March 31, 2009

Team spear-it: It's rah, rah for stir-fry

Each spring, Bee food writer Kerry McCray and her husband engage in the "Great Asparagus Argument." She wants it for dinner pretty much every night. He doesn't. Guess who wins?

Every spring, my husband and I have the "Great Asparagus Argument."

I want to have asparagus for dinner pretty much every night. And, well, he doesn't. I always win.

To be honest, we don't actually eat asparagus seven nights a week. But I do manage to make it quite a lot. In my book, there's nothing that says spring better than lightly steamed asparagus slathered in butter. In fact, that's pretty much the only way I ever made asparagus until I selected this week's recipe.

It's from Bon Appétit magazine, which I usually stay away from because I don't have time to make five-course meals using, say, Sichuan peppercorn or chestnut flour you have to order off the Internet three weeks in advance.

This magazine is way too complicated for me.

But this recipe, for stir-fried sesame asparagus, meets my two criteria: It's easy and it promises big flavor. How could asparagus with garlic and sesame oil go wrong?

Shopping was a breeze; everything is available at your neighborhood grocery store. Prep was quick. Chop a few cloves of garlic, trim some asparagus, throw it in a pan and you're done.

Actually stir-frying the asparagus was a bit of a problem. As one of our testers pointed out, the recipe didn't specify how hot the burner should be. I had mine turned up high -- as you would with a stir-fry -- and had the good luck to look over at the stove just as my garlic started to brown.

I turned off the heat and took a taste. I can't imagine anything better. The asparagus was crisp, and had a nutty flavor from the garlic and sesame oil.

Looks like I have a new way to make asparagus every night.

Bee staff writer Kerry McCray can be reached at 578-2358 or at

What The Tasters Had To Say

I love the mixture of flavors with sesame oil and soy sauce. It's a great way to stir-fry any vegetable.

— Ann Waldron, Sequim, Wash., formerly of Modesto

Every ingredient is strong-flavored, and each holds its own in this happy combination. One suggestion:

1 teaspoon of sugar would probably be sufficient unless you enjoy the sweetness provided by 2 teaspoons; or you could substitute teriyaki sauce for the sugar/soy sauce combination.

— Ralph Moore, Modesto

So good, so easy and fresh. Enjoy.

— Carolyn Conser, Modesto

The asparagus had a sweet flavor, left my kitchen smelling delicious and had all of us going in for seconds. The recipe is quite simple to follow and could be easily adapted for outdoor cooking. I'd also recommend thin asparagus, but that may be a personal preference, so the ends become nice and crisp.

— Ann Griffith, Modesto

I did not think I would live to see the day that my husband would not only eat his veggies without rolling his eyes but eat THREE servings! These were delicious. I was expecting this dish to be super salty, but it was perfectly seasoned.

— Melinda Cabrera, Modesto

My family loves asparagus and we usually fry them in olive oil on the barbecue grill. I cooked it much longer than the recipe suggested, about 20 minutes on medium-low, as my family prefers it well done and not crunchy. It still came out a bit crunchier than we like, which rated it a 9 instead of a 10 with my husband.

— Melody Bold, Delhi

I love garlic and asparagus together. The question was whether the rest of the family would go for it. Hubby and I made enough yummy noises that our 5-year-old tried it and decided we weren't "sharing" enough with him -- he asked for thirds!

— Carrie Munroe, Modesto

Nice and light, it would go with any type of food served.

— Karin Reenstierna, Modesto

Yummy! A great way to get one of the day's vegetable servings.

— Joan Peck, Modesto

The sugar and soy sauce added at the end gave a nice caramelized taste and finish to this dish. One shortcoming of this recipe was that there were no references given as to how high the heat of the burner should be. Stir-fry usually needs to be done over a high heat, but the heat under chopped garlic should be lower, so as to not burn it. I tried to compromise the heat and cooked the asparagus between a medium and medium-high, stirring constantly so as not to burn the garlic. I also cooked the asparagus for an extra minute before adding the soy sauce and sugar, which seemed to result in a perfect degree of tenderness.

— Marilyn Drew, Modesto

The sweetness of the soy and sugar, along with the sesame oil, make this quite tasty.

— Jan Gibson, Modesto

It has been my experience that sesame seed oil is added in recipes at the end for flavoring but not usually as the primary cooking oil. The reason is that sesame oil has a lower smoking point and can burn easily at high temperatures. But since I was testing this recipe, I did follow the directions exactly just to see what would happen. Surprisingly, it worked out just fine. However, I think I will stick to my usual recipe -- steam or grill the asparagus and then toss with a dressing with soy sauce, a bit of sugar or honey, sesame oil, garlic and crushed red pepper. For simplicity, teriyaki sauce could be substituted for the soy sauce and sugar.

— Sandy Cadra, Oakdale

I liked the flavors, and the color is very appealing.

— Suzanne Abid, Modesto

Our family loved this.

— Sharon Secrest, Riverbank

Quick prep, fast cooking, few ingredients and fresh, in-season produce. I did stir-fry a bit longer than the recipe called for, but the end result didn't disappoint.

— Sandy Loya, Modesto

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