By Alex Suaudom du Monde
Executive Chef and Co-Owner, Baan Sawan Thai Bistro
May 3, 2013
Asparagus is so awesome that we are having more than one chef cover this beloved spring vegetable. Alex and his brother Sam, alumni of Dreher High School and fixtures in the Columbia hospitality community, run Baan Sawan Thai Bistro, one of the best kept little fine dining secrets in the state. Sam keeps the wine and beer list extremely interesting, making it a go-to watering hole for movers and shakers of all ages, and Alex turns out creative dishes like red curry wild boar, much to local foodies’ delight. http://baansawan.blogspot.com
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m the executive chef of Baan Sawan, a tiny, family owned Thai bistro situated on the edge of Five Points. Thai cuisine is all about layering of flavors and overall balance, so together with classical hot, sour, salty, and sweet flavors we also employ a variety of textures. For example, a raw garnish of cucumbers and carrots can be the crunchy counterpoint to the al dente chewiness of a pad Thai’s rice noodles.
One underlying principle of playing with any ingredient, therefore, has to do with setting a flavor profile against a texture profile. Today, since we’re looking at what’s available in late April to early May, I’m going to talk about asparagus.
A member of the lily family, asparagus is a perennial that can live for decades if treated well. The first recorded mention of asparagus being grown commercially in SC appears as far back as the 1890s. It was grown from Charleston to Greenville but flourished in Aiken, Barnwell, and Bamberg. Most of the crops were sold in SC fresh markets, but much was also shipped to New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC.
Asparagus takes well to what I consider my signature flavor profile, which is a combination of garlic, pepper, and coriander. At work, I use a stone ground combination of garlic cloves, a variety of peppercorns, coriander seed, duck fat, and oyster sauce. At home, this can be approximated with fresh cracked pepper, granulated garlic or garlic powder, finely chopped cilantro (including the stems), an oil like sesame or vegetable (or bacon fat!), and oyster sauce, preferably, or soy sauce if that’s what you have. Oyster sauce can be found at any Asian grocery.
Garlic & Pepper Asparagus
Use a vegetable peeler to get rid of the tough outer skin at the bases of your spears. Rinse them, but do not dry. Meanwhile, heat a bit of oil in a large, deep pan until almost smoking, then safely use tongs to drop in the spears and cover immediately to steam/fry. (This method produces a lot of noise and steam, but this is for the sake of intensity of flavor.) Shake the pan to distribute the spears evenly, then cook for a few minutes until the spears just begin to lose their raw crunch. Ideally, there should be some browning or charring, as with grilling. Take off the heat, then season with soy, garlic, pepper, and cilantro to taste, tossing the spears to coat. I like intense flavors, so I use a lot of seasoning. This can be left covered until ready to serve, remembering to toss once again before serving.
So, with asparagus and these spices as the general theme, here are some variations:
Garlic & Pepper Asparagus Scrambled Heirloom Poultry Eggs with Heirloom Pork Breakfast Sausage from Doko Farm
Garlic & Pepper Asparagus & Bacon added to jazz up a Take-home Pizza from Whole Foods
Garlic & Pepper Asparagus, City Roots Microgreens, & Cream Cheese on Crust Bakehouse Baguette
Garlic & Pepper Asparagus next to a ribeye from Steak Mart on Rosewood Drive
Garlic & Pepper Asparagus & DiPrato’s Pimento Cheese Quesadilla
Reference: History of Asparagus in South Carolina: A Look at Its Potential and How To Grow It. Robert J. Dufault, Coastal Research and Education Center, Charleston, SC 29414
This weekly food column is curated by Tracie Broom, who serves on the board at Slow Food Columbia (http://www.slowfoodcola.org), publishes The Yum Diary (http://www.yumdiary.com), and is a founding partner at Flock and Rally: Events + Communications for a Brave New South (http://www.flockandrally.com).
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