Once in a while, more infrequently than I wish for, a very special book finds its way to you and adds some momentous pleasure to your life. A Concise Encyclopaedia of Gastronomy, published in 1952 by André Simon, is one of those.
I’m going to share some of his pretentious, anachronistic and entertaining culinary knowledge- this time about asparagus.
“Asparagus is rich in mineral salts and it stimulates the bladder, it also contains Vitamins A and B. Asparagus is probably the only vegetable that is acceptable not only hot or cold but even tepid. No less than 94 per cent of the weight of asparagus being water, it keeps the heat of the boiling water quite a long time.
The two most popular ways of serving asparagus are (1) plainly boiled, served hot with melted butter or a Sauce Mousseline, Mousseuse or Hollandaise; and (2) plainly boiled, served cold with a Sauce Vinaigrette, or with a Sauce Mayonnaise à la Crème fouettée.
Many people imagine that it is as easy to boil asparagus as it is to boil an egg, but, as a matter of fact, the proper cooking of asparagus is very difficult. One has only to be reminded that the point of the asparagus is tender whilst the stalk is not, to realise how difficult it must be to cook both at the same time. The Romans of old, who loved asparagus, always cooked it ‘standing’, and this is the only way to cook asparagus properly. The asparagus are prepared by cutting off the ends evenly and scraping from tip to stalk. They are then tied in a bundle. Water is brought to a boiling point in an asparagus boiler, a narrow but very deep pan; salt is added to the water and the bundle of asparagus is then put in, standing, so that the stalks are in the water and the tips are out of it; a lid, provided with one or two small holes for the steam to escape, is now put on the asparagus boiler which is left on the fire 15 minutes, for freshly picked asparagus, and 20 minutes for ‘shop’ asparagus. By that time, the boiled stalks will be tender and the steamed points will be cooked but not mushy, as they invariably are when the asparagus is boiled horizontally, and the whole is treated alike.
If you must cook asparagus in the bad old way, horizontally, put the bundle of asparagus in boiling salted water, boil them for 15 minutes and serve at once, after draining thoroughly; in that way there will be a good deal of the white stalks too hard to eat, but the green part will still hold together and retain its flavour.”
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