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  The Laughing Chef's Column Archive
July 2, 2007
Sorry, Chicken, Asparagus is the Star of This Meal

They say that in springtime, a young man’s fancy turns towards love. We know this isn’t true, because the way to a man’s heart is really through his stomach, a far more powerful truism. If this is so, it is reasonable to conclude that come springtime, a young man’s fancy turns towards meat charred over open flame.

Yet, there is something else. When the sun breaks the hammerlock of winter, it also starts a-growing certain other things designed as if on purpose, to sit warmly in the stomach.

What does one say of asparagus? The ability to eat it, the desire to eat it, the association of it with spring is a sure sign that someone has passed from childhood to adulthood. It is, along with the artichoke, one of the first things ripen in spring, and its presence in roadside stands and farmers’ markets usually heralds the beginning of what most of us understand to be the season of fresh vegetables. Glory be!

There are lots of ways to cook asparagus, and a particularly tasty treat is to cook it alongside meat on an open flame. Brushed with olive oil and dusted with salt and pepper, it is a reminder not to overlook the plant kingdom.

What to do with it when it rains? Best not to let it sit and lose its crispness (this can be preserved by standing it, tip-side up, in a small bowl of fresh water. Better still to render it into a decadent pasta dish.

Take your average chicken breast. You look at the thing, and it looks flaccid and ineffectual. It is bland, possessing not the robust flavor of the thigh or drumstick. It is the mid-level manager in the world of meat.

Cut your chicken breast into one-inch chunks and brown it in butter and minced garlic over a moderate heat. It should be mostly cooked, but not fully, by the time you’re finished.

This is important to keep in mind, because that will guarantee that at the end when you sit down to eat, you won’t have chicken that is tough and chewy even as everything else will practically melt in your mouth. Talk about life out of balance!

While the chicken slowly browns, attend to your pasta and asparagus.

The pasta is a simple decision. Although typically, it is wise to support kitchen symmetry, the presence of this particular form of sauce suggests a thicker, longer piece of pasta. If the word linguine is going through your head, give yourself a pat on the back. You are capable of mind-reading based solely on the written word.

Cut the bottoms off, and cut it into one-inch pieces. In all things, symmetry is important. In this case, we will shortly break that with our choice of pasta, but here we want the chicken to be no bigger than the asparagus.

Although meat is typically the star of most meals, it is not here. But, we wish our middleman to go through dinner believing that this is all about finding a rich, velvety way to deliver him to your stomach. (A question you should never allow to reach his ears is this – if he is such a bigshot, why does he need a rich, velvety sauce as a delivery vehicle?). Successful cooking is as much an expression of inter-food politics as it is skill with a spatula and frying pan.

Once your chicken is browned, add the asparagus and also a healthy amount of heavy cream. Here, depending on how much you wish to risk causing your heart to explode, you may substitute milk with a level of fat according to your personal sense of good health, and also a handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

There are people who say that shredded Parmesan available by the tub is no different than what you grate yourself. If you know these people, feel pity for them. There is no comparison, and anyone deluded into thinking otherwise is a sad, sad soul . . .  perhaps even a clown with a frown on his face (is there anyone sadder?).

Stir them together until they are cooked down to a viscosity of what is typically portrayed in motion picture films as molten hot magma.

By this time, your linguine should be a nice, firm al dente. Combine the two, and use asparagus chunks speared on your fork as a rod around which to twist the linguine, which should be dripping with rich cream sauce.

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


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