Party Asparagus with Aioli ♥ Two Classic Recipes

Party Asparagus with Aioli
Today's recipes: How to cook and shock fresh asparagus to retain the bright green color and enhance the natural asparagus flavor for serving chilled. How to make aioli, the classic sauce. Great for parties, buffets, composed salads.

~recipe & photo updated 2011, republished 2013~
~more recently updated recipes~

First the asparagus. At Easter, my favorite dish at a magnificent brunch prepared by a former White House chef and recent Silver Toque winner was, um, yes, the asparagus. Aiii it was good – arrayed on huge platters, stems peeled halfway to the tips and perfectly salted. At first, I thought there might have been garlic in the cooking water. The chef sniffed at that idea so hmm, perhaps not. At home, it took three tries and three pounds of asparagus to get the salt balanced properly. Yes, I concede, dozens of spears were sacrificed to get the salt right. (2011 Update: Chef Chambrin is the source of the recipe for Raspberry Bliss, my first column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch!)

SALT It's another ingredient with (in my mind) an undeserved bad reputation. Because salt is "bad" for us, we cook rice and pasta and eggs and – heavens, vegetables – with minimal salt and even – horrors – without salt. Our bodies require salt. My solution, my rationalization? If we'd all just nix prepared and commercial food – and their high, high proportions of sodium – then it seems to me, we can let loose with salt for food cooked at home. I'm not a nutritionist so please don't violate a doctor's order. But I'd love to know – is salt a good thing or a bad thing in your world? How much salt would you use to cook a pound of asparagus?

Now, the aioli. There are only two hard things about aioli.
Spelling – Is it spelled aioli or aoli or ayolee or what? (It is spelled aioli, two i's.)
Pronunciation – Is it pronounced [ahy-oh-lee] or [a-yaw-lee] or [?-?h-lee]? (Experts vary.) Please, don't trust my choice of #3, not from the bookworm who confidently corrected her 7th grade history teacher's pronunciation of the 15th president – you know, James Boo-cha-nan.

After that, aioli is dead easy. Just whisk together garlic, egg yolk, lemon juice, mustard and olive oil. Better yet, get out the food processor. At first I tried the whisk 'n' willpower method to make aioli. After ten minutes, I was bored to tears and my wrists were done-in. Kitchen power tools, people, they're great – it took all of a minute for the mini food processor attachment to the immersion blender to whip this to a good consistency, someplace between mayonnaise and heavy cream, thick enough to dip into, thin enough for a slow pour. Once you master a basic recipe for aioli, there are many variations, adding herbs for brightness or bits of vegetable (red pepper, say) for color.

2011 & 2013: Each year, I find myself making one platter after another of asparagus cooked like this. The salt is so important. So is keeping the asparagus quite crisp.


Hands-on time: 25 minutes
Time to table: 25 minutes but can/maybe should be made in advance
Serves: It depends on who's eating!

8 cups water
3 tablespoons kosher salt (or 1-1/2 tablespoons table salt though not recommended)

1 pound asparagus, thick spears are best for this

Bring the water to a boil on MEDIUM HIGH in a pan that's able to hold the asparagus, flat, in no more than two layers with water to spare between the spears. (I use a 9x13 pan.) When the water comes to a boil, add the salt and stir a bit to dissolve. (If using more water, the ratio is 4 cups water:1-1/2 tablespoons kosher salt.)

While the water comes to a boil, fill another pan with ice, then cold water. Have this ready before the asparagus goes into the boiling water, you want it to be really cold.

Meanwhile, wash the asparagus well. (Chew on a tip. If it's gritty, keep washing.) (1) With a vegetable peeler, peel the skins off the asparagus, about half-way up. Work carefully, you really don't want any skin. (2) Now snap off the woody ends. Start by bending somewhere near the end, moving your way up until the spear breaks off by itself. (3) If aesthetics are important, now slice a bit off the ends for evenness.

Drop all the asparagus at once into the pan and let cook til done, maybe three or four minutes, maybe six or even eight, it depends on how thick the spears are and how chilled they were when being dropped into the water. Lift one out and test. Once they're done, lift out all the asparagus and immediately drop into the ice water. (This is the "shocking" process, like moving from a hot sauna into the icy sea.) Leave them in the water just long enough to cool down (we don't want them soggy), then transfer immediately onto several layers of paper towels to drain and dry, tapping the top sides too.

For a party, these can be made several hours in advance. To my taste, the asparagus should be served at a temperature somewhere between well-chilled and room temperature. Be sure to make plenty, people LOVE cold asparagus, allow at least six spears per person.


Hands-on time: 10 minutes
Time to table: 10 minutes but can be made in advance
Makes about 6 tablespoons

2 garlic cloves, chopped small
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (the good stuff, I use gorgeous olive oil from O Olive Oil)
Salt & pepper to taste (I used no salt, just a little lemon pepper, excellent)

Whisk together the garlic, yolk, lemon juice and mustard -- alternatively do a whiz or two in a small food processor (there's not enough volume for a big food processor). Slooooowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking or processing, being sure to incorporate what's been added before adding more.

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  1. OH, Alanna, you must stop tempting me with all those asparagus recipes! Still another 10 days or so to go until I can get any local spears, you see!
    Beautiful recipe, of course!
    (PS One month tomorrow! Very exciting!!!)

  2. AnonymousMay 04, 2008

    Regarding salt issues: My fiance and I are 20-something and in good health, so we don't even _ask_ our doctor about such things. However, I agree with your proposal to avoid processed foods out & about and to reward oneself at home by going wild in the kitchen. Plus, we should all remember that although kosher salt is tasty, we should cook with at least a little iodized salt -- it's usually the only source of iodide in our diets. My 2 cents!

  3. AnonymousMay 04, 2008

    SALT: A very good thing in my world.

    Silver lining for me: I have a med condition that makes me lose salt each time I ... you know. So, in addition to taking a pill to retain salt, I am encouraged to eat plenty of salt.

    I think you are spot on with your theory that we could be liberal with the use of salt in our home preparations if we reduced the processed foods we eat.

  4. Looks yummy, Alanna! But I have the asparagus noodles recipe printed, so this one has to wait.

    My blood pressure goes up if I don't watch my salt--but I agree with you. Cutting out the commercial foods makes the biggest difference. I bake all of my own bread because I couldn't find a low-sodium commercial bread that didn't taste like cardboard--but I can make one! With that change, I freed up a lot of milligrams of sodium to use in other cooking.

  5. You have such good common sense in your comments. Not only salt -- sugar, fats too -- could be enjoyed in good conscience when we cut out the commercial abominations! (That's good fats, of course.) I recently tried roasting asparagus: very good, but not so much better that I want to burn oven fuel just for that. Better when something else is in the oven too.

  6. Oh, salt is a very good thing in my world, and I'm grateful for that. I tend to sometimes have a heavy hand, but, indeed I do avoid high sodium products from the grocer, so my occasional over salting doesn't do me that much harm.

    I particularly love my blend of Schezwan Pepper Salt, ground together in my mortar, which adds a complex salty and peppery blend to most everything. I first learned about it in my cookbook "New Moon China Bistro." The Chef said if she were stranded on a desert island, this is the spice blend she'd most want to have, and that was good enough for me to order sea salt and the Schezwan peppercorns straight away.

  7. Thanks for the informative post! Especially because I'm always looking for tips about party food that can be prepared in advance and even served at room temp. You can't do everything at the last minute before a party!

  8. AnonymousMay 07, 2008

    oh good, so this is not a low fat Ailoi

  9. I love asparagus and love garlic...yummmmm. My CSA share starts in two weeks. I can't wait to start venturing into some new recipes and I will be searching yours regularly I am sure!

  10. AnonymousMay 03, 2013

    Just another support for your comments about salt. I actually have high blood pressure so my family harangues me about the little bit of sea salt I sprinkle on my food. But I never never never by processed foods -not even canned goods and bread. Look at the sodium content of commercial tortillas. shocking.

  11. I have congestive heart failure. After my diagnosis (hold on, this will surprise you) my cardiologist told me he didn't care what I ate or how much salt I used in cooking or at the table as long as I avoided processed foods. I'm a RN; most of my friends are RNs. One of them is a case manager for people with CHF. She told me my doctor was trying to kill me. I followed my doctor's advice It's been well over 7 years and I'm doing fine. The only time I have trouble is when I eat processed foods, including food from fast food restaurants and most chain restaurants. So I avoid them. That's certainly not punishment.

    I feel about salt like Michael Pollan speaks about sugar: there's no way I'd add as much as food manufacturers do.

    The only convenience products I buy are canned tomatoes and occasionally canned beans and stock. I make my own bread, including tortillas and pita bread, salad dressings, barbecue sauce, and so on.

    I don't think I've used that much salt when cooking asparagus, but it makes sense. Kind of like cooking pasta; when you're cooking it is the time to season it.

    Since you like asparagus with aioli, have you tried Le Grande Aioli? I saw this mentioned earlier this year at The Wednesday Chef and did more research. It's become a favorite and I can see it, or some variation, being consumed frequently during the summer. This is the most descriptive recipe I found:

  12. So aioli is really just garlic-infused mayonnaise, pretty much?? Ha! You learn something new...

    I'm going to try this quick, this week, before the asparagus is gone. It sounds delicious!


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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe, whether a current recipe or a long-ago favorite. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. ~ Alanna