Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Spears For Fears

Just when I thought I was out of ways to use asparagus, I found an entire magazine article devoted to doing something new with it. A recent article in Food and Wine suggested using mayonnaise as a marinade--for asparagus. Not only had I never considered marinating asparagus, but it never even occurred to me that mayonnaise would be a worthwhile main ingredient for such an endeavor. As an ardent lover of mayonnaise (my all-time favorite burger and fries condiment) it's actually quite shocking that I never tried this out myself. I wasn't quite sure exactly what the mayonnaise would bring to the party that other, more common marinade ingredients didn't already, but I was certainly game to find out.

There were two recipes in the magazine, one of which called for a half a cup of mayonnaise, which despite my penchant for the delicious emulsion I found to be a bit excessive. The second recipe called for half the amount of mayo and equal parts grainy mustard, which seemed slightly more realistic. I ultimately went with a hybrid of both recipes (they weren't actually all that different, save for the spices), and added a few twists of my own, like using equal parts mayonnaise and yogurt to lower the fat count. I also added a dab of Dijon mustard, which didn't appear in either of the original recipes. I wasn't quite sure what to expect when the spears hit the pan covered in the thick marinade, especially since I didn't have a proper grill (as recommended by the recipe) and had to use a non-stick grill pan. But it turned out that the asparagus began to bubble and caramelize immediately, and in 5 minutes I had delicious, fully cooked asparagus.

The flavor wasn't exactly what I expected since my eyes had clearly convinced my brain that the marinade would make the asparagus taste creamy and cloying. But it didn't, and was in fact quite bright in flavor thanks to the lemon juice and Dijon mustard, and slightly smoky from the spices (smoked paprika and cumin). There was no thick sauce to speak of post-grilling, as the marinade dissolved nicely once heated, the only sign of it being in the yummy browned bits where it made contact with the pan. It was still juicy and crisp, and cooked even faster than when I roast it in the oven. The recipe called for 30 minutes of marinating time, but I went for just 10, with fantastic results. So if you're looking for a yummy barbecue side dish, this would be a great accompaniment to a grilled steak or some sticky ribs. And you can mix up the ingredients really easily, trust me. Next time I'll definitely play with heat, maybe adding some cayenne pepper, or letting a few fresh chilies sit in the marinade. After that I think I'll tackle a curry-esque mixture with lots of cilantro, or maybe a Moroccan style marinade with a mix of heady spices and topped with pomegranate seeds. Here's my mixed up recipe, but definitely experiment with other flavors, I know I will be soon.

Smoky Marinated Asparagus

1 lb fresh asparagus spears, ends trimmed
1/4 cup mayonnaise (I'm sure reduced fat would play well here)
1/4 cup yogurt (I used Greek)
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
3/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cumin (I used ground, but whole toasted seeds would be lovely)

1. Whisk together all ingredients in a shallow bowl or tray. Add asparagus and toss to coat. Allow to marinate up to 30 minutes (10 should be enough).

2. Heat a grill or grill pan. Add asparagus in one layer and cook until tender-crisp and golden brown on all sides. Enjoy!


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