The French introduced canned asparagus to Vietnam and resourceful cooks turned it into an elegant soup, using both the spears and their canning liquid for maximum flavor. They added fresh crab and other seafood, and sometimes swirled in egg to create a Viet-Chinese-Franco favorite. The go-to version of asparagus and crab is wonderful but the crab can be time consuming to prep, which is why I prefer to make this asparagus, shrimp, and egg drop soup.
While you can cook old school and use canned asparagus for this soup, try fresh springtime asparagus (măng tây literally means “French bamboo”) for knockout flavors. Right now, it’s spring asparagus season so load up at local grocers, farmers’ markets, and even Costco.
A classic in the Vietnamese repertoire, súp măng tây is typically served for special meals but I love to treat myself to a bowl on a weeknight and/or leftovers lunch. You should too.
Purposefully over-cooking the asparagus extracts the savory flavor from the spears and yields a soft, luxe texture. Yes, it’s weird to cook asparagus till it’s drab olive, but the approach works. The aim is to have a brilliant version of canned asparagus.
For the shrimp, splurge for jumbo ones, which are plump and flavorful almost like mini lobster chunks. Homemade stock is best (I made a fast batch in my Instant Pot using the easy recipe in Vietnamese Food Any Day), but store-bought broth, such as Swanson and Whole Foods brands works well, too.
Asparagus and other Tips
When trimming asparagus of their woody ends, don’t toss them away. Freeze them for soup. Asparagus is loaded with natural umami (I once bought a Chinese natural flavor enhancer that featured asparagus!) so I often throw a handful or two into a pot of stock.
With regard to making this asparagus, shrimp, and egg drop soup, if you have time and want extra depth, gently simmer the chicken stock (or broth) with the woody asparagus ends and shrimp shells for about 20 minutes; strain and add water to get the 4 cups needed.
Combining egg with fish sauce and black pepper lends the soup a briny richness much like that of crab butter. Now you know my little cheat.
What’s up with the potato starch? Use potato starch to create a silky, plush texture. Cornstarch is great but the soup is not as elegant. Potato starch, such as Bob’s Red Mill, brand is what I use. It is not the same as sweet potato starch. Tapioca starch is viscous, by comparison.
This is a recipe that I couldn’t fit into Vietnamese Food Any Day so add it to your collection for the book!
Another recipe to try: Asparagus and shrimp stir-fry
Asparagus, Shrimp and Egg Drop Soup
To cook in advance, partially cover the pot after simmering the asparagus, let things cool, then keep at room temperature up to several hours, or refrigerate up to 2 days (return the soup to room temperature before proceeding). Then reheat to add the shrimp and finish the soup.
- 1 tablespoon canola or other neutral oil
- 1/3 cup thinly sliced shallot or yellow onion
- 4 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 cup water
- 3 slices unpeeled ginger each as thick as a bean sprout, lightly smacked with the broad side of a knife
- 12-14 ounces asparagus woody ends discarded, and cut on the diagonal into 1 1/4-inch-long pieces
- 6 ounces jumbo or extra-larger shell-on shrimp peeled, deveined, and cut into thumbnail-size nuggets
- Fine sea salt to taste
- 1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
- 1 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon recently ground black pepper
- 2 1/2 tablespoons potato starch or cornstarch dissolved in 2 1/2 tablespoons stock or water
- In a 3 to 4-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallot (or onioand cook, stirring, 2 to 3 minutes, until soft. Add the stock, water, and ginger. Bring to a boil over high heat.
- Add the asparagus, then adjust the heat to simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. For the most flavor, deliberately overcook the asparagus to a very tender texture and olive-green color; it won’t look cheery but will taste good. Discard the ginger.
- To finish, return the soup to a simmer over medium heat. Add the shrimp and let cook until pink, about 1 minute. Lightly season with salt. Beat the egg and yolk with the fish sauce and black pepper; set aside.
- Give the starch mixture a stir and slowly pour it into the soup with one hand as you stir the soup with the other. You may not need the entire amount to thicken and create a thick silky texture. Continue stirring for about 30 seconds, or until the soup is thickened. Turn off the heat.
- Pour the beaten egg onto the soup in a wide circle, then stir gently to break it up into chiffonlike pieces. Taste and season with extra salt as needed. Partially cover and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes to further develop good flavor. Ladle into individual bowls and serve immediately.