The Taste Bud: It may be deep-fried, but it’s still asparagus
I have noticed in recent years that more and more restaurants are deep-frying vegetables and serving them as appetizers. Sure, Japanese restaurants have always had tempura, but this new wave seems different somehow.
It was strange enough when people started frying pickles. (I know they’re tasty, but still — pickles?) Then I started seeing batter-fried green beans in restaurants — as an appetizer. When I was a kid, green beans were the bane of my existence, and at best were a necessary evil to help me “grow up big and strong.” (Really, Mom?) But as an appetizer?
Come on, it’s a vegetable, for crying out loud. Maybe I would have eaten green beans as a kid if my mom had deep-fried them instead of boiling or (God forbid) microwaving them, but then I would have grown up to be a pimple-faced fat kid instead of growing up big and strong. Isn’t the whole point of eating a vegetable to give your body something healthful?
Mushrooms and onions, OK, that I can see. Green tomatoes, definitely — it’s a Southern tradition. But hell, now people are deep-frying Oreo cookies and Twinkies and scary crap like that, so it seems like pretty much anything goes in America at this point. Still, if I’m going to eat a vegetable, I’d like to know I’m not putting myself at risk of a heart attack — I mean, we know Oreos are unhealthy.
Well, since asparagus is probably my favorite vegetable, I couldn’t help but be curious when I saw fried asparagus on the menu at Cluckers, a new-ish chicken restaurant in Jeffersonville. A friend who knows I am an asparagus fan (and not just because I can’t stop talking about how it makes my pee smell) told me about the appetizer and warned that Cluckers gives you a “butt-load” of it with each order.
She wasn’t kidding. At Cluckers, you get a piled-high basket of the stuff for $6.99, topped with shredded mozzarella, along with a rémoulade for dipping that’s so delicious you’ll want to suck it through a straw.
My girlfriend Cynthia and I stopped in recently to get a basket of fried asparagus, as she’d never tried it. After I ordered, she was perusing the menu for more options, and I suggested we start with the appetizer and then decide if we were still hungry. We weren’t.
Cluckers breads asparagus stalks of varying thickness in what seems to be a country-style fried chicken batter, infused with plenty of salt and pepper, and while I didn’t count, there had to be 25 or so stalks. Possibly more.
“I am always on board with the ‘go big or go home’ portion size,” Cynthia said.
The asparagus isn’t cooked to the point of being mushy — it still maintains enough crispness that it has a bit of snap. And, as Cynthia pointed out, it isn’t greasy, as one might expect.
Our server told us the dipping sauce is called “Mexi-ranch,” but wouldn’t betray any of the secret ingredients. Fair enough, as long as it tastes good.
“I don’t know what it is about those,” our server said, as she watched us devouring our fried veggies. “Aren’t they good?”
Yep. It’s like you’re being both healthy and unhealthy at the same time, with the salty tastiness of the batter satisfying your naughty side, and the distinctive flavor of the vegetable still bursting through to remind you that you aren’t eating Oreos.
The bad news? There apparently is a big difference, nutritionally speaking, between grilled and fried asparagus. According to myfitnesspal.com, four stalks of grilled asparagus has 27 calories, 3 mg of sodium and no fat grams. Deep fried? That’s 262 calories, 573 mg of sodium and 11 fat grams. Apparently frying the asparagus also sucks out most if not all of vitamins A and C, along with the calcium and iron. Yikes.
But it tastes so good.
Honestly, if my mother had known how to cook fried asparagus when I was a kid, I would have been a veggie lover, and a lot fewer family dinners would have been ruined by our battle of wills. (As in, will he eat the damn vegetables tonight, or won’t he?)
Of course, if most of the nutrition really is cooked out and calories and fat added, it may not be much different than simply eating the fried Oreos. Shame Mom didn’t think of that one.