Asparagus with Curried Cheese Sauce
Fusion food doesn’t always need to be fancy. Quite often it’s a matter of personal preference, or designing meals around your favorite flavors using the convenience of ingredients that are on hand. It’s just that little twist, that little flair that we add to make a dish ours.
Other times it’s ideas blatantly stolen from the Food Network and passed off as our own.
Please enter Mr. Roger Mooking, a musician, chef and restauranteur. Roger is a Canadian success story, who won a Juno and played on stage with James Brown before opening two (2!) popular Toronto restaurants and getting a gig on the Food Network with his show Everyday Exotic. Watching him cook is like shooting Tigger full of steroids and watching him wield a whisk. He has the only TV show on the Food Network that I know of which features intro music that the star wrote and recorded himself. Watching him bounce around Chinatown, cheerfully juggling lychee fruit whilst singing a ditty, is clearly an invitation for mockery. The thing is, his personality is so open and earnest that you just can’t taunt him and feel good about it. Believe me, I’ve tried. Roasting Food Network stars (yes, that pun is for YOU) is possibly my greatest joy and passtime.
Tina: “Oh man, it’s that Roger Mooking show. Look at that guy! He’s just…so….uh…..darn cute. Sigh.”
Tina: “Dude, Roger Mooking is on again. He’s…uh…..what was I saying? Damn, those are some hot knife skills.”
Tina: “Hey, Roger Mooking is about to throw a strip steak in a Dutch oven! Ha, that’s just……a really great looking sear. DAMMIT, Roger Mooking! You’re RUINING MY FUN!”
After a few failed attempts at being spiteful and persnickety, I usually just give up and sulk until a Bob Blumer commercial comes on and all my bottled up vitriol can gush freely.
Sometime over the course of last season, Roger was making one of his signature fusion meals and I believe that it centered around comfort food. I was idly eating popcorn and muttering half heartedly under my breath (“Hey Roger Mooking! You…uh….I like your shirt.”) when he started making a curried cheese sauce. I don’t remember what it was for (curried broccoli and cheese casserole perhaps? Or a curried Mac’n'cheese? Meh, who knows) but I DO remember sitting up and starting to spin that around. Curry and cheese, curry and cheese, curryandcheese, currycheeseandcurriedcheese.
It turns out that good ol’ Roger was onto something. You know, something other than two killer restaurants, a successful music career, and burgeoning international fame.
As for me, I’m onto something too. It’s called a diet, because halfway through dinner I had abandoned my meal to eat cheese sauce out of the pan with a spoon. What can I say? I’m just classy like that.
Asparagus with Curried Cheese Sauce
Serves 6 very cheesily
- 2 lb fresh asparagus spears *
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1/2 large yellow onion
- 2 fat cloves garlic
- 1/2″ fresh ginger (1.5 tsp, grated)
- 3 flour tbsp
- 1.5 tsp medium curry powder
- 1/8 tsp cayenne, or to taste
- 2.5 cups milk, room temperature
- 2 cups (150 g/5.5 oz) shredded extra old cheddar cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
* I’m always lured in by the siren song of off-color asparagus, specifically the royal looking purple asparagus or the Gollum-esque albino white. The thing about purple asparagus, however, is that when you cook it you get….green asparagus. Thinner and younger stalks that don’t need a partial peel will mitigate the color loss somewhat but not completely.
Start by finely chopping the onion and mincing the garlic and ginger.
In a large sauce pan, heat one tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and saute until the onion is golden. When it is, add the remaining butter to the pan and stir until it is just melted.
Sprinkle the flour and spices over the butter mixture and stir until they are combined into a paste.
Let the flour cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring intermittently when it bubbles to make sure that it does not start to darken. Well, at least it shouldn’t darken much more than the deep golden hue that it already has from the curry powder.
Slowly drizzle in one cup of milk, whisking constantly as you do so. If the mixture starts to form lumps, stop adding milk and whisk away until it is smooth before continuing. When the first cup of milk is incorporated the mixture should be thick and smooth. Add the remaining cup (all at once is fine, you’ve shown enough patience for one day) and whisk it to combine.
Let the sauce simmer for 5-10 minutes, or until it has thickened enough to easily coat the back of spoon. You want a consistency that is about as thin as weak chicken gravy. Stir the curried white sauce regularly with a wooden spoon, vigilantly warding off the two main concerns in cheese sauce failure:
1. The sauce is not stirred from the bottom of the pan and it scalds, lending your cheese sauce a bitter and burnt flavor (and lending your partner one heck of a wearisome scrubbing task). Regular stirring will prevent this.
2. The heat is too high and the sauce comes to a boil. In the worst case scenario this can cause separation of the solids and a grainy texture to the cooled sauce. If your simmer starts to bubble ebulliently, turn the heat down immediately and stir, stir, stir!
While the sauce is getting slightly thicker, prep your asparagus by snapping off and discarding the woody ends. If you have really thick stalks they tend to be a bit tougher and stringier, so lightly peel/shave off some of the skin from about halfway down the stalk to the bottom.
Turn the heat down slightly to medium-low and start adding the shredded cheddar one small handful at a time, whisking after each addition until the cheese is melted and combined. Season the cheese sauce with salt and pepper to taste.
Steam the prepped asparagus for about 5 minutes, or until they are at your desired texture. I like asparagus that is tender-crisp so I tend to be speedy with the cooking time, but it will also depend on the size of the spears. Pencil thin and tender spears might only need 3-5 minutes, and juice-head fatties like the ones I used this time take a bit longer, 5-7 minutes in total.
Slather the asparagus with curried cheese sauce and serve.
Asparagus is one of my favorite spring and summer vegetables, but when it’s smothered in cheese sauce I could eat it every day…..
….smothered in a curried cheese sauce is all the better.
The asparagus in curried cheese sauce was a great complement to roasted salmon rubbed with brown sugar and Tandoori spices, and warm, fresh naan. Who says that fusion has to be fancy? Some of my favorite fusion recipes are just comfort food…with a twist.