A clever method of cutting asparagus and a super simple sauce creates a memorable dish that, when served over rice, stands somewhere between comfort food and culinary bliss!
You’ve likely heard of the James Beard awards. The prestigious awards are given annually to recognize chefs, restaurateurs, authors, and journalists in the United States.
But who is the man behind the awards, and what does he have to do with this recipe?
James Beard was an American chef, cookbook author, TV personality (he hosted the very first food show in 1946!), and an early champion of local products and markets as well as the broader concept of American cuisine. He taught and mentored generations of professional chefs and cookbook authors, who ultimately transformed the way Americans eat.
Not long ago, food writer Eric Kim tipped me off to a gem mentioned at the close of Beard’s 1964 memoir, Delights and Prejudices, in reference to the foods he likes to eat when he’s alone:
If it is in season, I will have asparagus… cut in paper-thin diagonal slices and tossed with butter and soy for two or three minutes in a hot skillet, which gives it a delightful texture.
It’s a mention rather than a formal recipe, but Eric was inspired to recreate it－and so was I.
After shaving the fresh spears into thin ribbons and then chopping the bits that remain, the result is quick-cooking and decidedly delicious, especially when lightly sauced with butter and soy sauce.
The best part? No fancy equipment is needed. A vegetable peeler will do the trick.
While I freely replace butter with olive oil in many recipes, in this case butter lends a special something. When served over rice, the difference is especially apparent, if not comforting, and perhaps even satisfying enough to be a complete meal.
However, to ensure added fill factor, a variety of proteins can easily be added. Most recently I topped this dish with jumbo shrimp that I seared on the stovetop, a definite favorite here. I’ve mentioned this and other options directly below.
If you like idea of topping with shrimp, this is what I do: In a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat, sear one pound of peeled and deveined shrimp in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until just cooked through the center. Time will vary depending on size of the shrimp, but it won’t take more than a few minutes per side.
You may keep things simple and season the shrimp with salt and pepper, or add a complementary spice rub. The last time I prepared this dish, I tossed the pound of shrimp in 1 tablespoon of a dry harissa spice blend before cooking, and it looked and tasted fantastic. Salt, pepper and a teaspoon or so of smoked paprika would be delightful as well.
Of course, there are plenty more proteins that will complement with ease.
Have some boneless, skinless chicken breasts you’d like to use instead? Try soaking them in this 3-ingredient marinade and then grill and slice for exceptional flavor that pairs beautifully with the asparagus.
Thinly sliced grilled steak offers yet another meal-bolstering option, as does salmon, whether grilled, baked, broiled, or seared on the stovetop. Crispy tofu would provide a worthy plant-based alternative.
As always, leftovers are fair game when looking to bolster a meal like this. Moreover, I find I can really stretch a small amount of leftovers when using them in a bowl-type meal. On many occasions, I have thinly sliced one leftover steak and used it as a protein-rich topping for three to four meals (bowls, hearty salads, etc.).
If you’re in the mood to experiment, you could try this technique with zucchini, Brussels sprouts, snap peas, and even broccoli. Simply apply the same basic method of slicing very thinly so the vegetable of choice cooks quickly. The idea is to sear the raw edges while maintaining just a hint of crunch.
As for the rice, white Basmati works especially well, but absolutely use what you like and have on hand. And if you’re a fan or garlic, by all means add a minced clove or two.
- 2 tablespoons (28g) butter
- 8 ounces asparagus, cut into paper-thin diagonal slices or ribbons (see tips)
- Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
- For serving: cooked white rice (white Basmati is delightful, but use your favorite)
- Optional: a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds; cooked shrimp or protein of choice to make it a meal
Heat a large (10- to 12-inch) skillet over high heat and melt the butter. Add the asparagus and cook for 1 minute. Add the soy sauce or tamari and cook for another minute or so, or until the butter and soy sauce bubble up into a light glaze. Season as desired with salt and pepper and serve over white rice.
Cutting the asparagus: I find it easiest to use a vegetable peeler to make the strips and start by holding the stem end of the asparagus and running the peeler from an inch or two from the bottom all the way up to the tip. When the peeler no longer “catches,” I flip the spear and do the same on the other side. I then slice the remaining strip into small pieces on the diagonal and thinly slice the part that I was holding into rounds. That way, you get a little bit of visual and textural variety. (See photo for illustration of the three cuts.)