As­para­gus, Hol­landaise, seafood is pure deca­dence

The Progress-Index Weekend - - LIFESTYLES - By Ari LeVaux Ari LeVaux writes Flash in the Pan, a syn­di­cated weekly food col­umn. Ari can be reached at

Once there was a man named Os­car, who took his steak with as­para­gus, Hol­landaise sauce and lump crab. That much we know.

Steak Os­car, if you’ve never had the plea­sure, is a filet mignon dressed up as a sort of surf ’n’ turf eggs Bene­dict, and there are com­pet­ing the­o­ries over which Os­car de­serves credit for this bril­liance. The two fi­nal­ists are the king of Swe­den, Os­car II, or a maître d’ at the Wal­dorf-As­to­ria in Man­hat­tan, Os­car Tschirky, aka Os­car of the Wal­dorf.

Re­gard­less of the true iden­tity of the side-dish’s creator, it’s a good com­bi­na­tion. So good it needn’t func­tion just to pretty up some other en­trée. The com­bi­na­tion of as­para­gus and seafood, drenched in the smooth, vel­vety em­brace of Hol­landaise, presents more than enough de­li­cious­ness to qual­ify as its own dish. It is the rich­est sauce, com­bined with the most lux­u­ri­ous of seafood and the most deca­dent of veg­eta­bles.

A his­toric com­bi­na­tion

While as­para­gus doesn’t con­tain fatty de­posits of its own, it plays well with the lipids of oth­ers. When as­para­gus is cooked with fish, it can ab­sorb their fatty juices.

I pre­fer a nice wild salmon steak, with the bone in and skin on for ex­tra juici­ness. Coat it with olive oil and then sprin­kle with salt and gar­lic pow­der and some mel­low herbs like thyme, or herbs de Provence. Or go Asian-style Os­car: Coat with sesame oil and rub with 1 tea­spoon sugar, ½ tea­spoon of gar­lic pow­der, a pinch or two of black pep­per. Then add 3 ta­ble­spoons soy sauce.

Snap off the tough ends of your as­para­gus by feel­ing where the stalk “wants” to break. Ar­range the spears like logs in a raft on the bot­tom of a bak­ing dish, with a ta­ble­spoon or two of but­ter on top. Sprin­kle with chopped lemon­grass, or zest of le­mon or lime (or both). Lay the fish on top and bake it at 350 un­til done how you like it. The as­para­gus will cook apace.

As for that Hol­landaise, that lit­tle black-di­a­mond slope of kitchen alchemy: It’s as un­for­giv­ing as it is pres­ti­gious, but it can be made by mere mor­tals. You’ll need a whisk and a dou­ble boiler, prefer­ably one that con­sists of a metal bowl with a rounded bot­tom on or in a pot of sim­mer­ing wa­ter.

The first step is to clar­ify the but­ter. Heat a stick of but­ter in a thick­bot­tomed pan on low. Watch it like a hawk, stir­ring ev­ery time it starts to bub­ble. Af­ter about five min­utes there will be foam float­ing on top of the pot, and crud at the bot­tom. Let it cool for a few min­utes, then spoon off the foam and care­fully pour the clar­i­fied but­ter into a dish that it­self will be good for pour­ing, be­ing care­ful not to al­low any crud or foam scum to pass, us­ing a spoon to play “D” if nec­es­sary.

If you wish, as­para­gus can be poached in the but­ter as it clar­i­fies, per­haps bro­ken into lit­tle pieces. Add a lit­tle ex­tra but­ter if you want, and re­move the as­para­gus right af­ter spoon­ing off the float­ing scum.

Al­ter­na­tively, poach your as­para­gus sep­a­rately in but­ter, or 50/50 with ex­tra vir­gin, for a rich re­sult. Serve as­para­gus des­tined for Hol­landaise at room tem­per­a­ture or warmer.

In ad­di­tion to the clar­i­fied but­ter you will need:

• 1 ta­ble­spoon le­mon or lime juice or light vine­gar

• 1 egg yolk

Salmon isn’t the only fish suited for Os­car-style. An­chovies are great with Hol­landaise. As are shrimp, lob­ster and, of course, crab.

• ¼ tea­spoon salt • 2 ta­ble­spoons wa­ter Com­bine all of these ex­cept the yolk in the dou­ble boiler, with the wa­ter on the light­est of sim­mers. Then kill the heat, leav­ing the bowl in place, and whisk in the yolk. Keep whisk­ing un­til it’s a froth of bub­bles. Beat­ing con­tin­u­ously, slowly pour in the liq­uid clar­i­fied but­ter, a few drops at a time at first, whisk­ing them in un­til com­pletely in­cor­po­rated. Then a few more drops. When half of the but­ter has been added you can add it a lit­tle faster. You should, at this point, have Hol­landaise.

While it’s of­ten ad­van­ta­geous to cook the as­para­gus with the seafood, some­times the as­para­gus is cooked sep­a­rately. Per­haps you want to wrap the spears in salmon lox, drench in Hol­landaise and sprin­kle with minced ca­pers.

Blanch­ing is fine, and then shock­ing in ice wa­ter to keep the bright green color and serv­ing at room tem­per­a­ture.


This has the rich­est sauce, com­bined with the most lux­u­ri­ous of seafood and the most deca­dent of veg­eta­bles.

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