Asparagus shines in spring dishes

April 27, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Asparagus is coming on strong this time of year and it can be used both raw and cooked.

The salads rotate a few times a year at Zed 451 in River North, where the massive restaurant always offers around 18 on their "Harvest Table" (a fancy name for salad bar). This week, you can bet there's asparagus.

"And if you get the pencil asparagus - the thicker the asparagus is, the older it is - the younger ones tend to be a little more tender. So you can shave them up nice and raw and eat those, and they're so fresh and seasonal," said Curtis Hawk, the Chef at ZED 451.

Hawk chops up those pencil-thin stalks, combining them with fresh mint, crunchy almonds, lemon juice and sherry vinegar. Chopped-up egg whites give it both color and a bit of richness.

In Lincoln Park, Boka takes a more intricate approach, cutting off the thick bottoms, then briefly boiling and quickly shocking them in an ice bath.

"We want to kind of not undercook the asparagus, but cook it right at that point where it's still gonna have a nice crunch to it," said Boka's Chef, Carl Shelton.

The cooked asparagus is set onto feuille de brick - think Tunisian phyllo dough - that's been brushed with butter. The stalks are showered in grated parmesan. They're rolled up in the thin pastry layers, then briefly cooked on all sides until it's crisp. The maki-like rolls of asparagus are plated over a creamy zabaglione that's been torched, along with other seasonal touches, like halibut and maitake mushrooms.

"You have the crispiness from the feuille de brick to cut through, but also you have the crunch from the fresh, crisp asparagus," said Shelton.

Shelton says he'll even use light-deprived white asparagus on his spring menu, something you don't see very often.

"..which we shave very thinly on a foie gras dish. The white asparagus we also dip in a little simple syrup and dehydrate it as well, so it's crispy asparagus," he said.

Raw, shaved, grilled, sautéed…doesn't really matter. You're going to be seeing so much asparagus on local menus from now until the end of Spring.

Zed 451
739 N. Clark St.

1729 N. Halsted St.

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