Certain vegetables seem to have found their way into the canon of classic steakhouse side dishes: mushrooms, asparagus, spinach (creamed), potatoes (gratin). We were playing with this theme over the holidays, and wanted something bright green to contrast and complement a roasted beef tenderloin and buttery root vegetable puree.
The asparagus looked nice at Whole Foods, so we picked up a couple of bunches of thin ones. But how to cook them? Not in a decadent way — we had started with cheese gougeres and rich spanakopita, and an entire stick of butter and plenty of heavy cream had somehow found its way into the puree.
We settled on braising the asparagus in a little water with a generous splash of olive oil and lots of tarragon. Braising asparagus can be done at the last minute; it provides a medium for flavors and transforms the texture of the asparagus from crisp to tender, but still with a snap.
Using only a little liquid creates a sauce and keeps the spears from getting waterlogged. Tarragon is a natural match with asparagus, just the aromatic brightness we were looking for. Here’s the recipe:
BRAISED ASPARAGUS WITH TARRAGON
serves 2-4 as a side dish
What you need
2 bunches thin asparagus spears (1-2 pounds)
8-10 sprigs fresh tarragon
4 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper
high-sided saute pan
What you do
1. Strip the leaves from 2 or 3 of the tarragon sprigs and chop them fine. Keep the remaining sprigs whole.
2. Rinse the asparagus. Take one of the asparagus spears with two hands, and with one hand below the tip end and the other holding the bottom, bend the spear until it breaks. Use that break as a marker for the rest of the spears. Just line up the asparagus by their tips and cut the entire bunch at that spot.
3. Add the asparagus, tarragon sprigs, and olive oil to the saute pan. Add enough water to barely cover the asparagus, and sprinkle them lightly with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the asparagus are bright green and tender but not limp, about 5 minutes (depending on the thickness of the asparagus).
4. Add salt, pepper and fresh chopped tarragon to taste.