One of the famed Cleopatra’s charms is said to be the special way she had of serving asparagus. Well, no, not really, I just made that up, but I’m sure it’s entirely possible.
The ancients were pretty fond of asparagus so I reckon it probably appeared at her table, and she was a smart enough chick not to have overlooked its erotic symbolism.
Asparagus is one of the few things in polite society one is encouraged to pick up and eat with one’s fingers.
Cooking it can be accorded as much mystique as cooking the perfect omelette, but that’s all bollocks.
Lay down your spears in a large frying pan containing just enough boiling water to barely cover them, bring the pan back to the boil and cook until a knife inserted in the tip lets you know the desired degree of doneness has been reached. If you’re doing heaps and heaps, just plunge the lot into a huge pot of boiling salted water. Or toss stubby spears in olive oil, sprinkle with flakes of Maldon salt and a good grind of black pepper and roast in a hot oven until tender and patched with gold.
Mum used to make this Chinese-style beef every year with the first of the asparagus – as sure a harbinger of spring as the more traditional lambs and daffs, it was a thrifty treat. Sliced fine and piled up with sticky soy-smeared beef and rice, it made the four of us think we were eating a feast of asparagus, when in reality we had fewer than half a dozen spears each.
The recipe comes from the Beauty and the Beast Cookbook, which seemed terribly exotic in the late 70s when it was published. It contains one of the all-time best recipe instructions: “as much fresh asparagus as you can afford”. Fabulous.
Beef Shreds and Asparagus:
500g rump steak
4 tablespoons dark soy
2 tablespoons sherry
1 clove garlic, crushed
thumb green ginger, grated
as much fresh asparagus as you can afford
peanut oil for frying
Cut steak into strips 5-8cm long and 1/2cm thick. Marinate for an hour in the soy, sherry, garlic, ginger and pepper.
Slice asparagus diagonally into 1/2cm slices and fry quickly in medium hot oil until soft on the outside but still crisp in the centre. Transfer to a small covered dish and hold in a warm oven.
Fry the beef shreds in the oil and toss gently until they are coated and glossy brown. Serve immediately with the asparagus and a mound of fluffy white rice.