Like pussywillows and daffodils, Asparagus & Hollandaise is a combination that betokens the arrival of Spring.
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Making Hollandaise Sauce still intimidates me, because sometimes it feels like it’s never going to properly thicken… until it suddenly does. I know, I know… I’m not cooking the egg yolks enough. But I think it is preferable to undercook the yolks than OVERcook them, even if I have to whisk it a little longer.
Hollandaise can be tricky because it is an emulsion, i.e., a chemical mixture of liquids that don’t wish to mix, held in delicate balance by invisible intermolecular forces. HERE is an excellent and thorough recipe & technique for Hollandaise from Certified Culinary Scientist Jessica Gavin. I recommend googling a few other recipes as well. Ms. Gavin’s recipe calls for vinegar as well as lemon juice, and I recommend white wine vinegar if you go this route. Julia Child’s wonderful vinegar-less version is HERE.
I personally prefer to use vinegar and lemon juice instead of straight lemon juice for two reasons: 1, the vinegar’s acidity seems to work more effectively on the yolks; and 2. I already get plenty of lemony flavor from the rind zest that I insist on adding. I like Julia’s pinch of cayenne, and I also like to add a dab of Dijon mustard.
Asparagus more or less comes in three sizes– skinny, medium, and fat. Given the choice, I always get the medium– the skinny stuff seems halfway to grass, and the thick stalks halfway to saplings. No matter what size you get, you should remove and compost the lowermost quarter or even third, as this part tends to be woody and less flavorful.
Asparagus can be steamed, boiled, grilled, roasted, baked, or sautéed. Unless you are actually boiling it just prior to service, I recommend blanching it ahead of doing whatever else you have in mind. To do so, get a pot of cold water and a strainer/colander ready. Bring a big pot of salted water to a rollicking boil, and add the trimmed asparagus. After no more than 30 seconds, quickly drain and plunge the asparagus into the cold water. Drain, dry, and keep refrigerated until dinnertime is near.
I like to line up my asparagus in a Pyrex dish graced with clarified butter and give it a brief but hot (425ºF) roasting. Undercooked is better than overcooked; thanks to the blanching, whatever you do next will be sufficient. (And cold blanched asparagus makes a great addition to salads and crudité platters.)
All that remains is for you to slather it with your freshly-made Sauce Hollandaise and enjoy!