White Asparagus with Saffron Cream Sauce

White asparagus season is short, lasting only about 8 weeks from April to June. To take full advantage, serve it up steamed with a saffron cream sauce, using rich crème fraîche, shallots, garlic, a little white wine, and just a gentle kick of cayenne. Garnish with fresh dill and whole pink peppercorns for a flavorful combination that is deceptively simple. This seasonal spring dish finds its perfect wine pair in a ultra-chilled glass of Riesling from Alsace. 

white asparagus in saffron cream sauce with dill and peppercorn

Why is White Asparagus…White?

Where I’m originally from in the US, white asparagus is not super common. Even in its tiny window of seasonality in early spring, white asparagus is not the anxiously anticipated vegetable that it is in Europe, particularly Germany and France.


So, what is the difference between this pale variety and “typical” green asparagus? Simply put, green asparagus grows above ground and develops chlorophyll which gives it the green color. Meanwhile, white asparagus grows underground, preventing chlorophyll from developing.

The difference in flavor is subtle but noteworthy. Green asparagus has a grassier, stronger flavor while its white counterpart is a little more delicate with a subtle sweetness.

farmers market spears

White Asparagus in France and Germany

The French and Germans particularly relish the short season – April to June – of white asparagus. In Germany, there are entire festivals dedicated to this delicious, ghostly asparagus. These “Spargel festivals” typically happen from April 24th to June 24th, celebrating “Spargelzeit” – the German term for the white asparagus harvest.

Around the Alsace region of France that borders Germany, this local veg simply known as “Asperges d’Alsace” (asparagus from Alsace). As Alsace is also a renowned wine region, it easily answers the question of what wine to pair with white asparagus: Riesling.

Wine Pairing: Riesling from Alsace

The Alsace region of France is renowned for its dry Reisling. What grows together goes together, as they say so grab a bottle of Riesling from Alsace, France to pair with this dish.

Riesling is an aromatic white wine, best served (very) chilled. The citrus and stone fruit aromas and flavors pair nicely with the subtly sweet varietal of asparagus. The high, crisp acidity of Riesling balances perfectly with the creamy richness of the saffron sauce.

How to Cook

The rarity and specialness of asperge blanche means that it should be cooked in a way that preserves its flavor and doesn’t mask it. Steaming is a traditional and excellent way to achieve this.

However, another difference between white and green asparagus is that white asparagus needs to be peeled before cooking. The outer layers can be a bit stringy and tough, so it will be more pleasant once peeled. As with green asparagus, it’s also best to snap off the tough bottoms of the stalks as well.

Serve with Subtle, Layered Flavors

Because white asparagus has a delicate flavor, it provides the perfect canvas to use subtle and elegant herbs and spices. Traditionally served steamed with hollandaise sauce, I decided to mix things up a bit with a saffron cream sauce. Saffron is such a precious and subtle spice, you can be sure it won’t go to waste when paired with this mild vegetable. With shallot, garlic, creme fraiche, a little white wine, and saffron, this sauce adds delightful nuance to the dish. I like to add a dash of cayenne to add a layer of intrigue to an otherwise “soft” dish.

detail of pink peppercorn and dill in saffron cream sauce

Feel free to experiment with flavorful herbs and spices to garnish. The best combo I’ve tested is fresh dill and whole pink peppercorns. This duo complements the saffron cream sauce so perfectly, I highly recommend it.

If you’re feeling experimental, you could also try adding crushed nuts. Macadamia and pistachio come to mind. I’ve also tested this recipe with chives. It’s hard to go wrong but from my own experimentation, dill and pink peppercorns are the move.

asparagus with chives and peppercorn paired with riesling from Alsace
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white asparagus in saffron cream sauce with dill and peppercorn

White Asparagus with Saffron Cream Sauce

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  • Author: Sydney Isaacs
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 2 servings 1x
  • Category: Vegetables
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: French
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Description

Steamed white asparagus served with a saffron sauce made from creme fraiche, shallots, garlic, white wine, and a gentle kick from cayenne. Garnished with dill and pink peppercorns, this seasonal spring dish finds its perfect wine pair in a ultra-chilled glass of Riesling from Alsace. 


Ingredients

Scale

Saffron Cream Sauce

  • 0.125 gram saffron, powdered
  • 2 tablespoons (28 grams) butter
  • 1 small to medium shallot, finely diced
  • 12 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) white wine (Riesling, to pair)
  • 1/3 cup (74 grams) crème fraîche
  • 1/2 tablespoon (5 grams) freshly grated Parmeson cheese
  • 1 teaspoon (12 grams) powdered cayenne pepper, adjust to your tolerance and preference 
  • Salt, to taste
  • Garnish: Whole pink peppercorns, fresh dill

White Asparagus

  • 57 stalks of white asparagus per person (depending on size)
  • Salt, for  seasoning water for steaming

Instructions

Saffron Cream Sauce

  1. “Bloom” the saffron in water to extract flavor and color. I prefer this by putting the powdered saffron in a small dish with an ice cube. Once the ice has melted and the saffron has had time to bloom (roughly 10-20 minutes), it is ready. 
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Once fully melted, add the finely chopped shallot. Allow it to cook for 2 minutes and add in the minced garlic, allowing it to cook for just another minute.
  4. Add the crème fraîche, white wine, and bloomed saffron water. Let it come to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer. 
  5. Season with salt and cayenne, to your preference. Taste as you go and add more if needed.
  6. Add in the grated Parmesan cheese. Stir regularly to make sure the cheese melts thoroughly and to maintain consistency. Allow the sauce to reduce and thicken for roughly 10-15 minutes.
  7. Remove the sauce from the heat and allow it to cool in the fridge for about 30 minutes or until thickened. You’ll want the consistency to resemble a hollandaise sauce; not too watery but not thick like mayo either. If needed, let the sauce stand at room temperature after chilling if it becomes too cold and thickens too much. 

White Asparagus

  1. Peel the outer layer of the asparagus with peeler and break off the tough ends of the stalk. This prep step is essential for white asparagus as the outer layer can be very fibrous. 

To cook by steaming:

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil.
  2. Add in the stalks of asparagus and let them cooking for 5-8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalks. They should be tender but not soggy. 
  3. Drain the water and set aside for plating.

Plating

  1. Spoon some of the saffron sauce onto a dish.
  2. Gently place the white asparagus on to top of the sauce.
  3. Spoon more saffron sauce over the plated asparagus.
  4. Garnish with whole pink peppercorns, fresh chives, and chopped nuts for a bit of crunch. Feel free to experiment with different herbs and nuts. For example, dill could be a great alternative to chives here.
  5. Serve alongside a glass of Riesling from Alsace.

Notes

Wine Pairing

Dry Riesling from Alsace France, served chilled

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Sydney Isaacs
Sydney Isaacs

Sydney is a 29-year old American living between France and Italy. She has a WSET Level 2 certification in wine, along with a degree in environmental engineering and an MBA. She loves exploring local farmer’s markets, haunting her favorite wine bar, and discovering new restaurants.

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