14 Apr 2011

les asperges blanches

Asparagus, native to Europe, North Africa and western Asia, has been the great herald of spring since Roman times. Root clumps called crowns push up thick tender shoots which may grow more than 6 inches a day. 
Growers send crews into the field every day to cut those that are the right size to market.
Finally the roots become exhausted and the shoots they send are thin and fibrous. At this point the grower abandons the field and leaves the plants to "fern out", mature and gather energy into the roots for the next harvest. For the summer they make lacy green fronds (like the related asparagus fern) and in the fall they set red berries, turn yellow and dry. 

White asparagus comes from the process  of etiolation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etiolation) , which is the deprivation of light. Dirt is kept mounded around the emerging stalk, depriving it of light. The plant cannot produce chlorophyll without light, thus there is no green color to the stalks.
White asparagus is considered to be slightly milder in flavor and a bit more tender than green asparagus. All varieties and colors may be used interchangeably in recipes.

White asparagus is the same plant as green, but it's grown with a high pile of soil or mulch over it or tented with plastic sheeting. Since it sees no light it doesn't develop chlorophyll, but it also develop a fibrous skin so it is generally peeled.
White asparagus is the choice of Europe where very little green asparagus is consumed. Germany is the largest and most enthusiastic consumer of asparagus in Europe and has been increasing production, particularly grown under plastic sheeting for early harvest.
White asparagus has little flavor compared to green. Chefs like it, I think, because it provides body with almost no flavor to interfere with their most delicate sauces. It has to be cut rather short as well as peeled because the base is very fibrous.

The most commonly available white asparagus in California is from Peru, 7 inches long and 0.45 inches diameter - a size called "Standard".   Large, Extra Large and Jumbo are also listed but I think those sizes go to restaurants. Standard and large are PLU #4522, Extra Large and Jumbo #4523. 


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