White Asparagus, Butter Sauce, and Prawns

  • Time: 1 hour
  • Serves: 2
  • Level: medium

This is a spring asparagus dish – but not as we know it…

This is a spring asparagus dish – but not as we know it…

What you need

4 stalks of white asparagus each. About 500g for two servings.

175g small North Atlantic prawns, or similar + a little butter and vegetable oil

500g Charlotte or other waxy potato

Butter Sauce

2 spring onions

175ml chicken stock + extra

1 tbs cornflour

125ml white wine – or water

50g butter

100ml crème fraiche

Salt, lemon, pepper

Chopped parsley

Dad's Recipe Tales

White asparagus, a labour of love

On visiting my local German deli, I saw a makeshift sign announcing the arrival white asparagus. I was intrigued; is this the asparagus version of the arrival of Beaujolais nouveau? Is there a special spring festival in which it is traditional to eat white asparagus? Perhaps it is simply the season for white asparagus and the sign is celebrating the fresh imports of these distinctive spears. This would explain the ‘specials’ menu of – exclusively – white asparagus dishes at Steins in Kingston, Surrey, where we ate in early May.

White asparagus is a ‘continental’ thing – or more particularly, German. Whilst we proudly laud our indigenous green crops of British asparagus, we appear oblivious to the fact that across the channel they much prefer the white (known as ‘weißer spargel’ in Germany). If green asparagus was not difficult enough to grow, white asparagus adds several new layers of complexity. The basic plant is the same, but the horticultural process is very different. It involves the incredibly arduous task of burying the spears in tall furrows of earth – surely the greatest labour of love for a vegetable. And it’s all done for the sake of a white stalk. The asparagus are denied sunlight, which prevents photosynthesis (and the formation of chlorophyll) so the stalks remain white. Over 2,000 farmers cultivate and form their long furrows of asparagus across 50,000 acres of German farmland. During the short eight week period in which asparagus is harvested (April to June), thousands of temporary workers, diligently and carefully release the thick white stalks from their entombment. With the use of such intense labour, it’s understandable that white asparagus so expensive. Even so, Germans consume 70,000 tons of white asparagus each year.

So, is the white worth its salt? Definitely. It tastes like asparagus but with a more refined and delicate flavour. Somehow, the additional substance of a thicker spear gives what is already a prestigious vegetable an extra level of status.

How Dad Cooked It

We have often enjoyed a German friend’s fascination with butter – in particular, how she refers to ‘butter sauce’: by which she means melted butter! However, if we look to the culinary canon for an actual butter sauce we would probaly find the nearest is an Hollandaise sauce. In German grocery stores it is possible to buy Hollandaise sauce from a carton. Given that Hollandaise sauce is notoriously difficult to make, this seems like a very convenient solution, ensuring that a dollop – or two – of Hollandaise sauce is always at hand. We might hope that the carton of Hollandaise is manufactured using chemical wizardry, such that the amount of actual butter might be reduced, because although a true Hollandaise is deliciously rich with butter, it’s also an artery- clogging, cardiac-arresting, calorie-boosting dice with one’s well-being and and by any reckoning a compromise to sensible eating.

My answer to this problem is a sauce that has all richness and thickness of a Hollandaise but with much less butter – which will, hopefully, be more agreeable with the cardiovascular system. NB: I am speaking relatively here. My sauce uses butter, but not anywhere near the quantity of the proper stuff.


1. Start the potatoes. Peel the potatoes and put into a large pan with salted water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20-25 minutes until tender. Drain, set aside and keep warm.

2. Prepare the asparagus. Cut the bottoms ends of the stalks and peel the stalk from just under the tip for the whole length down the spear using a swivel peeler. Make sure you actually peel into the asparagus – it can be a bit slippery. Using a large frying pan (with lid), fill half-way with water and bring to a boil. Simmer the asparagus for 12-15 minutes until tender. There should be some firmness just like green asparagus. Drain the asparagus and keep warm.

3. Make the sauce. Chop the spring onions and fry gently in a little oil. When soft, add the wine and let it reduce for a minute. Mix the chicken stock with the cornflour and add to the onions. Stir on a high heat and bring to a boil and then reduce the heat – add a good grating of pepper, and continue to cook on a gentle simmer for 3 minutes. Pass the sauce through a sieve, discarding the onions. Return the sauce to the pan and add the creme fraiche and the butter, heat and whisk until the butter and creme fraich have amalgamated into a smooth sauce. Season with salt and lemon. If necessary, add more chicken stock to thin the sauce.

4. Drain the prawns and press to remove excess water, retaining the liquid. Fry the prawns in a very hot pan with a little butter and oil. Fry until they just start to take on a little colour and then add the retained liquid from the prawns. Stir to reduce the liquid a little and absorb in the prawns. Season with a little pepper and very little lemon.

5. Serve the asparagus plated. Add the potatoes to one side, the asparagus in the middle and pour over the butter sauce. Then arrange the prawns over the asparagus and sauce. Scatter with parsley.



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