Chef at the Market: “My” Asparagus

June 17, 2009 at 8:06 am

Chef Patrick Sheerin

I finally received the infamous phone call that comes late each spring at The Signature Room at the 95th. On the line was Mick Klug from Klug Farms saying that my asparagus was ready. And I don’t mean “my” in the sense that it is what I ordered but it is “my” asparagus because it is a genetically superior type of asparagus that I contracted Klug Farms to grow just for me. The asparagus has thick stalks, a crisp texture, bold purple coloring and an earthy flavor unmatched by any other produce this side of the Mississippi. The intense flavor is the number one reason I order it, but I also love the aesthetic the color provides on the plate. When you peel the outer layer from the stalk you get a two-toned vegetable; purple on the outside and green on the inside. Since I am French-trained, I believe in the culinary prowess of an intricately shaped vegetable. Much to their own chagrin, my team of cooks and interns peels and shapes a lot of vegetables. At the height of the season we can go through a thousand pounds of asparagus each week.

Chef Patrick is currently featuring: rhubarb, green tomatoes, sugar snap peas, Tokyo turnips, Chinese broccoli, asparagus, spring onions, veal liver, pork belly, turnip greens, beets, kohlrabi and tat soi.

In addition to being the most readily available spring vegetable in the Midwest, asparagus is a very cost effective ingredient. I credit this vegetable with helping me prove the point that local produce is both delicious and cost effective. The price we pay for asparagus grown on the farm is the same throughout the growing season – from first shipment to the last shipment there is no fluctuation. However, if we were to purchase asparagus from a conventional vendor, where it is treated as a commodity, the price would change based on principles of supply and demand. So at the beginning of spring when there isn’t a lot available (buy a bunch at whole foods in March and you know what I’m talking about) the price is outrageously high and remains so until the height of the growing season which can take upwards of eight weeks. When making the change to a product contracted from the farmer, we discovered that our local purchase would save up $5,000 in annual expenditure. And that is just on asparagus!

This early-blooming vegetable is currently featured on the dinner menu at The Signature Room as a starter. I wash it, peel the outer layer from the stalk, roast it in the oven and then chill it. Once it is cool, I toss it with olive oil and serve it alongside truffle egg salad, dried bacon and bread crumbs. Since it is such a versatile ingredient, I like to give it many hats throughout the week; roasted vegetable salad, cream of asparagus soup, shaved and buttered like Brussels sprouts, etc. No matter how you choose to serve it in your kitchen you can feel great knowing that it is a good source of Vitamin C, potassium and rutin, which strengthens capillary walls and contributes to healthy circulation in the body.

And although the above information reads more like a résumé than a note on fresh produce, you can rest assured that asparagus will truly make a delicious, nutritious and affordable addition to your dinner table this season.

Read the first installment of “Chef at the Market”