Potage Crème D’asperges Vertes (Cream of Fresh Green Asparagus Soup)

by thomandaimee

One thing Ned and I (no more using acronyms now) love doing is our weekly wet market getaways. Although waking early prove to be a challenge at times, being part of the hustle and bustle of the morning crowd can be almost like an adventure. Stomping your flip-flops against the slippery floors, pushing past the notorious aunties and shouting at the top of your voice to get the seller’s attention. Its like a little game with only the most nimble and thick-skinned getting the best deals.

They might not have the comfort and cleanliness of air-conditioned supermarkets. But what really made us go back to the wet markets were the variety and freshness of the produce available, and of course, the value for money. The only downside is that dairy products are not usually not found in these places. I have yet to conquer the realm of seafood-buying; my jiak-kantang nature only limits my conversations with the fishmonger to “how much” and “what is this” in basic Mandarin. He will proceed to say something and I wouldn’t know if the fish was a bass or a bream.

Today, we decided to head down to the markets earlier than usual. Probably a little too early. We reached Tiong Bahru Market at 5am in the morning when everyone was still in lala-land, and surprisingly enjoyed the peace and quiet of an empty market. Half the stalls were not open, and the other half were busy unloading cartons of fresh produce. With only a few stalls ready, we bought whatever we could get hold of. We giggled about how in Singapore the early bird doesn’t get the worm because the worms were still burrowed underground sleeping. Breakfast afterwards was a pain as well; no yum cha restaurant opens until 10am!

A pre-planned shopping list is usually dictates our meals for the week and of course whatever catches our eye. The asparagus crept into our basket this morning. Being greedy as usual, we brought both the thick ‘jumbo’ ones and the thin pencil-like ‘sprue’ asparagus. Asparagus is best enjoyed within 24 hours after it has been picked as the sugars in the plant will turn into starch. Moisture is also lost as time passes. But most of our asparagus are from Malaysia so we’ll have to make do if what we have. (Another dream to taste freshly cut asparagus raw… SOON.)

Without losing any more precious time, we decided to turn the woody stems into a creamy soup. Nothing beats a warm soup as part of Saturday lunch as a treat. The aroma of the asparagus dominates the palate; a certain earthiness and umami comes through strongly. Ned tried her hand on Timbales D’asperges (Asparagus Mould) but that did not come out very successful. It went into our tummies nonetheless. Maybe the sleep deprivation was hitting her.

I might be affected as well. Can’t think straight. Apologies if there are any spelling or grammatical errors. Just too sleepy. But the asparagus was worth every waking hour.

Potage Crème D’asperges Vertes (Cream of Fresh Green Asparagus Soup)
Adapted from Julia Child, Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Volume Two

Serves 2

1/2 medium onion, chopped
25g unsalted butter
390g asparagus
600ml water
1 tsp sea salt
1 3/4 tablespoon plain flour
125ml milk, if needed
65ml double cream
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon soft butter

Directions

First, prepare the asparagus. Slice 1/4 inch off the butt of each asparagus. Peel the skin from the butt ends up to where the green begins and remove scales. Wash thoroughly in warm water. Cut the tops 3 inches long and set aside. Cut the lower part of the asparagus stalks into 3/4 inch crosswise pieces.

Cook the chopped onion slowly in the butter for 8 to 10 minutes until tender, but not browned. Set aside.

Bring the water and salt to a rapid boil, add the asparagus stalks and boil slowly, uncovered for 5 minutes. Remove and drain, reserving the water, and stir the stalks into the cooked onions; cover and cook slowly for 5 minutes. Meanwhile bring the reserved water back to the boil, add the asparagus tops and boil slowly, uncovered for 6 to 8 minutes, or until just tender. Remove immediately and drain. Set aside, reserving water for the soup base.

After the stalks and onions have stewed together for 5 minutes, uncover the pan, stir in the flour to mix thoroughly and cook slowly, stirring for 1 minute. Remove from heat and blend in half a cup of the hot blanching water, gradually stir in the rest, being sure not to add any sand that may be at the bottom of the pan. Simmer slowly, partially covered, for about 25 minutes or until the stalks are very tender. If soup seems too thick, thin out with milk – though I don’t think it is needed.

Line up the blanched asparagus tops and cut the tip ends into 1/4 inch crosswise slices, reserve as a garnish. Puree the rest of the tops and the soup base into a bowl. Pass soup through sieve to remove any fibres, if you want the soup smooth.

Pour the cream into the saucepan, blend in the egg yolk with a whisk; by driblets, beat in 1/2 of the hot soup. Pour in the rest of the soup, and the sliced tip ends. (*)

Shortly before serving, set over moderate heat and stir slowly with a wooden spoon, reaching all over the bottom of the pan until soup comes almost to a simmer. Remove from heat, carefully correct seasoning and stir in the butter, a small piece at a time. Serve immediately.

TIPS

It is important to cook the asparagus stalks according to instructions as the different thickness of the asparagus leads to different cooking time. For the stalks to be cooked till equal tenderness, it is best to cut and cook them as per instructions.

Adding the butter at the end is an enrichment to the soup. They give a final smoothness and delicacy of taste. Adding this enrichment makes a huge difference to the taste of the soup – it enhances it. You can leave the enrichment out, but it won’t taste as good, I can assure you that.

(*) If you are cooking the soup way before serving it, then you can stop at this point of cooking. When you’re about to serve the soup, then continue with the instructions.

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