(I apologize for the lengthy gap in posts. Real world stuff for the last couple of months has made it very difficult to find time for the cooking, researching, and posting this site deserves. I do have several topics lined up, though, so stay tuned and they’ll be here eventually. Here’s a quick post for the meantime.)
I was going through my grandma’s cookbook from the 1930s, looking for something that would be good with dinner, when the word “asparagus” caught my eye. It’s asparagus season, isn’t it? No better time to experiment with an old recipe that uses it.
Here’s the recipe, with possibly the first time I’ve ever seen the phrase “asparagus water”:
ASPARAGUS ON TOAST
Cut off tough ends of stalks, wash, and cut in inch pieces, keeping tips by themselves. Boil tougher portions in salted water twenty minutes or until tender. Add tips when tougher portions are partly cooked. Drain, pile lightly on buttered toast, which has been moistened with asparagus water, and pour over melted butter, or cover with thin white sauce or tartar sauce.
TARTAR SAUCE FOR THE ASPARAGUS
1/2 cup stiff mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped pickle relish
1 teaspoon finely chopped onion
1/8 teaspoon salt
Mix and chill the ingredients and serve with the asparagus.
Though the recipe is another one of the X on toast recipes that seemed more common then than now, the recipe isn’t all that strange, I suppose. I was, however, a bit concerned about the boiled asparagus. Most of the time when I eat asparagus now, it’s steamed, or stir-fried. When I was a kid, I grew up eating canned asparagus, which is kind of mushy. (I liked it anyway, having never had the non-canned version.) I expected boiled asparagus would be closer to the canned texture, and I was not too thrilled about that. But you don’t know until you try, so it was off to the kitchen!
I started with the tartar sauce. I love tartar sauce. As a kid, whenever we went to local burger joints like Dick’s Drive-In or Dag’s, I would always get tartar for my fries. McDonald’s didn’t have tartar, but they were wrong.
As I got older, and more national fast food chains moved into the Seattle-area, the newcomers didn’t offer tartar sauce. Ketchup was everywhere, but it got more and more difficult to find simple tartar sauce for your fries. I have heard that tartar sauce with fries is a “Pacific Northwest thing.” I don’t know. It’s not as common as it used to be, though.
Though I love the stuff, I’ve never actually tried to make it. It’s always been out of a jar. I wasn’t even sure what it was made of. (Or why the tartar sauce from Dick’s is yellow/green.) So I was looking forward to making my own.
The mayonnaise and relish were an issue. The best possible way to make this would be to make homemade mayo and relish to start. I didn’t really have the time or motivation to do that. Also, in the 1930s and earlier, packaged mayo and relish were available, so it would be authentic to use these. Somehow I don’t think my grandma was always making her own mayonnaise. (I used Best Foods mayo, a very old brand.)
I hate sweet relish, but the store had dill relish, so I used that. I added the lemon juice and the salt, and a tiny sprinkle of garlic powder to make up for the onion that I forgot to buy. Then I stirred the mixture, tasted it, and… yum! Even though I didn’t make my own mayo or relish, this tartar sauce was still tastier than the usual jarred tartar sauce. Excellent. I set it aside in the fridge to chill and blend the flavors for a while.
Next, the asparagus. Nothing difficult about this bit—I followed the directions exactly, boiling it in salted water. I boiled the tougher parts for 10 minutes, then added the tips for the rest of the boiling time. The asparagus boiled for maybe 18 minutes total instead of 20, as it seemed perfectly tender at that point. And not mushy.
I buttered toast and moistened it with some of the asparagus water as directed, then spooned on the asparagus and topped it with tartar sauce. (Perhaps a bit more than it needed.) It was tasting time.
Hey! It’s good! The asparagus is cooked but not too soft and not mushy in any way. It has a good asparagus flavor. The bread balances it out nicely both in texture and in flavor. The tartar sauce is bright and vinegary on the tongue with a nice bit of dill flavor from the dill relish. (The flavor did intensify after a couple of hours in the fridge, incidentally.)
The combination was really good, and definitely a surprise. I was expecting something edible but not particularly good or interesting, but this was both. It’s also really easy to make. I will make it again.
I still have a bunch of tartar sauce left—I might have to go to Dick’s for some fries…
(Here the asparagus dish is served with some teriyaki salmon and a bit of rice. Unfortunately it got dark before dinnertime, so the lighting wasn’t very good, unlike the dinner, which was excellent.)