Wine Enemy #1

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“You’re under arrest for serving Chardonnay with asparagus”

Many people consider asparagus wine’s worst enemy. It’s a fact that asparagus, a member of the lily family, contains the sulfurous amino acid methionine. This compound, together with the plant’s intense grassy flavor, can make many wines taste dank, vegetal, or just plain weird.

“Asparagus makes everything you drink with it taste green,” said Sid Goldstein, author of The Wine Lover’s Cookbook. “The worst white wine with asparagus is Chardonnay, which not only tastes vegetal, but also exaggeratedly oaky.”  His solution?  Steam the asparagus until almost done, then grill it and serve it with Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. The grilling process takes the bitter edge off the greenness of the asparagus. Then you can create a harmonious balance by serving it with a wine that also has light green flavors.  Another solution is to use seasonings and sauces to bridge the flavors of the asparagus and the wine, e.g. hollandaise or mayonnaise.

Steve and I cooked a spring lunch last Sunday with asparagus as an appetizer.  Asparagus isn’t in season in the UK for another 3 to 4 weeks,  but we found some from Spain – a bit closer to home than Peru! We decided that the best thing to do was grill the asparagus and serve it with a creamy dressing.  I made mayonnaise and let Steve have his way with the asparagus.

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As Julia Child says, “You should be able to make mayonnaise by hand as part of your general mastery of the egg yolk.  It is certainly far from difficult once you understand  the process, and after you have done it a few times, you should easily and confidently be able to whip together a quart of sauce in less than 10 minutes”.

POINTS TO REMEMBER when making mayonnaise by hand:

Temperature – Mayonnaise is easiest to make when all ingredients are at normal room temperature.  Warm the mixing bowl in hot water, then dry it to take the chill off the egg yolks.  Heat the oil to tepid if it is cold.

Egg Yolks – Always beat the egg yolks for a minute or two before adding anything to them.  As soon as they are thick and sticky, they are ready to absorb the oil.

Adding the oil – The oil must be added very slowly at first, in droplets, until the emulsion process begins and the sauce thickens into a heavy cream.  After this, the oil may be incorporated more rapidly.

A note on oil – I use 3 parts sunflower oil to 1 part olive oil.  This keeps the mayonnaise light, but imparts a depth of flavour from the olive oil.

Mayonnaise aux Fines Herbes

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon dry or prepared mustard
  • ¾ cup sunflower oil
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons of fresh, minced green herbs, such as chives, tarragon, basil or parsley

I used an electric mixer on a moderately fast speed.

Beat the egg yolks in a warm bowl for 1 to 2 minutes until they are thick and sticky.  Add the lemon juice, salt and mustard.  Beat for 30 seconds more.

Add the oil drop by drop, either with a teaspoon or rest the lip of the measuring cup on the edge of the bowl.  Stop pouring and continue beating every 10 secoonds or so, to be sure the egg yolks are absorbing the oil.  After 1/3 to 1/2 cup of oil has been incorporated, the sauce will thicken into a very heavy cream and the crisis os over.  Then beat in the remaining oil by 1 to 2 tablespoon dollops, blending thoroughly after each addition.

If the sauce becomes too thick and stiff, beat in drops of lemon juice to thin it out.  Then continue with the oil.

Beat the boiling water into the sauce.  This is anti-curdling insurance.  Season to taste with more lemon juice, salt, pepper and mustard as needed.

Blanch the herbs for 1 minute in boiling water.  Drain, run cold water over them and pat dry with a towel.  This makes the herbs look greener and they will not turn sour in the mayonnaise.  Stir them into the finished mayonnaise.

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Grilled Asparagus

  • 1 bunch of tender apsaragus
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon zest

Trim the stalks and steam the asparagus for about 8 to 10 minutes.  Brush with olive oil and grill for about 2 minutes, turning them once.  Remove to a serving dish, annoint with unsalted butter and sprinkle with fresh lemon zest.  Serve immediately with mayonnaise and a chilled Pinot Grigio.

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6 thoughts on “Wine Enemy #1

  1. Another solution is to go with a good quality beer 😎

    I’m waiting for the weather to warm up a bit, and my own asparagus patch to start producing. Six weeks of bliss, with asparagus in some form almost every day, awaits. Life is good!

  2. Not sure Nicky, it was too watered down with all of the Pinot I swilled 😀
    Lucky you Sue to have your own asparagus patch! The UK asparagus season starts in a couple weeks and Steve is bringing some down from the Midlands.

  3. They are in the shops, the green asparagus, but they are not Danish. I bought some, hoping to find an interesting way to use them. Your mayonnaise looks delicious.

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