This dish of cool, crunchy, and lightly dressed asparagus nuggets is truly from the opposite side of the world as that which serves its asparagus long, limp, and clothed in butter or cream. It is a wonderfully easy way of cooking asparagus, with none of the fuss or calories we’re used to in Western dining.
Freshly toasted sesame seeds are always better than store-bought, and here’s how to do it when you have only a small amount to toast: Add the seeds to a heavy, dry skillet. Set over medium heat and push the seeds around for several minutes until they turn a nutty, light brown. Regulate the heat so they neither scorch nor ooze too much oil. Scrape into a saucer to cool, stirring occasionally.
Bend each asparagus stalk near the base until the woody, whitish end snaps off. Discard the ends, then roll-cut the asparagus as described above in TECHNIQUE NOTES.
Station a metal colander in the sink, then bring a generous amount of unsalted water to a full boil over high heat. Drop the asparagus into the water for 1 minute if pencil-thin, 1½-2 minutes if thicker, no longer. Drain immediately in the colander and rush under cold running water until thoroughly chilled. Shake off excess water, then pat dry.
The asparagus may be cooked a day in advance. Spread on a large plate, seal airtight, and refrigerate until use.
If you are working only an hour in advance, sauce the asparagus with brown sugar. If you have a few hours, use white sugar, which takes longer to penetrate but has a lighter taste.
Whisk the sesame oil, sugar, vinegar, and soy, stirring until smooth and slightly thick. Put the dressing aside to develop for 10 minutes, stir, then scrape over the asparagus and toss gently to mix. Toss again with all but ¼ teaspoon of the sesame seeds, seal airtight, and refrigerate 1–3 hours before serving, tossing occasionally.
Toss again just before serving and garnish with the remaining sesame seeds. Serve well chilled in a bowl of contrasting color to show off the deep asparagus green.
The asparagus is best within several hours of saucing. Leftovers quickly lose their sparkle.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.