I started to tell you about the book Ad Hoc at Home the other day. Since this is a book about family meals, it’s organized according to how planning meals at home supposedly happens. The chapters for main courses of meat and fish come first assuming those are chosen first, and they're followed by soups, salads, vegetables and side dishes, breads, and desserts which are picked to go with a main course. That makes sense. Although, I have been known to plan meals around a vegetable or salad I have in mind. This particular meal did involve barbecued chicken, but my real plan was to put together a menu that would include fresh, local corn. The creamed corn recipe in the book had stuck in my head, and I had to have it. Creamed corn may not ordinarily require a recipe, but in this case, it led me to adding cayenne and lime zest, and so I was happy to follow it. Then, the asparagus coins caught my eye. Rather than leaving the asparagus in spears, they were cut into nice, little rounds and cooked with chive oil and parsley water. Yes, it was just a tad fussy for a simple, home-cooked side dish, but the flavor was fantastic.
First, for creamed corn, Keller offers a handy tip for removing silks from the cut kernels. Move your hand through the kernels, round and round, and the silks will stick to your hand. Rinse your hand and repeat as needed. With kernels free of all silks, the corn was cooked in a large saute pan with melted butter, lime juice, and salt over low heat. Once the liquid evaporated, cream, cayenne, and lime zest were added. When the corn had absorbed most of the cream, chopped chives were added, and it was done.
To make the asparagus dish, chive oil and parsley water needed to be made in advance. To make chive oil, chopped chives were placed in a sieve under hot running tap water to remove any chlorophyll taste. The chives were drained and dried and pureed with canola oil. That mixture was refrigerated for 24 hours and then poured through cheesecloth to become perfectly smooth. Parsley water was made with leaves and tender stems that were wilted in a pan with a teaspoon of oil and a little honey. That mixture was then transferred to a bowl with ice cold water to stop the cooking. All of that was then pureed and strained. The reason for the parsley water is that it helps in retaining the flavor of asparagus. The chemical in asparagus that gives it its taste is water-soluble, so cooking in plain water causes some of that flavor to disappear. With those items prepped, it was time to address the asparagus. It was suggested that the spears be cut on a mandoline for perfectly equal-sized coins. I opted to quickly chop with a knife and accepted that mine were close enough to being equal in size. So, the almost perfect asparagus coins and tips were placed in a saute pan with chive oil and salt. As soon as the edges of the coins began to cook, parsley water was added, and it was left for a brief couple of minutes until just tender.
I said the parsley water and chive oil were fussy, but they really weren’t difficult to prepare. In fact, I finished them both in about 20 minutes and that included washing dishes. I would need to do a side by side comparison with asparagus cooked in plain water to know if the parsley water were truly effective in preserving asparagus flavor. But, I can say that the taste was excellent and very much of asparagus with a mild side note of chives. And, the creamed corn was ridiculously good. Fresh corn and cream can do no wrong, but add a little lime and cayenne, and it becomes even better. These were simple, home-cooked side dishes that were taken to another level, and that’s the point of Ad Hoc at Home.