BY NICK MACMAHON | 24 APRIL 2019
Surprisingly, exactly the same plant as green asparagus. The difference is that, unlike the erect green spears that rise out of the ground signifying the start of the fresh produce season, white asparagus is grown entirely under the soil and then dug up for harvest. The image that idea conjures is not dissimilar to an archaeologist digging for buried bones. Without access to sunlight, the asparagus is unable to produce chlorophyll, the pigment that makes plants green. Therefore, if left to grow above the surface of the soil, the asparagus would turn green.
Compared to regular asparagus, the stems of white asparagus are much thicker and fibrous, which is great for those that like a more substantial texture to their vegetables. This also means that they can withstand more intensive cooking methods before becoming overcooked. Perfect for grilling over a charcoal barbecue to get that smokey flavour and char while still retaining the asparagus crunch.
White asparagus’s size, texture and unique colour are the defining characteristics of this vegetable. The flavour is much more delicate (read: blander) than green asparagus. Served on its own, the delicate flavour and internal water content can leave the flavour a little lacking. But, paired with sharp flavours it really performs.
A classic French dish is; white asparagus and sauce gribiche, a chunky mayonnaise-like sauce with chopped hardboiled eggs, vinegar, mustard, pickles and herbs. A great pairing, the asparagus provides texture and the sauce provides flavour.
But don’t feel like white asparagus requires the addition of some weird sounding French sauce to taste good. A sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lemon works just as well. Maybe even crumble some cheese on there, if you've got some lying around.
The bulk of white asparagus is grown in Southern Europe, although there are a few producers in the UK. The beginning of Spring is when you will see it for sale, around April. Once the UK green asparagus season starts, there will be a lot less white asparagus available as demand shifts to UK produce.
Jars of white asparagus are found for sale around the place but I would always urge people to go fresh or go green. When it is in season, you can find fresh white asparagus for sale at Turnips fruit and vegetables at Borough Market.
In season: April through June
Found at: Turnips Borough Market, SE1 9AH