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Paul Park and Laura Christensen

A la Hollandaise
by Paul Park

Asparagus detail
Asparagus (detail)
by Laura Christensen


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Preparing any sort of asparagus for the table can be a messy business, and I have heard from several sources, during my research, that the same rules might apply as to certain recipes for sweetbreads or head cheese—the less said the better! It is an axiom worth contemplating that desire and knowledge can, in general circumstances, bear an inverse relation, one to the other, but in this particular case I must demur, because of my contention that ignorance of procedure can lead to personal injury and bitten fingers if the chef receives no warning. When the asparagus has been gently bred, as here, and nurtured in rich soil, utmost care must be taken to remove it, first of all, from any four-footed companion, which performs the same function as the prickers of an artichoke or rose. In this instance I waited for the animal to fall asleep on the settee, before I injected it with a solution to relax its muscles and disable it. I then was able to extract the vegetable without harm to either of us and lay it out. Of course I could not use the same injection on the asparagus itself, for fear of spoiling the flesh. I have heard cases of some clients who perceived an unpleasant numbness in their mouth and lips, caused by cooks who had undertaken this particular short-cut, through sympathy or laziness, two states that are interchangeable in this instance. No, there is nothing for it, but that the vegetable must be stretched out raw, preferably upon a ridged, zinc surface, which allows any juices to drain off. I tend to put some tape over the lips, and bind the wrists and ankles to avoid unpleasantness. I then snip the buttons down the front with poultry shears and then peel back the smock to reveal the tender flesh, my hands encased in rubber gloves. One might speak of the eyes of a potato, but at this moment in the procedure the eyes of the asparagus are furious and engorged, and leak a pungent, greenish water that must be syphoned with a dropper for later use. Mrs. Smithson, who planted this particular raised bed, claims that the flavor sets at the moment when the tender asparagus begins to comprehend his or her particular result, whether he or she is destined, for example, to be boiled and buttered over toast, or cut into pieces and served with white wine. Mrs. Smithson says that terror, for example, tastes sweeter than despair. She has a discriminating palate, and to accommodate her, I will pass my implements, the cleaver, say, or the boiling pan, over the head, while at the same time manipulating my eye-dropper. Mrs. Smithson will not mind if I save a drop or two for later, for myself, sprinkled over a glass of water while I sit alone in my darkened room.


acrylic paint on antique photograph, found recipe book page, cherry wood, and book cloth
by Laura Christensen

➥ Park Bio

➥ Christensen Bio