- 1 pound asparagus
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 rid celery, diced
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- Kosher salt
Given my love of asparagus, it should come as no surprise that cream of asparagus soup is one of my favorite soups. Each spoon-full should bathe every taste bud in your mouth with a velvety asparagus goodness. Cream of asparagus soup is all about about the cream and the asparagus and it should not be is difficult to prepare. In effect, it should be deliciously simple.
The star of the soup is the asparagus and choosing the right star can make all the difference. Over the last few years, grocery stores have started to carry thin asparagus touting it as “tender” or “gourmet” asparagus. Don’t be pulled in by this marketing ploy. Asparagus is usually not harvested for three to four years after first planting when the spears reach a salable thickness. In order to stimulate the growth of thicker asparagus, the thinner asparagus that grows in year two is cut when it reaches about 1/4 inch in diameter. In the past, growers would discard this cutting because most of the plant material in the spears of younger and thinner asparagus plants is crude fiber. That is until growers found a way to sell it to consumers by touting the thin asparagus as a gourmet item.
What you are looking for is asparagus with a thick stalk – about the thickness of the base of your little finger making sure that the stalks in the bunch are of uniform size. Fresh asparagus will be bright green and the tender tips may have a purplish cast, but they should be firm and tight, never mushy. Avoid floppy asparagus as this is sure sign of age.
Asparagus should either be used immediately or stored by cutting about 1/2 inch off the bottom and standing the bunch upright in a small bit of water in the refrigerator. Never wash asparagus before storing it. The longer you let asparagus sit, the tougher it gets. Asparagus loses moisture very quickly and the sugars within the spear will begin to turn into an indigestible fiber giving your asparagus a woody texture.
When you are ready to use your asparagus, you’ll first need to remove the woody cut end. But how much should you remove? Well, traditionalists will advise you to bend the stalk until the cut end snaps off at the perfect point which is fine if you have the time. I typically cut off and discard the bottom 25 percent of stalks leaving me with the perfect bunch of uniform asparagus ready to use.
To finish this cream of asparagus soup, you’ll need to have a few pieces of equipment handy; a blender and a medium to fine mesh strainer. Basically, you’ll be blending the soup before adding the cream and then, with the back of a ladle, pushing it through a mesh strainer into a bowl before transferring it right back to the same pot to finish. You need to be extremely careful blending the hot soup and work in small batches. Hot soup atomizes in a blender and turns very quickly into steam, spiking the inside pressure which can cause hot soup to spurt out under pressure. Not a good thing. The best way deal with this is to take the center “hole” part out of the blender lid so pressure can flow out. Then, loosely fold a heavy clean kitchen towel and hold it firmly over the hole so that no soup can escape but making sure it is on loosely enough so as not to cork in the pressure. Remember, blend in small batches.
As a side note, while working on this recipe, I played with the thickness of the final soup by adding a small peeled and quartered Yukon Gold potato to the soup during step 3 below. I really liked the thickness that the potato added to the final soup, I was split on how it changed the overall mouth feel. I did not find that it had much of an effect on the final taste of the soup either way. In the end I opted to omit the potato in the final recipe but include this note to end my endless flip-flopping.
- Prepare the asparagus by cutting off and discarding the woody cut end. Then cut off the asparagus tips making sure they are about 1 1/2 to 2 inches long and set them aside. Cut the remaining stalks into 3/4 inch pieces and set them aside as well.
- Melt butter in a 3 or 4 quart heavy soup pot over a medium heat. Add diced onions and celery stirring often until the onions are transparent making sure they do not take on any color. Add fresh thyme and continue to cook for another two minutes.
- Add chicken stock, asparagus stalk pieces, fresh ground black pepper and salt to taste, bring it to a boil then cook uncovered at a simmer until the liquid has been reduced by a third. When pressed against the side of the pot with a spoon, the asparagus stalk pieces should be completely tender.
- Remove the pot from the heat and working in small batches as described above, blend the soup on high-speed then pour it through a medium to fine metal mesh strainer over a bowl using a ladle to push the blended soup though the mesh. Discard the fibrous material left in the strainer.
- Pour the blended soup back into the pot, add the reserved asparagus tips, bring back to a slow boil for 10 minutes.
- Add cream, taste for salt, bring back just to a simmer, remove from heat and serve.