Sunday, April 17, 2011

Seasonal Sunday--Asparagus Mousse & Shrimp Bake

My inspiration for today's recipe was a ready-made meal I saw in this week's grocery store mailer. In my typical fashion I thought, wrote little notes and looked through my cookbooks before gathering the ingredients and spending the better part of this morning experimenting in the kitchen. I thought it sounded like a great idea to mix these seasonal foods in a new and different way. This is probably more time consuming than most of the things I share with you but it was really worth the effort in the end. For we Americans who are used to opening cans of soup rather than making sauces the idea of a béchamel sauce may be scary. Don't let it be. It's so super easy and making it from scratch allows you to control the salt and fat which is a bonus. 

I'll give you the recipe as I wrote it this morning--in three layers. This way you can work through each step and then assemble.
{Asparagus Mousse & Shrimp Bake}

{asparagus flowers}

Asparagus Mousse & Shrimp Bake

ingredients list

9-10 fat, fresh stalks of asparagus
1 tablespoon creme fraiche
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons good flour
2 cups low-fat or demi-ecreme milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
20 shrimp, cooked and frozen
olive oil
1 clove of garlic
fresh parsley
parmesan cheese

First layer.

The asparagus. We are getting into the height of the season for this peculiar vegetable. I think it's peculiar because of the way it grows, straight up with no anchor, pointing skyward like a flower. I suppose the tufted end is the flower after all and the spear the flower stem.You can find wild asparagus all over if you look closely. The kids gathered a few skinny stalks from our garden last weekend and it grows freely along the woodland trails around our village. The asparagus I bought for this recipe is farmed just down the road.
{fresh is best}

I have cooked asparagus many times but have never done it the proper French way until today.What you do is wash it and then cut off the hard, woody white end. Then you peel it with a paring knife all the way up to the base of the flowered tip or until you feel the outer skin get soft. It's delicate and wonderful work. I know it sounds silly but I love doing things in a new way and being able to 'feel' that it's right. As you gently peel it, the lovely fresh scent of asparagus will release a bit, the freshness of the inner stalk giving way.
{trimmed asparagus}
Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and lower the trimmed asparagus into it. Boil for 7 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse in cold water immediately. This will keep the green bright and almost electric.
{cooked asparagus}

Put your cooked asparagus in a blender with the tablespoon of crème fraîche and mix until smooth. I did it with my trusty hand held mixer.
Set the asparagus mousse aside for assembly later.

Second layer.

Béchamel Sauce. Don't be nervous like I was. It's really easy to make this and once you know how you can jazz it up in so many different ways. It's just Texas cream gravy at its heart. (French chefs are rolling in their graves.)
I use the Julia Child recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Here's what you do:
Melt the 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a saucepan. Add in the 3 tablespoons flour and stir with a wooden spoon over low medium heat until you have a white roux. Don't let it brown at all. Or you have something else entirely--the base for brown gravy or the copper penny colored base for gumbo.
{white roux}

Meanwhile, bring 2 cups of low fat milk with 1/2 teaspoon salt to a simmer. Watch it so that it doesn't boil over and burn your cooktop like I usually do.

When your roux is mixed and ready and your milk is simmering, pour the milk over the roux, whisking constantly and madly until combined. No lumps this way. Bring this beautiful, pure white mixture to a boil whisking all the while until it's recognizable as béchamel.

{béchamel sauce}
Third layer.

I cheated. I bought my shrimp cooked in olive oil, parsley and garlic at gourmet frozen food shop extraordinaire, Picard. If you live here in France I suggest you do the same. If not, I'm sure you can easily find cooked frozen shrimp to doctor up with parsley and garlic or work from fresh to the same end.
If you're using frozen all you have to do is gently reheat.

{Picard shrimp}

Now to the assembly.

First, spread the asparagus mousse on the bottom of a shallow oven proof dish.
Like this:
{asparagus mousse}

Then spoon on some of the béchamel. Be sure to whisk it again first to get rid of any film or lumps.
It will look like this:
{asparagus mousse & béchamel}

Now cover this with the shrimp.
See how easy and pretty this is:
And finally, more béchamel to cover and a sprinkle of grated parmesan and breadcrumbs.

Now just put it in the oven under the grill until the cheese melts and breadcrumbs get all toasty. You may notice I don't have breadcrumbs on mine. I was out because I used them all to make chicken parmesan sandwiches yesterday. It would be the best final touch though so do it even if I didn't.

This is what we had for lunch today with a big, green salad, avocados and fresh baguette.

BUT, I made crêpes for breakfast this morning and rolled the asparagus and shrimp into a cold one and it was divine. I think if you were to layer some crêpes with this like a lasagna or stuff crêpes with the mixture and cover with extra béchamel it would be the stuff French dreams are made of. 


  1. It is the first time that I hear about this trimming of the asparagus. My grandparents bought a house that had a portion of land producing asparagus (asparagiaia, it is called) and I remember the quantity that we used to eat when in season. As a child I was also very disturbed by the smell when I peed...(can I say this?)
    But the recipe seems delicious, I will give a try, thanks a lot.

  2. Thanks for sharing a lovely looking recipe, my tummy is making rumbling noises just from reading this!

  3. Oh my goodness, this looks beautiful! All my favourite flavours there.

  4. I am seriously impressed, Aidan. Seasonal, delicious-sounding, pretty--and less caloric than my way, which has always been with an ultra-decadent Hollandaise sauce.

    Hmm, now who can I invite over?...

  5. Oh yes, asparagus pee, one of the mysteries of the world. How does it come through so quickly? What does it mean?

    As always Aidan, this looks unbelievably delicious. Yum!


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