How to save a recipe when all else fails

The recipe starts out raw — a mere idea — but aims for well done. The interval between hunch and lunch may be spent titrating salt and pepper or tossing out plate after disappointing plate. It’s not pretty.

In my test kitchen, two tries count as a snap, 10 a slog. I rely on a scrawl of notes and the comments of my tasters, who are only vaguely intrigued by kitchen drama. They’ve got homework.

Still, they humor me: too sweet, too spicy, too big, too small. Too much already!

Taste-fatigued, my sharpest critic snaps: Just cut your losses, and toss in some creme fraiche. It’s good advice — for almost any trying situation.

Luxury Spears

Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: 4 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

2 lbs. fresh fat asparagus

Kosher salt

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/2 cup creme fraiche

Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 to 2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh chives

Peel: Lay asparagus, one at a time, on a cutting board. Using a vegetable peeler, strip away skin from just below the tip to the bottom. Break off woody bottom. Rinse. Repeat. Consider this project productive meditation.

Simmer: Choose a skillet wide enough to accommodate dozing asparagus. Half fill with water. Add 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil; add asparagus. Reduce to a simmer. Cook, rolling spears once, until they turn brilliant green at the tips and offer a tender bite, about 4 minutes.

Dry: Use tongs to pull out asparagus. Drain briefly in a colander. Spread out spears on a clean kitchen towel (or two) and roll up, keeping asparagus dry and warm.

Whisk: Measure mustard into a small bowl. Slowly whisk in 3 tablespoons of the hot asparagus-cooking water. Whisk in creme fraiche. Season this sauce with salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon and the chives.

Serve: Heap asparagus on a platter. Either pour on sauce (leaving ruched points and an inch or two of bottom bare), or serve sauce in a bowl alongside, for dipping.

Provenance: Julia Child’s classic sauce moutarde inspired this creme-fraiche variation.