When I received the vegetable of spring—asparagus—in a recent CSA box, I decided the following weekend would be the one of Asparagus Two Ways. (The original plan was for Asparagus Three Ways but alas, I concluded that asparagus with salmon roe had to wait to due a lack of time and an essential ingredient: salmon roe.) So first up: Beer-battered asparagus.
I had never deep fried anything on my own before, but having made tempura with my parents while growing up and catching a rerun Alton Brown’s Good Eats episode about cooking potato chips gave me a significant leg up. I chose a lemon, pepper, beer batter and decided to add fish to the fry as well (since a fish fry is one of my favorite meals).
Before heating the oil—though I could have done this simultaneously—I made the dipping sauce, a simple mixture of mayonnaise, fresh lemon juice and lemon zest, and freshly ground pepper. I rather firmly believe that you shouldn’t bother eating French fries if you don’t have mayo to dip them in (a delicious though diet-unfriendly habit I picked up while living in northern Quebec) so the sauce was the perfect accompaniment to the beer-battered foods, though some online commenters found it to be too heavy.
With the sauce completed, covered, and resting in the fridge, I turned to the oil and asparagus. One thing I learned through making tempura with my family was that the best way to deep fry a food, is to pat it as dry as possible beforehand. This helps the batter stick to the food and also keep you from making a mess when the water droplets on the food burst upon contact with the hot oil. The other thing that helps the batter stick to the food: keeping the batter cold. This is especially important when making tempura but seemed to assist in this process as well (I kept my bowl of batter in the freezer between dips).
What I learned from Alton Brown’s episode was the importance of using a deep-fat thermometer. Had I not seen the show, I likely would have skipped the thermometer and instead heated up the oil until I guessed it was hot enough and then fried away. This may have worked but my guess is that I would have burned some spears and undercooked others. The thing is, it is incredibly easy to overheat the oil (turning the element knob to six and a half out of 10 was enough to bring my oil to the desired 375 degrees Fahrenheit) and each time you drop a piece of battered food into the hot oil causes the oil temperature to significantly drop so you have to let it heat back up between batches.
The whole thing went far better than expected. I deep fried the asparagus spears in groups of five or six, letting them cook for about two minutes, and then transferred each batch to a paper-towel lined baking sheet in the oven at 200 degrees to keep warm. The fish was just as easy. I chose tilapia because I like it but also because it holds together well. For the fish, the process was the same: dry, batter, fry (for about three minutes), and ta-da, you’re done.
The fish was my favorite, though Rob preferred the asparagus. It’ll likely take me a few more goes to get the hang of deep frying: The spears could have been a bit crispier but otherwise they turned out great. And the sauce was a perfect complement. I experimented a bit on my plate and decided that the sauce mixed with more lemon juice and a healthy pinch of cayenne was the best combination. Needless to say, the spears and the fish disappeared pretty quickly.