So much of what I know about cooking I learned from my mother Nicla who is one of the most inventive and creative cooks around, whose outstanding repertoire and range continues to amaze me. Sometimes I try to reproduce her recipes without consulting her, thinking I have them imprinted correctly in my memory. Big mistake. Last spring as the first asparagus came into the market, I immediately thought of breading and then frying them as she does. The result? The breading was unevenly coated and burnt and the spears were raw. What was the trick I wondered. Recently I began to collaborate with her in writing recipes for a cookbook and the secret was out. She blanches the spears! I had breaded them raw, so nothing stuck. Mystery solved. I’m going to share my mother’s recipe and my test drive with you. And I invite you to try the recipe and give me feedback on how it works for you!
12-14 large stalks asparagus
1 cup flour
1 egg (beaten)
1 cup bread crumbs (Panko will not work well for this recipe)
canola or vegetable oil for frying
1 tablespoon salt
pepper and lemon (optional)
- Prepare the asparagus stalks by snapping the bottom end. They will naturally break where the woody part ends. Wash the stalks and put them standing upright in a bowl of cold water for 30 minutes. This is an important step because the stalks will maintain their crispness during the cooking process.
- Bring a quart of water to boil in a pot, then add 1 tablespoon of salt. This may seem like a lot of salt, but if you salt the water well, you don’t have to salt the food as much later.
- Cook the asparagus in the boiling salted water for no more than 2 minutes after the water returns to a boil.
- Plunge the asparagus stalks into a bowl of ice water for 1 minute. Then remove them with tongs and place on a clean towel to dry.
- Set up a breading station by placing a towel paper with flour, then alongside it, place a bowl with a beaten egg, and finally another paper towel with bread crumbs.
- Flour each stalk one at a time (even two) by rolling it back and forth until coated.
- Dip the stalk in the egg, then coat with the crumbs. Again, rolling the stalk gently back and forth will coat it well. Place on a rack to rest. At this point you can prepare the asparagus earlier in the day to fry later, as long as the stalks were dried well before breading.
- Add enough oil to the skillet to cover the stalks and heat to medium high.
- Drop the stalks one by one (avoid frying more than four or five at a time) and fry until golden, turning occasionally for a uniform color.
- Drain the stalks on paper towels, salt (and pepper) lightly as necessary to taste. A squeeze of lemon brightens the taste if you like. Keep the asparagus warm uncovered in the oven as you continue to fry the rest. Optional: sprinkle with a little squeezed lemon or make a light mayonnaise dip. Serve immediately or at room temperature.
The fried breaded asparagus is a simple, yet luxurious complement to a main entrée along- side barbecued meats, roasts, fish, or egg dishes (such as crepes, omelettes, or soufflés). They work well as an appetizer with cocktails or as an addictive finger food at a party. I confess (Vickie speaking here)…these are amazing at room temperature the next day as leftovers, with a little cheese and wine.