyaki beef, by all means, use it because it’s precut and ready to roll. If however you live in a city like I do, where butchers stare at you in confusion if you ask for shabu-shabu or sukiyaki cuts of beef, then you may have to do what I did. I went to a local butcher and tried to explain what I wanted to do and then he offered me a piece of round that he butterflied and then offered to tenderise it. When I have told butchers here that I want the meat to be very THIN, NONE of them so far have understood that I want it to be PAPER thin, not 4 mm thin. Anyway, I got it home and decided to bash the meat (without pissing off my neighbours) to my desired thinness in preparation for marinating.
Bashing the beef into submission…a great stress reliever.
Odd, I didn’t try to create a map of Australia!
Beef strips ready for the marinade.
Beef strips in teriyaki marinade.
1/3 c. Japanese soy sauce (Kikkoman, Yamasa)
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. mirin
2 Tbsp. sake
1 large clove of garlic
1 Tbsp. mince or grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. sesame oil (optional)
2 Tbsp. chopped green onion (optional)
Instructions: Slice thin meat into 1 to 1.5 in. (2.5 to 3.5 cm) wide x 4 in. (10 cm) thin slices (long enough to wrap around the stacked asparagus).
Mix all the marinade ingredients together making sure that the sugar is dissolved before placing beef in the marinade. You may double or triple this recipe to suit a larger amount of meat. The piece of meat I used was only about 250g (about 1/2 lb). Leave in marinade for at least an hour before cooking.
To make canapés: Blanche asparagus spears whole in boiling water until nearly cooked. Place immediately under cold water to stop cooking. Cut uniformly into 2.5 in / 5 cm pieces and place three pieces of asparagus in each stack. Place marinated beef pieces on a flat surface and roll around the asparagus clusters. Pan fry the stacks with the join on the bottom to be seared initially, so that the cooked beef doesn’t start to unravel when turned over to cook the other side. Serve hot or at room temperature.
These canapés look harder than they are, are very tasty, make great conversation pieces and you may even eat them as a meal with hot rice!
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