Paper-Thin Asparagus With Butter & Soy Sauce

May 16, 2021
11 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne. Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio.
  • Prep time 2 minutes
  • Cook time 2 minutes
  • Serves 1
Author Notes

“People who hung out with James in his kitchens in Greenwich Village always noted what a great improviser he was,” James Beard’s biographer, John Birdsall, tells me in an email. “He’d open the fridge, poke around, grab things off the shelves of his cupboards, and concoct something surprising and delicious. He had a well-developed sense of flavor and balance, and he stocked his kitchen with quality ingredients (Maldon flake salt he'd order from Harrods in London, for instance).”

This asparagus recipe—though it’s hardly a recipe, and more a single clause in Beard’s memoir Delights and Prejudices: “cut in paper-thin diagonal slices and tossed with butter and soy for two or three minutes in a hot skillet, which gives it a delightful texture”—is my best attempt at interpreting what the bachelor gourmand claims to have cooked for himself when he dined alone.

I’ve found that you can use whatever raw vegetables you have (be it asparagus, broccoli, or sugar snap peas). Just be sure to slice them paper-thin so they cook quickly, and toss them in a hot pan with the butter and soy sauce for no more than two minutes. What this means is the raw edge of the vegetable gets cooked off while still maintaining its crunch.

And though Birdsall was able to confirm that Beard’s wording, “paper-thin diagonal slices,” most likely meant stalks cut on the bias (about one- to two-inch pieces), there’s something pleasurable about eating various shapes of the same vegetable, all with slightly different textures. The combination is, for me, what makes this dish especially “delightful.”

Loosely adapted from a very good line in Delights and Prejudices by James Beard.Eric Kim

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: A Delightful Dish James Beard Cooked for Himself When Dining Alone. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces asparagus, cut in paper-thin diagonal slices
  • Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • Cooked white rice, for serving
  1. Heat a skillet over high heat and melt the butter. Add the asparagus, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 1 minute. Add the soy sauce and cook for another minute or so, until the butter and soy sauce bubble up into a sticky glaze. Serve with white rice.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Cheryl
  • Lucia
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  • Trinity
  • Rhonda35
Eric Kim was the Table for One columnist at Food52. He is currently working on his first cookbook, KOREAN AMERICAN, to be published by Clarkson Potter in 2022. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can find his bylines at The New York Times, where he works now as a writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @ericjoonho.

13 Reviews

BriH May 16, 2021
Tried it tonight and it was absolutely amazing! I wouldn't change a thing, honestly.
epiphany December 17, 2020
Only had a small bunch of asparagus so topped up with shavings of carrot. Absolutely gorgeous. Maximum taste with minimal effort.
Cheryl June 3, 2020
Made with vegan butter. Cut the pieces into 1-1/2 inches on the diagonal. Definitely doesn't need salt. It was great! Thank you.
MsMM2You May 22, 2020
This was a very good little recipe with excellent flavor- my favorite kind of recipe! Although I love asparagus in any form, I was ready for a change and this was exactly what I was looking for. Butter and soy sauce became a magical finish to quick fried shaved asparagus. Delicious! (Thank you Eric- your writing compelled me to try this recipe, out of the dozens in my must try file)
Lucia April 29, 2020
The best recipe for asparagus ever. Totally approachable and super tasty. When I saw asparagus at the grocery store, I immediately knew i HAD to make this.
Yvonne March 28, 2020
I’ve made this twice in 10 days, absolutely delicious! Asparagus is really inexpensive right now, must be the season. My only addition was a minced clove of garlic, yumm!
Marie March 27, 2020
Just made this with all three cuts. It was beyond delicious over white basmati rice, served with kimchi tuna cakes. This is going into my favorites file!
Diane A. March 24, 2020
I found the recipe in The New James Beard. It's called "Minute Asparagus." Beard wants us to diagonally slice the asparagus" no more that 1/4" thick and place in colander. Then boil water and put colander in water for "one minute." Meanwhile melt butter, soy sauce, lemon juice and pepper. " Drain asparagus well and toss well in pan until butter has browned and asparagus is crisp and deliciously flavored."
Trinity March 23, 2020
I used a combination of long thin ribbons (achieved through the usage of a vegetable peeler) and small oval slices, which created a fun textural contrast between the softer noodle-y strands and the crunchier coins. The butter and soy sauce enveloped everything in a silky glaze that really brought out the natural sweetness of this spring vegetable. Highly recommended!
TS March 21, 2020
How do you think this would be with zucchini? Too watery?
Eric K. March 21, 2020
No, actually, I think that'd taste great! It's a quick 2-minute flash fry, so the zucchini should hold its shape and texture.
Rhonda35 March 20, 2020
Looking forward to trying this!
Eric K. March 20, 2020
Hope you love it! I'm making it again tomorrow with thinly sliced broccoli.