If you're concerned about timing issues when it comes to cooking or if you just want to quickly put something healthy and good on the table, this simple recipe is for you. I purchased and prepped way too much food for our Tet feast on Tuesday night, and among the leftovers was a pound of asparagus. Not knowing what to do, I parboiled them in lots of salted water and kept them refrigerated. Why? Because prepping asparagus up to that point allows you to do whatever you want to them at the last moment. For example, you can add them to an omelet, toss them in a salad, stir-fry them with a little oyster sauce or coat the green spears in a little rich and savory-sweet dressing.
For lunch today, I took the last approach for this recipe, which is from Shandong province in northern China. The dressing is seriously fast and easy. I have no qualms about admitting that I borrowed this idea from The Seventh Daughter, an engaging and informative cookbook by legendary San Francisco restaurateur Cecilia Chiang of the Mandarin.
Prep and boil the asparagus days in advance and add the dressing before serving. I coated the asparagus with the dressing and ate some around 1pm, keeping the rest at room temperature for hours for dinner around 7pm. The six-hour wait made the asparagus a tad dark and salty but still good. My guess is that you can keep them at room temperature, already coated in the dressing for up to 2 hours. My husband didn’t complain as he ate up all the asparagus.
1 pound medium asparagus spears
1 tablespoon sesame oil
4 teaspoons light (regular) soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon toasted hulled (white) sesame seeds
1. Use your fingers to snap off the woody ends of each asparagus spear. If they are short (around 4 inches long) like the ones I bought, keep them that length. Otherwise, cut them on the diagonal into dramatic 2 inch lengths.
2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. While the water heats up, ready a large bowl of ice water and set it near the stove.
3. Add all the asparagus to the boiling water and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until bright green and crisp tender. Eat one to make sure.
4. Drain in a colander, then immediately transfer to the ice water bath to cool. Drain again, pat the asparagus dry with paper towel or a dishtowel, then set aside in a bowl or plastic zip-top bag. Refrigerate for up to 2 days.
5. For the dressing, combine the sesame oil, soy sauce and sugar in a bowl, stirring or whisking to dissolve the sugar. Taste and make sure the flavor is balanced between being rich, salty and sweet. About 2 hours before serving, toss the asparagus in the dressing and set aside for the seasonings to penetrate. Right before serving, transfer to a plate and garnish with a shower of sesame seeds.
If it was barbecue season, I’d grill some of the Vietnamese lemongrass pork and add the dressed asparagus to the grill at the last moment, searing them for about 30 seconds on high heat. Large asparagus spears would work best and kept intact as whole spears. The asparagus and pork would be a great combination on a plate.