Prepare the cornbread. This may be done several days in advance. Preheat the oven to 450˚F with a 9-inch cast iron skillet inside. Add to the skillet and allow to liquefy:
The sap is rising. We're moving into a brighter, warmer season, casting off the cumbersome and unwieldy. I envision a collective unburdening--people liberated from their turtlenecks and woolen mittens, dusting off their lives, and putting on something vastly more comfortable.
But spring also happens to be the time to cast off those wintry ways of eating. Get those parsnips out of here! Put down that Dutch oven! It's high time for some greenery.
I've always wondered why we have to make resolutions in January, when a solid two and a half months of winter still lay ahead. "I resolve to eat more salad...in the worst possible time of year for green, leafy vegetables." Can't we just postpone our resolutions until asparagus season starts? At least that way we'll have something to munch on besides old, dry carrots.
Asparagus is spring's bellwether--the advance party for cool season crops. A petulant vegetable, asparagus peeks over the still-cool soil while most other plants remain dormant. Oh, but asparagus, you are well worth the long winter's wait!
Delicately flavored and quickly cooked, asparagus enlivens everything it touches, which is perhaps the reason we tend to serve it in so many ways--in eggs, pasta, risotto, soup, or just by itself. It is the perfect foil to rich meats and decadent sauces, and it is perfectly placed at both casual brunches or opulent dinners.
It's all a bit overwhelming, actually, so let us narrow it down for you. One of our favorite ways to serve asparagus is in a simple orange-butter sauce strewn with toasted hazelnuts. It may sound involved, but it's a ten-minute dish. Honest. For our own personal spring fling, we're serving the asparagus alongside a perfectly broiled salmon fillet topped with a savory compound butter, which can be made well ahead of time.
We like to shock our asparagus in ice water before adding it to the orange-butter sauce. This prevents quick-cooking asparagus from overcooking and becoming mushy--decidedly not what you want! Feel free to grill, poach, or roast your salmon fillets or steaks. We chose broiling for simplicity's sake.
Also bear in mind that this recipe is very easy to double or even triple. Simply plan on cooking one 6 to 8 ounce fish fillet per person and 4 to 6 ounces of asparagus per person. One recipe of Snail Butter will be plenty for up to 12 servings or so.
Other articles you might enjoy: Spring Strata With Greens and Garlic Scapes, Arugula and Mizuna Salad With Preserved Lemon Dressing, Mushroom Ragout Toasts
1/2 recipe Asparagus With Orange and Hazelnuts
While the asparagus is cooking, preheat the broiler to high. Oil a baking sheet or shallow roasting pan. Place on the oiled pan:
Two 6 to 8-ounce salmon fillets, skin on, rinsed and patted dry
Brush lightly with:
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
Place the fish under the broiler and broil undisturbed for 4 minutes. Fillets that are about 1 inch thick should be done after 6 minutes. Thicker fillets will need another couple minutes. Those over 1 1/2 inches thick should be turned and cooked another 5 or 6 minutes until firm and opaque throughout. Sprinkle with:
Fresh lemon juice
Serve topped with:
Snail Butter (see recipe below)
Makes 1/2 cup
This compound butter, traditionally used for snails (as you might guess), is excellent atop seafood or even grilled steaks. If you have extra left over, consider using it to scramble eggs or just serve on toast. Plan on making this several hours, or up to a week ahead of time.
Beat together, using a stand or handheld mixer or a wooden spoon:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 tablespoons minced shallots or scallions (white part only)
1 to 2 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste
1 tablespoon minced parsley
Salt and black pepper to taste
Zest of one lemon
(1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice)
Scrape the butter onto a piece of wax or parchment paper and roll into a tight cylinder. Chill until firm.
To plate and serve, divide the asparagus and salmon between two plates. Top the salmon with a thin slice of the Snail Butter.