White Asparagus: To Sous-Vide or Not To Sous-Vide?

The season for white asparagus started very early this year in the Netherlands due to the warm winter, but then came to an abrupt end caused by a shortage of people to harvest them due to the Corona crisis. But now the ‘white gold’, as it is called here, is easily available. The reason for another post about white asparagus is that someone in the Dutch Facebook sous vide support group that I run stated that according to him, it has no added value to cook white asparagus sous-vide as compared to the stovetop. I always thought white asparagus were bland until I had prepared them sous-vide, but I had never tried it side by side. And so another side by side experiment was in order.

My husband Kees was kind enough to be the guinea pig for this experiment, to make this a true blind taste test.

First I peeled the asparagus and trimmed the bottoms. I had cooked the asparagus in three ways.

I vacuum sealed 2 with salt and refrigerated the other 4, wrapped in a damp cloth.

2 asparagus were cooked sous-vide for 45 minutes at 85C/185F.

In the meantime, I made asparagus stock by pressure cooking the peels and bottoms in a litre of water for 25 minutes.

I chose 25 minutes so the total cooking time would be about the same as the sous-vide version.

Then I cooked 2 of the asparagus in 1 litre of water with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, boiling, added asparagus, covered and turned off the heat, allowed to steep for 20 minutes.

And the final 2 in the asparagus stock with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, boiling, added asparagus, covered and turned off the heat, allowed to steep for 20 minutes.

The idea behind this was that when you boil asparagus in water you are essentially making asparagus stock, thus drawing out some of the flavor into the cooking water. By cooking the asparagus in asparagus stock instead, this effect should be less.

My intention was that the softness was the same for all asparagus, but the sous-vide asparagus did end up a bit more firm. However that is not what this experiment was about — I am going to do an experiment about sous vide time and temperature for white asparagus next.

The verdict

Remember that Kees did not know which asparagus had been cooked sous-vide or even how any of the asparagus were cooked. I revealed this to him only after he had given his verdict. To him it was very clear (and to me as well, but I could be biased) that the sous-vide asparagus had much more flavor than the other two. They tasted more watery and were especially less sweet than the sous-vide asparagus. I thought the asparagus cooked in asparagus stock had more flavor than the asparagus cooked in water, but Kees did not think the difference was very significant.

Conclusion: it definitely adds value to cook white asparagus sous-vide!

I served the asparagus as asparagi alla milanese, which is with a fried egg and freshly grated parmigiano reggiano. In Milan this is usually made with green asparagus, but it is good with white asparagus, too.

Flashback

Tagliatelle with scallops and roasted bell pepper sauce

22 thoughts on “White Asparagus: To Sous-Vide or Not To Sous-Vide?

  1. Hi Stefan
    I have enjoyed reading your blog for many years. When I started cocking sous vide I found a lot of inspiration in your blog and I’m still reading whenever you come up with something new.
    When you are going to make experiments with time and temperature for the asparagus, try 60°C for 2 hours. I think that is where you get the best texture.
    Thank you for a very interesting blog
    Peter

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    1. Thanks Peter. It is very interesting you mention 2 hours at 60C for white asparagus. It is often stated that vegetables require a temperature of at least 83C when cooked sous-vide, but I have never actually done an experiment to confirm. So I will definitely try that with asparagus, and also with other vegetables.

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      1. Normally, I also use temperatures above 83°C. but for some vegetable I prefer lower temperatures. Try also cauliflower at low temperature. Cut it the florets in half, give them some salt and a little butter and cook them for 2 hours at 66°C. Afterward sear or barbecue the flat cut surface to it is golden brown.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Stefan,

    As Limburgers we love asparagus a lot for ages now, we try to eat as much as possible until the final date of 24th of June. That is for the weekends actually, when I have some time to cook with full attention and dedication 😉
    Since I’m fan of sous vide and your blog, we tried your recipe some time ago. We fully agree with Kees. It’s the most perfect way to cook them! Tender, but with a good bite (sometime it gets 50 min.) and better sweetness.
    And also it is the most easy way. You don’t have to watch the boiling pan.
    Just this weekend we had another go and I wanted to write you anyway.
    I had three packages of 9 each. What happens after putting them in the water bath, the temperature decreased with almost 10*C.
    And I even stored the packages before on top of the warm sous vide machine to pre-warm them.
    Should I then start with 95*C and after inserting lower to 85*C?
    Or take more time?

    To add my recipe; I mostly make a good bechamel sauce, with freshly grounded pepper and nutmeg, salt and include a hard boiled egg (per plate), good boiled (farmers) ham and fresh parsley in the sauce. That’s al you need for the perfect asparagus companion sauce! You could replace the ham with smoked salmon, added just before serving.
    From the peel offs and bottoms I boil a stock very slowly (with a little help of Mr. Knorr). Usually we have (intentionally) to much sauce and also some asparagus left.
    After completing the stock I add it very slowly to the Bechamel sauce, resulting in a very tasty asparagus soup for the next day. Be careful not to boil it, otherwise the egg and ham get to rubbery. Filtering the ingredients before re-heating helps also.

    Best regards,

    Frans

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Frans,
      If the water comes back to temperature within some minutes, I don’t think it makes a lot of difference. But you could just start the time when the temperature is back at 85C.
      Thanks for sharing your recipe. This may sound strange, but try adding lightly toasted pine nuts some time. I add it to my asparagus salad with ham, and it works amazingly well. Not very Limburgs though.
      Best regards,
      Stefan

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      1. Hi Stefan, tried the roasted pine nuts. Very nice indeed!
        I made the white asparagus in a grill pan until they started to caramelize. Really nice with some Greek yogurt with olive oil, lemon zest and juice and some basil cuts. The pine nuts matched perfectly!
        Regards, Frans

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The Devil’s Advocate, as on some occasions before ! I would not insult asparagus, any other vegetable or, for that matter, potatoes by boiling such in water – what on earth is wrong with healthy steaming ? I do hope you and Kees ended up drinking the cooled down cooking water which not only had the taste but most of the vitamins and minerals !!! Not a critique, Stefan – just an educated point if view with a big smile !!!!

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  4. Hi Stefan
    I just love your experiments and i totally agree with the outcome of the test.
    I did white asparagus yesterday 30 minutes at 85C/185F, served with scrimps and a creamy sauce blanquette.
    Steaming is the only other method I would consider using, when doing white asparagus.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Stefan,
    I have read through your blog and I’m genuinely very impressed with the passion you have with Gourmet cooking. I and my group of college friends are doing an assignment on gourmet cooking as a serious hobby. I wonder if you would like to help a group of students out by having a quick interview online. This would mean a lot to us as we want to know more about gourmet cooking and what it means to the hobbyist’s life and identity. If you are interested, please let me know and I will immediately contact you with more information. It will only be a casual quick interview through email or any other medium you are comfortable with.
    Thank you, I really enjoyed reading your post.
    Best regards,
    Hazel.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Stefan,
        Thank you so so much for helping us!
        Would you prefer me to send the questions through your Facebook page or to your email? If you prefer the latter, please let me know your email. If you prefer any other means of contact, please let me know too! I’ll try to keep questions as short as possible so that it does not take up much of your time, although there are so many things I’m curious about 🙂
        Thank you again for your help. We really appreciate it!
        Hazel.

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  6. Thanks Stefan. I’ve been a long time fan of your blog and love sous vide asparagus. I have always done the lower/longer (2 hours) method so I’ll give your faster version a try.

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  7. What a great experiment! Kees is truly a good partner to volunteer for such a taste test 😉! I would have bet that sous vide is more flavourful because the flavours have no place to go. White asparagus is not common here and if you can find it. It is very expensive. I love the simple dish you created with the sous vide asparagus.

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