William Rice would almost certainly not have run the following recipe if I’d submitted it years ago because it calls for toasted sesame oil, an obscure ingredient at the time. Now the item is much better known, and for Washington metro area readers at least, fairly easy to obtain.
Which suggests another food writing lesson learned: Times change, tastes change, and editors do too, so it’s vital to keep your culinary skills current. (Still another lesson is understanding the importance of writing good recipe introductions; see my tips here. And for tips on what editors are looking for, go here.)
I like to serve asparagus often when it’s in season, usually by braising it in a little chicken broth, or roasting it with olive oil, or by readying this nothing-to-it stir-fry. It shows off the flavor, color, and slightly crunchy texture of the vegetable well, and lends a vaguely Asian touch to a meal.
Tip: Don’t confuse oriental toasted sesame oil with the mild-tasting sesame oil that is available in health food stores. Asian-style sesame oil has a distinct toasty flavor and rich brown color. It’s usually stocked in grocery stores in the same section as soy sauce. I suggest reduced sodium soy in this recipe as it keeps the dish from being too salty.
1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus (untrimmed)
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce or regular soy sauce
Coarse ground gourmet-blend (pink, black, and green) peppercorns for garnish, optional
Break off and discard the tough ends from the asparagus spears; only the tenderest 5 to 6 inches of the spear tops should be used. Cut the trimmed asparagus spears on a diagonal into 1 1/2-inch pieces.
In a 12-inch or similar nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, toast the sesame seeds, stirring constantly, until they just begin to turn light brown. Watch carefully and immediately turn them out onto paper toweling. In the same skillet, heat the oil to hot but not smoking. Add the asparagus pieces, and adjust the heat so they cook rapidly but don’t burn. Cook, stirring 2 minutes or until the pieces are crisp-tender when tested with a fork. Add the soy sauce; cook, stirring, about 1 minute longer. Sprinkle some sesame seeds over top. Add a sprinkling of coarsely ground multi-blend peppercorns, if desired. Serve the remaining seeds separately at the table so diners can add more to taste. Makes 4 servings.