Paper-Thin Asparagus With Butter & Soy Sauce Recipe on Food52 (2024)


by: Eric Kim



10 Ratings

  • Prep time 2 minutes
  • Cook time 2 minutes
  • Serves 1

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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

  • Test Kitchen-Approved

What You'll Need

  • 2 tablespoonsunsalted butter
  • 8 ouncesasparagus, cut in paper-thin diagonal slices
  • Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoonsoy 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.


  • American
  • Asparagus
  • Weeknight Cooking
  • Stir-Fry
  • Spring
  • Entree
  • Lunch
  • Dinner

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Cheryl

  • Lucia

  • Diane Albert

  • Trinity

  • Rhonda35

Recipe by: Eric Kim

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.

Popular on Food52

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.

Paper-Thin Asparagus With Butter & Soy Sauce Recipe on Food52 (2024)


Paper-Thin Asparagus With Butter & Soy Sauce Recipe on Food52? ›

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.

What is the best way to cook and eat asparagus? ›

Asparagus is great quickly stir-fried or sautéed over high heat. You could sauté spears in butter or olive oil with delicious results, but throwing some chopped herbs or sliced chiles into the pan adds wonderful flavor. Both of these methods produce juicy asparagus that retains its crunch.

How does Martha Stewart prepare asparagus? ›

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Trim tough ends from asparagus.
  2. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss asparagus with olive oil; season with coarse salt and ground pepper. Spread in an even layer. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
  3. Roast until asparagus is tender and cheese is melted, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately.
May 8, 2023

How do you cook asparagus so it's not stringy? ›

Remove woody ends: We recommend trimming off the woody ends because they're difficult to chew and result in stringy roasted asparagus. Cook at a high temperature: A higher temperature is what produces the lovely grilled flavor and al dente texture. We prefer 450 F / 232 C.

What to eat with asparagus? ›

The asparagus makes a gorgeous side dish to serve with fish, chicken, pork, or really any protein you like.

What are three ways to cook asparagus? ›

Try roasting, sauteing, grilling and more to bring out the flavor in this crowd-pleasing vegetable. The harbinger of very early spring, asparagus stays in season through the summer. Its elegant, snappy stalks stand up well to a variety of preparations, including roasting, steaming, sautéing and grilling.

Should asparagus be washed before baking? ›

One thing you definitely don't want to do is wash asparagus before storing it—the added moisture will cause the spears to get slimy. When you're ready to cook, just give them a quick rinse under cool running water and pat them dry with a kitchen towel, as Pradhan recommends.

What does baking soda do to asparagus? ›

Boiling green vegetables in a small amount of water means bathing them in a virtual soup of color destroyers. Add something alkaline, such as baking soda, and the chemical reactions are altered so the chlorophyll turns bright green. Unfortunately, alkalinity also speeds up the breakdown of plant tissues.

Should asparagus be soaked in water before cooking? ›

I trim the ends and then rinse the stalks and let them sit in cold water for five minutes. It hydrates the asparagus, and they cook more quickly, for they are already wet with some moisture within them. Do not soak them for thirty minutes, you are not trying to get them soggy.

Why you shouldn t snap the ends off asparagus and why you should overcook it? ›

It is not necessary to trim asparagus. On some spears, especially fresh, pencil-thin stalks, the woody ends may tenderize once cooked. But on larger stalks, the ends of the asparagus are often woody and dense—Which makes them difficult to chew, no matter how soft the asparagus is after cooking.

Why are my asparagus spears so thin? ›

If you've not seen ferns before, your problem may be due to overharvesting. Even with established plants, you shouldn't harvest asparagus for more than eight weeks. Your plants will tell you when it's time to stop by producing thin asparagus stalks no thicker than a pencil.

What spice or herb goes well with asparagus? ›

  • Spices: smoked paprika, chipotle chili & cumin.
  • Fine herbs: rosemary, basil, dill, marjoram, Mediterranean oregano, thyme, cilantro, etc.
  • Spices: Allspice, curry, ginger, pepper, paprika, cayenne, mustard,
  • Fine herbs: basil, sage, bay leaf, oregano, parsley, savory, tarragon.
Jul 10, 2015

What is the most nutritious way to eat asparagus? ›

To preserve the antioxidants, try roasting, grilling or sautéing your asparagus. These quick-cooking, waterless methods will preserve the fabulous nutritional content and antioxidant power of asparagus. Learn how to choose, prepare, cook and store asparagus with our practical tips.

What is the most popular way asparagus is eaten? ›

Asparagus develops a rich flavor when roasted, making this one of the most popular ways to eat the vegetable.

What is the traditional way to eat asparagus? ›

But as I picked up my knife and fork, I remembered the Debrett's rules about asparagus. 'Asparagus is always eaten with the left hand and never with a knife and fork,' the etiquette book says severely, before going on to instruct that you eat the stalks down 'to about an inch and a half from the end.

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