Resist some temptation, but not butter

Winter has given up this year, and things are looking up. The sun is coming out (and staying out!) lately, everyone is cheerier, and the rhubarb and asparagus is leaping off the shelves and into my basket.

The past two springs, given a bundle of asparagus, I’ve rarely passed up an opportunity to make this pasta with lemon and goat cheese. A few weeks ago, I was doing my usual Sunday afternoon recipe browsing/menu planning, and this recipe from Cooks Illustrated bewitched me. The bewitching paid off--I made this on a Tuesday, and then made a double batch three days later.

Two little touches elevated this dish from “Oh cool, stir-fry.” to “What magic did you do to this?!” First, I toasted the rice. In butter. Secondly, I employed extreme self-control by refusing to stir the asparagus as often as I wanted to stir it. I had to relax, put the spoon down, and let the pan work its magic--namely, blistering the daylights out of those vegetables. This dish taught me to resist the temptation to stir, but to not leave out the butter.

Stir-Fried Asparagus with Toasted Brown Rice
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated | Serves 4

1 tablespoon butter
1 cup brown rice, rinsed a few times and drained
2 cups water
pinch of salt

2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried ground ginger
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut on the bias into 2-inch lengths
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced thin
2 scallions, green parts only, sliced thinly on the bias
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

To get started on the rice: In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the rice and toast, stirring frequently, until the grains begin to turn translucent around the edges--about five minutes. Add the water and salt, increase the heat to medium high, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer, cover the pot, and let the rice cook for 30 minutes while you prep the vegetables and make the sauce. Turn off the heat after those 30 minutes and let the rice steam in the pot until you’re ready to serve. Don’t peek under that lid until you’re ready! Really. When it’s eating time, just fluff it with a fork and admire its fluffy deliciousness.

To make the sauce: Combine the water, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, ginger, and sesame oil in bowl. (Bonus points if the bowl has a spout!)

When the rice has finished cooking and is steaming off the heat, cook the vegetables: Heat vegetable oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until smoking. Add asparagus and mushrooms and cook, stirring so very little, until the asparagus is spotty brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sauce mixture and cook, stirring once or twice, until the pan is almost dry and the asparagus is crisp-tender, about 1 or 2 minutes. 

Fluff the rice and dish it into bowls, and then dish the stir-fry. Sprinkle with scallions and sesame seeds, and dig in! 


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