Nearly every famous chef, at one time or another, has been asked, “What is the most valuable tool in your kitchen?” The answers vary from the utilitarian — balloon whisks, tongs, and cast iron skillets — to the more poetic, “my hands.”
No one ever says asparagus cooker.
Who dreamed up this poor-Johnny-one-note of the kitchen? Most likely, a wedding planner. It seems to end up on every registry, yet you never see it in people’s homes. A lonely back-cabinet dweller, the asparagus pot only sees the stove once or twice a year — in spring, before the barbeque rolls out and people start grilling the tender green spears.
So why not sell it at the yard sale? Everyone we asked said: It’s stainless steel and it has a thick, even-heating aluminum base… it’s pretty much the best pot in the house; it’s too good to sell.
Well then, it’s too good to waste. Here are five uses for an asparagus pot that should help it keep pace with the micro-planer and spice grinder for weekly favorite:
Two whole ears of corn will fit in an asparagus cooker with ample room for the lid. Bring an inch or so of water to boil in the asparagus pot. Trim the ends of the corn and shuck it, leaving the husks in place. Pull out the silk and slather the corn in sweet butter, fresh herbs, salt, and pepper. Wrap it back up, tuck it in the asparagus basket and drop it in the pot. Cook for five minutes — voila! Carefully remove the basket and, using tongs, remove the crisp, juicy sweet corn.
4. Hard-boiled eggs:
Place the eggs in the asparagus basket, lower into the pot, and cover with cold water. Place a lid on the pot and bring the water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, turn off the heat and leave the eggs in the pot with the lid on for 10 minutes. Pull the basket out of the water and run cold water over the eggs. That’s it: no cracked eggs, no green rings. And the eggs look cute in the basket, too.
3. Spaghetti and fettucini:
Pasta gives this tall, skinny pot purpose. Put the basket in the asparagus pot and fill with water and a pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil and add noodles. Watch the noodles slide into the water, give them a quick stir, and cook for 10 minutes (or directed time). Once they are al dente, carefully remove the basket, drain over the sink and toss the noodles in a bowl.
2. Boiled chicken:
Put the asparagus basket in the pot and add water, just to the bottom. Place two chicken breasts — with or without skin and bones, though I prefer both for reasons of tenderness — in the basket, add the lid, and bring the water to a simmer for 6 to 10 minutes boneless or 15 to 20 minutes bone-in. Remove the basket from the water carefully and use tongs to retrieve the chicken, which can be slathered in sauce, sliced over salad, shredded, or whatnot.
The best for last! Sure, you can only fit one doughnut (or several holes) in the asparagus pot at a time, but the benefit is you never have to reheat the oil mid-stream — and isn’t a cake doughnut worth your undivided attention?
Adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl
3 ½ c all-purpose flour
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp salt
2 ¼ c sugar
¾ cup low-fat buttermilk
½ stick (4 tbs) unsalted butter
Vegetable oil for deep frying
1. Sift together dry ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Whisk together 1 c sugar, buttermilk, butter, and eggs in another bowl. Add mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until a sticky dough forms.
3. Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and gently knead eight times.
4. Roll the dough into a 12-inch round, about ⅓-inch thick, and cut donuts using a 3-inch cutter. Use a ½ to ¾-inch cutter to make the hole (if you have no cutter, a glass will do the trick!). Gather the scraps and re-roll, cutting in the same manner.
5. Fill the asparagus pot about ¾ full with oil and heat to 375° F on the thermometer.
6. Slide one doughnut into the oil at a time. Do not drop it into the pot or oil will splatter from hell to breakfast. Once the doughnut floats to the top, turn it, let it cook for 50 seconds then turn it again and fry for 50 seconds more. Lift the doughnut out of the oil using a Chinese mesh skimmer or some other wide, slotted utensil and set it on a paper bag to drain. Once it has cooled enough, dredge the doughnut in remaining sugar, which can be doctored with cinnamon or cardamom.
Repeat! Remember to monitor the heat, adjusting it to keep the temperature at 375° F at all times.