Spring Sandwich by Jay Porter Delights
Asparagus, an emblematic, coming-of-spring thing, can become a luscious open-faced sandwich at The Half Orange.
Spring Sandwich from Jay Porter.
Photo by Lori Eanes
What raises cooks’ spring spirits higher than fresh asparagus? Not much. Even the ramps-and-morels crowd appreciates how those knobby spears herald the season in their rise from the ground, pointing like fingers toward the sun.
“It’s this emblematic, coming-of-spring thing,” said Jay Porter, chef-owner of Oakland’s The Half Orange. “We look forward to asparagus because of what it signals.”
Luckily, asparagus season can last well into May and early June, giving diners plenty of time to indulge in the vegetable’s robust-yet-ethereal flavor—the taste equivalent of a Mona Lisa smile—that Porter describes as “slightly sweet, vegetal, nutty,” and in his opinion misjudged as famously difficult to pair with wine. He suggests full-bodied, aromatic whites, or, better yet, craft beer—pilsners, IPAs, or any ale with a hint of citrus from local brewers such as Ale Industries or Fieldwork.
Asparagus crops can take roughly three years to cultivate properly, adding to their sense of prize—and price. Subtler white asparagus, hugely popular in Europe, is cloaked in soil throughout its growth to prevent chlorophyll production, and often graces fancier plates for its smooth, delicate, albino tenderness. Just be sure to peel it before cooking.
The thinner the spear, the younger the asparagus; for more substantial flavor, choose a bundle of meatier, firm shoots with tight tips. All asparagus requires tough-end snappage. Find the natural bend near the base and break it off. Cook the spears simply: grilled or roasted with a drizzle of oil, or steamed until crisp-tender, then dress as desired. Or try Porter’s open-faced Spring Sandwich, on the menu at The Half Orange, that, the story goes, came to a former staffer in a winter’s dream.
1 Bunch fresh asparagus, rinsed, tough ends removed, skins peeled if desired.
4 thick slices of artisanal bread
1 head frisee, rinsed and torn
Olive oil for cooking
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons yellow mustard powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
1/2 bunch chives, chopped; pinch reserved for garnish
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, plus one tsp for poaching egg
Salt and pepper to taste
For the dressing: Combine the mayonnaise and mustard powder in a food processor and blend. While blending, gradually add lemon juice and vinegar, followed by parsley, chives and sugar. Add salt and pepper to taste.
For the sandwich: Brush asparagus and bread with olive oil and cook simultaneously, either on a backyard grill or in a pan/griddle over medium-high heat, flipping halfway, until the toast is lightly browned and the asparagus is crisp-tender, three to five minutes.
Bring saucepan of water to a gentle simmer over steady heat, and add 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar. Meanwhile, gently crack eggs, one at a time, into small bowl, then tip each raw egg into simmering water and poach, about three minutes. Remove eggs with slotted spoon to drain.
In separate bowl, toss frisee with prepared dressing.
Plate toasted bread slices. Top first with divided dressed frisee, then several asparagus spears, then place one poached egg on top of each. Sprinkle with reserved chives.
All that’s left is to enjoy.