It’s entirely possible that I may be jumping the gun a bit by writing about asparagus during the end of April. Here in Ottawa we will not be seeing any local crops until mid-May at the earliest. However, given the winter that we recently crawled out of, I hope I can be forgiven for buying California asparagus at Costco last week. I could not wait any longer.
Perhaps like you, I have a love hate relationship with asparagus. I love it when I eat it, but not so much about 15 minutes later when I pee. Up until recently it was believed that everybodys urine has that pungent aroma after eating asparagus, but not everyone can smell it.
It should be noted that the effect of asparagus on urine odour has been around for several hundred years. Apparently one British men’s club is said to have put up a sign reading, “During the asparagus season, members are requested not to relieve themselves in the hat stand.” I would have hoped that men would always have the good sense to never relieve themselves in the hat stand, but perhaps that’s just asking too much of that gender.
More recent scientific studies on what I like to call “The Great Asparagus Pee Mystery” (yes folks, there are some freaky scientists out there actually studying it) have now theorized that there are really two factors at play here; the ability to produce the aroma and the ability to detect the aroma. Both are determined by genetics.
Let’s deal first with the ability to produce the aroma. Asparagus contains a sulphurous compound called mercaptan. Enzymes in your digestive system break down the mercaptan and certain by-products are released that cause the offensive odour. But, here’s where it gets interesting. Not everyone has the gene for that enzyme. If you are part of the 54% of the population whose DNA lacks the gene for this enzyme, then you will not produce smelly urine after eating asparagus.
Now, what about the ability to detect the aroma? It has been theorized that depending on your DNA, you may or may not have the olfactory receptors to detect the scent. Some of us are “super-smellers” and others are just “smell-blind” when it comes to asparagus pee.
To simplify things I have created a chart!
If you are one of those with a malfunctioning olfactory sense, I envy you. Although looking on the bright side, when I am old and my memory is failing, I will always be able to remember that I had asparagus for dinner!
A word to the wise should you happen to find yourself at the Spargelfest (Asparagus festival) in Beelitzer Germany or any of these other Asparagus Festivals, this spring. If you are a super smeller, you may want to hold your breath when you enter the bathroom stalls!
The fact that I am a stinker and a smeller does not hold me back from eating asparagus when it is in season. One of my favourite ways to enjoy it is to simply steam it and serve it with poached eggs. I love to dip the spears into the runny golden egg yolk. Last week, I served the poached eggs on top of Rösti potatoes, with the asparagus dippers on the side. A perfect spring dinner!Rösti potatoes, also known as shredded potato cake, is not the same thing as latkes. Latkes are made with shredded raw potatoes, whereas Rösti are made with shredded par-boiled potatoes. Yukon Gold or Idaho potatoes are perfect for this dish.
Once the potatoes are parboiled, they should be allowed to chill in the fridge for several hours, or even up to a day, before they are peeled and shredded. This is the secret to getting the a crispy golden crust on the outside of the potato cake and having a fluffy and tender inside.The shredded potato is mixed with some salt and pepper and gets pressed into a hot cast iron skillet, with a little bit of both butter and vegetable oil.Patience is required here. Turn the heat down to medium low and let it get brown. This will take at least 15 minutes. When the underside is brown, flip the cake out into a large plate, browned side up. Add more oil and butter to the pan and slide the cake back into the pan, pale side down. Brown the second side.
While the Rösti potato cake is cooking, steam or boil asparagus and poach eggs. If you are at all intimidated about making poached eggs, please know that you are not alone, and there is help. Serious Eats posted a fool-proof method for poaching eggs, that is really quite genius, and actually works! Click on the link above to view the video if you are planning top poach eggs.