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June 25, 2007

Counterintuitive But True: Asparagus and Tarragon Go Together


There are occasions when you look at two different food items and think, “These must go together like a hobo and a scraggly beard.”  Sometimes these things are obvious, like bread and butter. At other times, the relationship must be intuited.


Once such relationship exists between asparagus and fresh tarragon. You might look at asparagus you’ve just picked up from a farm stand alongside the road, and tarragon growing on your porch, and say to yourself, “If I understand anything about this wide, weird world of ours, it’s that these two things go well together.” Perhaps, on occasion, you hold them up and host a mock conversation, which perhaps goes something like this:


“Hello asparagus how are you today?”


“Hello fresh tarragon, I am doing quite well thank you. And you?”


“I, too, am quite well today.”


And, you, the person holding them up might lick your lips and say to yourself, “Putting these two together is bound to cause my heart to glow with the warmth of deep and abiding good cheer. At the very least, it’s gonna feel good in my tummy.” And, you set to conspire how best to tear up the leaves and chop to pieces the raw asparagus. (It is believed that if they shriek in agony, that it’s too high-pitched for humans to hear, which is as good as saying that it doesn’t exist).


If you have a spare boneless, skinless chicken breast sitting around, you can start by tossing it into a skillet on medium heat to brown. This will take about 15 minutes, and will require occasionally turning it over to prevent scorching.


Meanwhile, rip the tarragon leaves off the stem (remembering that the amount is judged largely by how much you like its black licorice-esque flavor, and the potency of your fresh herbs), and cut the asparagus stalks into one-inch chunks. You may even lay them next to each other so that they can take comfort in each other’s company.


Once you have successfully browned the chicken, add to the hot skillet half a tablespoon of butter and a clove’s worth of minced garlic. Push them around, and also scrape the bottom of the pan to kick up the little brown pieces of cooked chicken. This will give things a decidedly brown appearance, which is important to keep in mind to prevent a panic attack in a couple of minutes.


Once the garlic is softened, add either some heavy cream or, if you value your heart, milk of various stages of reduced fat. (Here, we allude to Bacon’s Law of Cooking, which says that the raw, visceral pleasure of eating is directly proportional to the number of days it takes off the back end of your life.) Also, add some white cooking wine, and both the tarragon leaves and asparagus chunks. Stir it all together, while adding salt and pepper.


If you like, you may substitute chicken broth for the cooking wine, but there is something we have not yet broached with tarragon – its tendency towards snootiness. Chicken broth is humble, but tarragon prefers a more sophisticated complement to its anise-like flavor.


Here, as if you’d waved a magic wand over the skillet, the color of the cream or milk will turn from white or dirty white to brown. Again, do not interpret this as anything more than the natural order of things. It is meant to be, not a sign that you have a poisonous brew on your stovetop.


You will need to let this simmer for about 15 minutes to do two things. The first is to cook the asparagus. At final stage, it should be loose but firm. When you bite into it, it should put up some resistance, but not crunch under the oppressive weight of your teeth. You will also want your sauce to significantly thicken, to the point where it moves with all the haste of steamroller over fresh asphalt. Waiting too long presents its own certain dangers of overcooked and flavorless tarragon, limp asparagus and a thick, burned ooze of brown on the bottom of your skillet.

Turn your chicken breast over in the thickening sauce once, halfway through cooking. The sauce will coat the outside and will fill the cracks and crevices on the exterior.


When your sauce has thickened to an appropriate viscosity, it is time to transfer it to a dinner plate, which is the first important step to bringing this union to its intended conclusion inside of your stomach.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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