A few evenings ago, we went with our food-enthusiast friends to a relatively new Santa Fe restaurant, Arroyo Vino. We were excited about the visit, which was a ways out of town, because we had previously been big fans of the Executive Chef, Mark Connell, who had wowed us at a downtown place that is now history. The restaurant is only open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday so reservations can be dicey. But the added feature is that it is attached to a very complete wine shop that is open throughout the week, and with lots of good choices for fair prices. You can even buy a bottle for your dinner if nothing on the menu pleases your palate.
The menu changes frequently and tends to favor the current enthusiasm for the farm-to-market movement. Specials are posted on a blackboard, and they are worth considering in view of the restaurant philosophy.
Asparagus is in season, so you can get it prepared in one of several ways. I didn’t see asparagus ice cream, but the asparagus soup was a keeper, and to my taste the asparagus fries turned out to be a highlight of the evening
The dish was served in a beaker filled with plump asparagus spears lightly dusted with panko and fried just until the panko toasted but not enough to rob the asparagus of its green and crispness. It was lighter than tempura – if you want tempura you do batter – but it begged to be dipped in the accompanying Hollandaise.
When I got home I decided to emulate this very special dish. My effort didn’t come close to the real thing, but it was good enough that there was no asparagus left at the end of dinner. This recipe is also ingredient-efficient because I used egg whites to give the panko something to stick to and then the yolks to make a dipping aioli instead of Hollandaise. Making the aioli also gave me a chance to use one of my new gadgets.
Over the years, I have gone through countless garlic presses. Of course, the pros among you will say, “Don’t put it through a press, just mince it, or make a paste with the flat of a knife, or use a mortar and pestle.” All of those skills have escaped me, but garlic presses have also been a big disappointment. They break; the holes are hard to clean out; the press part doesn’t meet the plate of holes; the garlic doesn’t get extruded; etc. So my wife gave me a JosephJoseph garlic rocker, made by the British firm owned by the twin brothers Joseph and designed by Goodwin Hartshorn. It is a thing of beauty, made of lightly brushed metal with two wings and an indentation of a honeycomb of sharp-edged hexagonal holes. You place the rocker on some garlic, and rocking the wings back and forth, you force the garlic through the holes into the indentation. The garlic may not be as fine as you would like, so just press it through a second time. It works, it’s fun, and it’s easy to clean/dishwasher safe.
Our home meal was finished with corn-on-the-cob and twice-baked potato.
- 1 bunch fresh asparagus, preferably larger stalks
- 2 egg whites
- 2 tablespoons water
- ½ cup panko
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- peanut oil for deep-frying
- Wash the asparagus and trim the woody stems so that the stalks are about the same length
- Whip the egg whites so that they are frothy and evenly mixed. Whip in the water and transfer to a shallow plate or pan.
- In another plate or pan, combine the panko, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt.
- Working a few stalks at a time, coat them with egg white and then coat them with the panko mixture. Set on a baking rack for a few minutes to dry until all of the stalks are coated.
- Heat a heavy pot with about 3 inches of peanut oil to 350° F. Adjust the heat to maintain temperature because the asparagus will cool of the oil rapidly, and the asparagus will become greasy if the temperature is too low.
- Working in batches, transfer the asparagus stalks to the hot oil. Fry for no more than a minute until the panko is lightly browned. Transfer to folded paper towels to drain, and keep warm until all of the asparagus is fried.
- Serve immediately with freshly made aioli. You can use the 2 leftover egg yolks for that.