This dish is an adaptation of a Japanese classic that’s typically made with spinach. Here the woodsy-sweet flavor of the asparagus is beautifully complemented by the bonito flakes that garnish the vegetable. Japanese asparagus is pencil thin and appears in the market from early spring through the rainy season in July. In America, the season for fresh asparagus is a bit longer, allowing us to enjoy this dish well through the summer and even into the fall.
Season the basic sea stock with the syrupy rice wine and soy sauce, and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring once or twice. Reserve
Trim the asparagus discarding the woody bottoms, then cut what remains of the stalks in half. Bring a small pot of salted water to a rolling boil and add the lower, thicker halves of the stalks. Cook for 30 seconds or until the water returns to a boil, whichever is sooner. Add the tip pieces of the asparagus to the pot and cook for 1 minute or for 30 seconds after the water returns to a boil again, whichever is sooner. Drain the asparagus, both tips and stalks, promptly and place the pieces in the waiting tosa sauce.
Allow the sauced asparagus pieces to cool to room temperature before covering and chilling them in the refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
When you’re ready to serve this dish, lift the lower halves of the asparagus out of the tosa sauce and divide them into four portions. The stalks should run parallel to each other and form a small bundle on each plate. (I’m particularly fond of serving this salad in shallow glass bowls.) Next, divide the tips of the asparagus into four portions and align these so that the tips all point in the same direction. Lay the tip pieces over the stalk pieces, forming each serving into a gentle mound. Sprinkle a half tablespoon of the reserved bonito flakes across the center of each serving of asparagus, just before bringing to the table.
© 1985 Elizabeth Andoh. All rights reserved.