Thursday, February 3, 2011

Asparagus with Apicius, Part Duo

Sooo, after I assembled my ingredients (or fairly accurate substitutions) I started up the cooking.

First I blanched the asparagus:

These asparagus spears were chopstick thin and required only about 3 minutes at a brisk simmer before being dumped unceremoniously into an ice water bath to retain their fresh, bright green color.  I dried them briefly on a kitchen towel, chopped them into 2-3 inch pieces, and put them into the Pounder.

Then I started pounding. Oh, I pounded. I worked that goddamn pestle like an oil derrick-- up and down, up and down.

What surprised me the most was how LOUD this pounding really was. My toddler, playing quietly in the other room with her father, announced "mommy too LOUD!" several times over before I had the bright idea to place a folded kitchen towel under the mortar. This served to muffle the pounding somewhat, but it still sounded like a jackhammer.

I took a little break to consult the Google on proper mortar and pestle technique. Apparently you are supposed to "let the weight of the pestle pull itself down." Uh, sure. Except that asparagus stalks, even the chopstick-thin little fuckers, are dreadfully stringy.

After 5 minutes of pounding the tapered, flowery tips were reduced to paste:

But it took an additional 20 minutes to get the stalks to anywhere near the same consistency. Somewhere around minute 13 it occurred to me that what I needed was some coarse salt. The Romans rarely mention salt in their recipes but according to Faas, it was apparently ubiquitous. In fact, the word "salary" comes from the Latin "salarium," which was the allotment of salt given to the soldiers of the Roman Legions as part of their pay. Luckily I had some coarse sea salt in the pantry and threw in about a tablespoon.

This was just what my asparagus paste needed. The grains of the salt worked like sandpaper, breaking up the stringy stalks much more quickly than just plain pounding. Additionally, the salt caused the asparagus to release some of its liquid, which also facilitated the pounding and smoothed out what I was starting to think of as "the Slime." Does anyone else remember "You Can't Do That on Television!" or am I the only one who loved cheesy Canadian kids' shows starring Alanis Morrissette in the 1980s?

Anyway, this is what it looked like at the end of 25 minutes.

Damn, my arms were tired; in our house, we call that "cardio."

You can see that there were still some strings, but all in all I was pretty satisfied with my efforts at the time.

Unfortunately, these strings would come back to haunt me.

Stay tuned for Part Tres.

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