Alice B. Toklas' Asparagus in Salt & Pepper Whipped Cream

March 25, 2015

Every week—often with your help—Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: The one way you probably haven't thought about serving asparagus—and you should.

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Toast Soup and Chicken in Milk notwithstanding, I swear I don't just find the craziest-sounding recipes and call them genius. But is my interest piqued, are my little genius whiskers set a-quiver? Oh, sure.


So when I saw what seemed like the oddest yet—Alice B. Toklas' Asparagus in Whipped Cream—I had to try it, even though I thought, rather smugly, that it would be terrible.

It sounded like a complete lark, making sense from a person whose most famous recipe is hashish fudge. I couldn't have known how good it would turn out to be.

Set the grassy pop of asparagus against something rich and mellow and it tastes even more vibrantly green—we've done this plenty of times with hollandaise and aioli and poached eggs.

Salted and peppered whipped cream is a little like that, but easier to make than any of them, lighter in form, and arguably springier. I bet we would do well to plop it on all kinds of peas too, corn in summer, and hardier greens in fall.

Toklas allows you to either steam or boil the asparagus, then pour over a dribble of warmed cream and butter before spooning the whipped cream over the top. That extra shot of cream and butter may seem excessive but a) have you seen this recipe? b) the sauce is now even more savory c) look how pretty it is!

I've generally steamed the asparagus in the manner I learned from my father—in a covered sauté pan with a little salt and water splashed in—and warmed the cream and butter properly, in a pot called a butter warmer. But I've also done all the cooking in a microwave—the asparagus steamed in a bowl, the butter and cream heated in a little ramekin—and had equally elegant results.

There is one thing I changed: Toklas says to whip the cream to stiff peaks, but stiffness is akin to butteriness, and especially here can turn globby and unpleasant as it sits. Softer peaks settle nicely into the warm asparagus, and continue to make attractive swirls till the last spear is lifted off the plate.

I served it with a feisty marinated salmon; you could do other seafood or steak or lamb chops. Or, you know, burritos. Call it genius.

Alice B. Toklas's Asparagus in Whipped Cream

Adapted slightly from Greene on Greens by Bert Greene (Workman, 1984)

Serves 4

1 1/2 to 2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and peeled
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

The Genius Recipes cookbook is here! (Well, almost.) The book is a mix of greatest hits from the column and unpublished new favorites—all told, over 100 recipes that will change the way you think about cooking. It'll be on shelves in April, but you can pre-order yours now.

Photos by Mark Weinberg 

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  • cookinalong
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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


cookinalong January 29, 2016
Thank you, thank you! I do not know how I missed this first time around, but again, thank you! Made this tonight to sighs of delight and not a leftover in sight. Ahhh. Now how about that hash brownie recipet??
jdspring June 17, 2015
This lovely, simple idea is not too far from sauce mousseline (a classic sauce for asparagus), only simpler to make and lighter. There's nothing "crazy town" about it.
Akiko May 4, 2015
I've never thought about turning whipped cream in salty taste ... but it was amazing! Super technique :)
helen M. April 15, 2015
Don't dare try it as I once mistakenly added salt to whipping cream (instead of sugar) and the Thanksgiving Dinner crowd of 45 was incensed that they didn't have whipped cream for their pumpkin pie. It was horrendous, no matter what I did to try to eliminate that taste. Can't imagine this recipe. What's wrong with the cream/butter sauce by itself. Or sometimes I have tried sour
cream with a little ginger/wasasbi mixed in....delicious! But not SALT
Susan April 15, 2015
Nothing better than heavy cream.
Rebecca L. April 15, 2015
This seems like a travesty to me. I probably won't try it because I have my own favorite. In a sauce pan I combine equal parts olive oil, butter and tamari. To that I add garlic, roughly chopped. Heat until the garlic is cooked, and pour over blanched asparagus, string beans or into a steamed artichoke (heavenly!) try it, you'll never look back!
Sanbenitosal April 4, 2015
My mother-in-law used to serve shoestring beets in whipped cream. Absolutely delicious!
Marian B. March 26, 2015
Kenzi W. March 25, 2015
I want to steal your kicker and pawn it off as my own. Nice work.
Rachel C. March 25, 2015
it makes me wonder what other traditionally sweet things can be turned savory. even if you stick to ice cream toppings: hot fudge? sprinkles?
Jane K. March 25, 2015
This was delicious Kristen! Thanks for the samples :)
Lindsay-Jean H. March 25, 2015
I think I just discovered my butter warmer's life's calling.