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Where EAST meets the Northwest

Pan-Seared Asparagus with Shrimp, Shiitakes, and Chilies. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Asian Reporter web extra, April 21, 2014

Moving asparagus to the center of your plate

By Sara Moulton

The Associated Press

Asparagus has been a delicious symbol of spring since at least as far back as the Greeks, who called it asparagos ó literally, to spring up." But however it is spelled, it makes me happy.

Most grocers sell asparagus in a range of sizes, from thin and willowy to thick and stocky. Whatever the size, look for stalks that are firm and smooth from top to bottom, with tight, un-feathery tips. Also check that the grocer stored it properly, because asparagus is quite perishable. It should be stored stem down in ice or a bit of water.

Once you get the asparagus home, arrange the stalks standing on their bottoms in a glass jar filled with a half- inch of water, or in a zip-close plastic bag with a damp paper towel wrapped around the bottoms of the stems. And try to eat your beautiful asparagus within a day or two of purchase, when itís still at its peak of freshness.

When it comes to prepping asparagus, I have one rule: If the stem is more than 1/3-inch thick, it must be peeled. Doing so ensures the spear will cook evenly. If you donít peel it, youíll overcook the tip before the stem becomes tender. Another reason to lose the peel on a thick stalk is that itís tough.

If, however, it strikes you as wasteful to lose those peels, you can gather them up (along with the tough bottoms of the stalks, which you also need to discard) and simmer them in chicken or vegetable broth to make a clear and flavorful asparagus soup.

Once prepped, there are any number of delicious ways to cook asparagus. To start, thereís the old tried and true ó briefly boiling or steaming the spears, then topping them with butter or vinaigrette. Simple and wonderful. It also can be grilled, broiled, or roasted at high heat, all of which amplify its natural sugars. By the way, I think it is the natural sweetness of asparagus that persuades usually veggie-averse children to make an exception.

In this case, though, Iíve moved asparagus from the side to the center of the plate in the form of a one-pot Asian main course. Youíll want to have all the ingredients prepped and lined up on the counter before you start because once you get rolling everything goes into the pan very quickly. The actual cooking time is scarcely 10 minutes.

You begin by pan-searing the raw spears in a hot pan to get a little color on them, adding shiitake mushrooms and shrimp, then flavoring it all with ginger, garlic, chili slices, and oyster sauce. Serve it with a side of brown rice or your favorite whole grain and youíre good to go.

Pan-Seared Asparagus with Shrimp, Shiitakes, and Chilies

Start to finish: 40 minutes

Servings: 4

1 pound (about 1 bunch) asparagus, tough ends discarded

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

Salt

5 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps cut
into quarters (or sixths if caps are large)

1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

1 small red or green chili, such as a jalapeno or serrano,
seeds and ribs discarded if desired, thinly sliced

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Cooked brown rice, to serve

If the asparagus stalks are very thick, use a vegetable peeler to shave off the thick skins starting just below the tip and down to the bottom. Cut the stalks into angled half-inch pieces.

In a large skillet over high, heat one tablespoon of the oil. When the oil is almost smoking, add all of the asparagus and a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to medium-high and sautť the asparagus, stirring, until it is crisp tender and golden at some of the edges, four to five minutes. Transfer the asparagus to a bowl and set aside.

Return the skillet to the heat and add another tablespoon of the oil, the shiitakes, and a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to medium and sautť the mushrooms, stirring, until they are barely tender and golden around some of the edges, about three minutes. Transfer the shiitakes to the bowl with the asparagus.

Return the skillet to the heat and add the remaining tablespoon of the oil and the shrimp. Sautť the shrimp, stirring, for two minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and chili and cook, stirring, for one minute.

In a bowl whisk together the broth, oyster sauce, and cornstarch. Add the mixture to the skillet, whisking, and bring to a boil. Return the asparagus and the mushrooms to the skillet and simmer for 1 minute. To serve, spoon a mound of rice onto each of 4 plates, then top with a quarter of the asparagus and shrimp mixture.

Editorís note: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public televisionís "Saraís Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including Sara Moultonís Everyday Family Dinners.

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