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Asparagus Über Alles

It would have to be said that the Germans can really get quite exercised when it comes to the delicacy that is white asparagus. Seriously. This was just one headline that I found in my asparagus-related travels around t’internet:

Motorist beats a woman selling over-priced white asparagus in Berlin.

Ouch. A cautionary tale for anyone considering a career in the roadside asparagus-selling business, that’s for sure.

Just coming into its short season right around now, white asparagus is grown under cover of soil in order to achieve the bleached effect. It is a sweeter and more delicately flavoured cousin to the green spears I’m used to, and was the theme for this month’s Five Star Makeover.

White asparagus gratin

White asparagus, albeit looking rather golden after its makeover

Thing is, even though asparagus is in season in continental Europe, the only white asparagus I could find here in Dublin was grown in Peru (which is where most of our asparagus comes from). In fact, I’m not entirely sure that white asparagus is grown here at all and, even when it is in season, Irish-grown green asparagus can be a tricky thing to come by.

Still, I took what white asparagus I could find, suspecting that it probably paled in comparison (though perhaps not literally) to the vegetables that caused the aforementioned German motorist to lose the run of himself. As for the makeover, it was hard to resist the temptation to just steam the asparagus and serve with lots of Irish butter. That, to my mind, would be as fine a way to eat it as any. I did, however, manage to hold off on the butter just long enough to make this little number.

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Gratin of White Asparagus, Coconut & Lemongrass

White asparagus gratin

Five star or no, I can’t help but feel that such a princely vegetable deserves a simple treatment that allows its flavour to shine. This gratin is certainly a simple one to prepare, while at the same time being at least a little different to the usual preparations, which match asparagus with the likes of butter, hollandaise sauce or mustardy vinaigrette.

It consists of white asparagus that is simply boiled and then coated with a coconut milk sauce, which has been simmered with asparagus trimmings, lemongrass and garlic, then strained and lightened with beaten egg white. That’s then topped off with a mixture of fried breadcrumbs and sesame seeds, and very soon after that, it’s eaten.

For the filling:

  • 500g white asparagus
  • salt
  • 1 x 400ml tin coconut milk
  • 2 sticks lemongrass, trimmed to about 10cm, lightly crushed and sliced into 5 or 6 pieces each
  • 2 large cloves garlic, lightly crushed
  • 1 tsp lime juice
  • 1 egg white

For the topping:

  • 2 tblsp vegetable oil (such as rapeseed oil)
  • 100g fresh breadcrumbs
  • 4 tblsp sesame seeds
  • coarse sea salt (I used Maldon)

You’ll also need:

  • An ovenproof dish, one that’s around 18cm x 24cm and 3cm deep should do the trick, or use 2 smaller dishes, around 12cm x 18cm, for individual servings.

The Steps:

  • Rinse the asparagus and trim the ends by holding each spear about half way down and bending the base to find a natural breaking point. Set the trimmed ends aside and peel the spears carefully using a vegetable peeler. Keep the peels aside also.
  • Bring about 2 litres of water to a boil and add about 2 tsp salt and the peeled and trimmed asparagus. Bring back to the boil and simmer until tender, around 5-8 minutes or more, depending on the spears, then drain.
  • While the asparagus spears are boiling, to another small, heavy saucepan add the coconut milk, lemongrass, garlic, asparagus peels and trimmed ends and a good pinch of salt . Bring to a boil, then simmer gently, covered, for about 10 minutes. Strain through a sieve into a bowl, discarding the lemongrass, garlic and asparagus trimmings. Add the lime juice and a little more salt if it needs it.
  • Now preheat your oven to 180C.
  • Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat. When hot, add the vegetable oil. Then add the breadcrumbs and sesame seeds. Stir and fry for about 5 minutes or until the breadcrumbs start to turn golden, then remove from the heat. Sprinkle in a few flakes of coarse sea salt.
  • Whisk the egg white to soft peaks and fold gently into the (now slightly cooled) coconut milk.
  • To assemble the gratin, lay the asparagus spears into a baking dish, pour over the coconut milk mixture and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs. Bake for about 5 minutes and serve warm on its own as a light meal or perhaps with some crab meat for something more substantial.

The Variations:

  • I’m inclined to think that salsify, if you can get or grow it, would make an eminent substitute for white asparagus here.

The Results:

  • Serves 2


  1. Lazaro

    I love the interplay of flavors going on here. The coconut and lemongrass with the white asparagus.


  2. 5 Star Foodie

    A terrific white asparagus gratin! I love that you use the coconut milk here and the flavors sound fantastic with lemongrass! Also I like the sesame seeds in the topping!

  3. Daily Spud

    Lazaro: Thank you! There were definitely moments when I thought I might not get this one done at all, so very glad I got something in.

    5 Star Foodie: Thanks Natasha! The sesame seeds do add a nice touch and it was definitely interesting to try out white asparagus instead of green.

  4. deana@lostpastremembered

    My NYC asparagus came from Peru as well! They must be growing it like mad to supply both sides of the Atlantic. White asparagus isn’t as popular here as in Germany.
    Your dish is amazing. I never would have imagined those flavors together.. but now that I do… wow! When I think about it.. not much different than hearts of palm or bamboo shoots… it doesn’t have the dark oomph of green asparagus so it is more versatile, don’t you think? Great job, lovely photos and love the story of the over priced asparagus… that should happen more often at WF!

  5. Stef

    Recipe looks great as usual, would never have thought to pair it with coconut but can see how it would work. That said, I avoid asparagus from Peru, not just on taste grounds but also because its production is apparently causing serious problems there:


  6. gastroanthropologist

    I haven’t seen white asparagus yet this year…but I’m quite a bit home-bound these days. Though I suspect it will come from some far away land as much of the stuff in the grocery store seems to come. Love the interesting combination of coconut with the asparagus.

  7. Jennifer- Adventuresome Kitchen

    What a fabulous presentation! I love the coconut/lemongrass combination for a gratin! I imagine them really complimenting the asparagus flavor. Even though we have local asparagus growers here in the midwest, my white asparagus also came from Peru! How funny! You really made your asparagus shine!!

  8. Trix

    Let me first say that while the Germans may get over excited about white asparagus, I can definitely never imagine a Viennese getting violent about the stuff, much as they love it! Had to get that off of my chest. Sometimes the gourmet path is the simplest, and I love that you’ve let the asparagus-ness of the asparagus shine through here. Also: cheese. : )

  9. Daily Spud

    Deana: Thank you! I do think that the white asparagus probably is more versatile (though I still like the green stuff too :)) For this dish, though, I reckon it needs white asparagus all the way.

    Stef: have to say that I wasn’t that especially happy about buying asparagus that came from Peru, and now that I’m aware of how it’s affecting the local water supply, I’m even less so…

    Gastroanthropologist: Understandably homebound, it has to be said :) I really did like the combination of the white asparagus and coconut, something a little sweet about them both.

    Jennifer: Why thank you :) I wonder if there’s much white asparagus grown in the States at all, sounds like the Peruvian stuff may have flooded the market – they’re now the largest exporters of asparagus in the world!

    Trix: Hurrah for asparagus-ness! And I’d have to say that I, too, would find it hard to imagine the Viennese getting violent over their vegetables, but then again, you never know :D

  10. Debi (table talk)

    I love the lemongrass in this gratin; picks up the delicate grassy flavors white asparagus holds.
    Coconut is a natural complement–beautiful

  11. Bren

    oh yay for the coconut milk! gotta try that combo. I think I’d love it a lot!

  12. Faith

    This is a really stunning dish and I love the combination of flavors…the coconut is a brilliant addition!

  13. Angela@spinachtiger

    I especially like this one for spring. I wouldn’t have thought of these flavors together. Nice job.

  14. Tangled Noodle

    I’m good for the coconut and lemongrass but may have a bit of a time trying to find white asparagus that isn’t canned! It’s times (and recipes) like these when I miss certain foods that I once easily found – though not enough to start smacking people around. ;-)

  15. Tanantha

    wow they are serious about white asparagus!! I like the flavors of this dish especially lemongrass! that’s a brilliant concoction to combine Asian and American/European.

  16. Lori

    Wow, what a headline! I was just having a discussion recently with my husband’s friend regarding the popularity of white asparagus in Germany. They served it at a party and it is so rare around here. I saw your post on Natasha’s round-up and it looks delicious!

  17. Priscilla@She's Cookin'

    I also opted for a simple preparation to highlight the princely and pricey vegetable! Love that you chose to distinguish the gratin with an Asian flair!

  18. Daily Spud

    Debi: thank you, I do think they work well together

    Bren: I’ll second the yay for coconut milk – can never have too much of the stuff!

    Faith: you’re too kind, so glad you liked it :)

    Angela: I suppose to begin with, I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of these together – mind you, I wasn’t used to thinking about white asparagus before this at all, lol

    Tangled Noodle: that’s the trouble with the internet – so easy to read about all sorts of exotica – a bit trickier when you want to recreate the tastes yourself!

    Tanatha: They sure are serious about their white asparagus from what I can tell! Glad you like the combination here – wonder if the Germans would approve or would they smack me over the head too? :D

    Lori: it’s rare enough around here too but it’s been fun to play with it

    Priscilla: thanks – you’ve reminded me that I need to go on a much belated tour of the round up entries!

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