Asparagus is a sign of spring — a perennial in the lily family and the unlikely relative to onions, leeks, garlic and orchids. And that can make it a finicky dinner companion when sorting out what to drink.
The pointy green shoots often are challenged when it comes to wine, but go down smoothly with Belgian-style beers.
A dubbel Belgian or saison, also known as a farmhouse ale, are a good match with asparagus, says Matt Simpson, who runs the Web site thebeerexpert.com and teaches a course on beer education at Emory University.
“These beers work well, not only because their spicy characters would play well with a fragrant vegetable, like asparagus, but also because they’re sufficiently light in body and flavor as to not overpower it,” he says.
In the case of the farmhouse ale, notes of light citrus, coriander and orange peel complement the asparagus.
John Fischer, associate professor at the Culinary Institute of America, also suggests trying Hennepin, a Belgian-style brew made by Brewery Ommegang, which is based in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“The saison is better with food than your average Coors Light,” says Fischer. “It has more complexity, goes very well with vegetable dishes.”
For an unexpected yet pleasing choice, Simpson suggests a sour Belgian ale like lambic or Flanders red ale.
“These tart, funky beers are extremely light and acidic. And while most people outside the beer aficionado community don’t seek out these beers, their dry acidity should balance very well with the light, floral sweetness of the asparagus.”
PAN ROASTED ASPARAGUS WITH TOASTED GARLIC AND PARMESAN
q 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
q 2 tablespoons olive oil
q 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
q 2 pounds thick asparagus (about 2 bunches, stalks about 1/2 inch thick), tough ends trimmed
q Salt and ground black pepper
q 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
q 1 lemon, cut into wedges
n Start to finish: 20 minutes
n Servings: 4 to 6
n In a 12-inch skillet over medium, heat the oil. Add the garlic and cook until crisp and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the garlic to a paper towel-lined plate. Set aside.
n Add the butter to the skillet and set over medium-high. When the butter has melted, add half of the asparagus with the tips pointing in one direction, and the remaining spears pointing in the opposite direction (this improves browning).
n Sprinkle the asparagus with 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Using tongs, arrange the spears in an even layer (they won’t quite fit into a single layer). Cover and cook until the spears are bright green and still crisp, about 5 minutes.
n Uncover, increase heat to high and continue to cook until the spears are tender and well browned along one side, about another 5 to 7 minutes, using tongs to move spears from the center to the edge of the pan to ensure all are browned.
n Season with salt and pepper, then transfer the asparagus to a serving plate. Sprinkle with the toasted garlic and Parmesan cheese, and serve with lemon wedges.
n (Recipe from “The Best Skillet Recipes,” by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, America’s Test Kitchen, 2009)