Asparagus á la Jacques

I’ve never met Jacques Pépin, but I’ve cooked my way through France with La Technique and La Methode, until they’re old friends still prominent on my kitchen book shelf. One of his best nuggets is the simple Asparagus Stew tucked into the vegetable section of La Methode. I come back to it time and again with my own variation as still the best way to cook fresh asparagus. And by fresh asparagus I do not mean what comes from Mexico or Peru and lands in a supermarket.

Each spring when the local farmers’ market opens with an abundance of purple and green just-picked-yesterday asparagus, I vow to eat it everyday while it’s in season and never to buy any other. Its delicate sweetness is unrivaled and its vegetable stardom asks for a solitary presentation. A bowl of quickly cooked asparagus with a crisp chunk of peasant bread makes a perfect first course. With the addition of a few egg noodles and a dusting of freshly grated Parmesan, you have supper.

We used to think asparagus was at its best after a brisk dunk in a pot of boiling salted water, but now we know that high heat in an oven, on a grill or in a shallow covered pan slicked with butter and a sprinkling of water, keeps more flavor in the spears. This rapid, almost stir-fry approach lifts the now prized “sparrow grass,” the weed we used to collect along Colorado ditch banks, into the realm of supreme delicacy.

Asparagus  la Jacques

1 lb. farm fresh purple or green asparagus

generous ¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons water

Carefully rinse asparagus, allowing it to soak in cold water 2 minutes if it feels sandy.

Cut each spear on a diagonal leaving the tops 2 to 3 inches long and narrowing the lower slices (see photo).

In the bottom of a heavy 10-to-12 inch stainless or enameled cast iron skillet with a tight fitting lid sprinkle the salt and water. Strew in the sliced asparagus and dot with butter. Cover, place over high heat. As soon as you hear cooking sounds, time 3 minutes. Stir, taste for tenderness and when done to your liking, tip the contents into two bowls, sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley or mint and rush to the table. A gift for 2.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at


One Response to “Asparagus á la Jacques”

  1. Carol Wilson Says:

    What a bonus to get more of Mary Jo’s recipes! Just bought some asparagus at Butterfield’s market on State Route 73 outside Oxford, Ohio, and will fix some of Jacues Pepin’s recipe, thanks to your blog.

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