Spring is finally here, and one of the first green vegetables to appear is asparagus. Those tender little stems signal the end of the frosty winter and the hope of more good produce to come. Treating the first spears simply seems like the right thing to do, after months of braises and stews and root vegetables, what could be more refreshing than simply cooked green goodness.
Sauce Maltaise is a version of the classic hollandaise, made with orange juice rather than strictly lemon. Traditionally, its blood oranges, and I find that my upscale market usually has the last of the blood oranges and the first of the asparagus at the same time. If you can’t find blood oranges, a regular juicy orange will do fine. The sauce takes on a lovely pinkish tint perfect for spring celebrations, and is a great compliment to the bright green asparagus.
Hollandaise has always been a bit of a trick, and despite multiple readings of Julia Child, several classes and many failed attempts, I find the traditional method a bit beyond me. Too hit or miss really. Sometimes I get it, and feel triumphant, but more often I don’t and vow never to make hollandaise again. But this blender method is pretty idiot proof and produces a thick, creamy sauce in minutes. Just make sure your butter is hot and not at all browned. And use the best ingredients for this, splurge on some high-fat European-style butter and farm-fresh eggs if you can. Those bright yellow yolks give such amazing flavor and beautiful color.
As I said, I like to treat the asparagus simply so I give the instructions for a quick boil, but feel free to steam the spears, or even grill them – whatever you prefer. And the sauce maltaise can be used in any way you use hollandaise – in eggs benedict or on other vegetables.
Asparagus with Sauce Maltaise
1 pound bunch of asparagus
½ cup (1 stick) butter
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon blood orange zest
2 Tablespoons blood orange juice
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside.
In a pan wide enough to hold the asparagus, bring several inches of water to a boil (enough to fully cover the asparagus. Break off the thicker, woody stems of the asparagus spears. When you hold the bottom of the spears and bend, they will naturally snap off at the right place. Boil the asparagus for 4 -5 minutes until tender, but with a little bite left. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, immediately lift the asparagus into the waiting ice water, submerging completely. When the asparagus has cooled, remove it from the water, shake off and place in a single layer on a tea towel to dry. At this point, you may cover and chill the asparagus for several hours.
Make the sauce maltaise immediately before serving the asparagus. Cut the butter into chunks and place in a small saucepan, one with a pouring spout if you’ve got it. Melt the butter over medium heat, swirling it around occasionally until it is fully melted but not browned at all. While it’s melting, place the egg yolks, orange zest, orange and lemon juice and salt in the carafe of a blender. Whir it around to mix it all together. When the butter has melted, turn on the blender and slowly drizzle the warm butter into the sauce in a steady stream. When the butter has all been incorporated, turn off the blender. You should have an emulsion as thicker than heavy cream.
Serve the sauce maltaise with the asparagus immediately. If absolutely necessary, place the blender carafe in a sink filled with warm water up to the level of the sauce for 30 minutes to keep warm.
Serves 4 – 6, makes ¾ cup sauce
Here’s a helpful springtime tip: If you eat a lot of asparagus, and are always popping off the woody stems, save them in a plastic bag in the freezer until you have a good bag full. Use them to make a stock for an asparagus soup, which is a particularly good use for the last-of-the-season spears.