A few years ago we decided not to leave our asparagus harvest to chance and planted some in the garden. But these precious wild stems have instilled in me a long-lasting devotion to these harbingers of spring.
The surrender is justified. Asparagus offers nutritional value thanks to antioxidants, fiber, folic acid and vitamin K, says cookbook author, nutritionist and vegan lawyer Tracye McQuirter.
If you’re as much a fan of asparagus as I am, here are some things you should know to get the most of it.
Pick asparagus. Even if we can’t really get it out of the ground, there are things to consider whether you are shopping at the farmers market or the grocery store. The stems should be an even green color, says chef and farmer Abra Berens in “Ruffage: A Practical Guide to Vegetables”. If there are dark spots, it could be a sign of old age or illness. Yellowing, pockmarks, or shrinking are signs that the asparagus is older. Berens says he should look for grapes with stems of roughly the same size. That means not only that they cook at a similar rate, but at least at the farmer’s market, that the producer cares enough about the products to sort them thoughtfully.
When you get home from shopping, Madison says, immediately remove any elastic bands or wires holding the bundle together. Separating the stems prevents the release of moisture and prevents rotting.
In an ideal world, you would start using asparagus as soon as you brought it home. If not, my preferred method of refrigerating asparagus is by placing it in some water in a quart-sized deli container. This allows the stems to continue to absorb water without drying out, says Berens. If space is limited, you can put the asparagus in a sealed plastic bag in the vegetable container and use it within a few days.
Trim. Depending on your mood, you can likely find a suitable asparagus trimming method. Berens: If they look dry, snap them as close to the ground as you can. Where they snap clean shows where they’re tender enough to eat. If they’re tough and fibrous, they won’t tear. [Which is also why I don’t cut the stalks. A sharp knife will cut even what is too tough to chew.] If they are not dry or have just been harvested, the ends do not need to be broken off. “
Madison: With thick asparagus, it is better to cut it as it will break practically anywhere on the stem and you will end up wasting a lot of good food. She recommends finding the point where the stem changes color and cutting there. If it’s threadbare at this point, go a little higher. Or you can peel the stems. Madison suggests walking two-thirds of the way up.
When it comes to standard and jumbo spears, Cook’s Illustrated also recommends taking the peeling route to reduce waste. It is recommended that you shorten the bottom of the stem 1 inch and then peel off the bottom half to remove the woody exterior. This method minimizes the total weight loss from the stems to less than 30 percent, as opposed to the 50 percent lost through snapping. Thinner stems require little to no trimming or peeling.
To prepare. I tend to be here in Berens’ camp: “Asparagus works well for most treatments, but cooking less is more and sometimes not at all the best.” In other words, you don’t have to do much to get it enjoy. As with many vegetables, it is important not to boil the asparagus over to a pulp.
The easiest way to do this is to eat it raw. “Raw asparagus is sweet and slightly starchy, a bit like raw corn,” writes Berens. “I like it best when I cut it very thinly with a knife or shave it into ribbons on a mandolin or with a vegetable peeler.” Check out our asparagus salad with pistachio + lemon dressing pictured above. Consider adding asparagus to your standard raw food diet. McQuirter suggests dipping it in hummus, for example.
For other methods, look for the asparagus to enhance its light green color and get a crispy-tender texture. This can be achieved by briefly blanching in boiling water (just a minute or two) or steaming. This is how grilling can be done. Berens likes to grill thick stems quickly on the hottest part of the grill until the outside turns brown and “so that the feathery tips scorch and become crispy”. You can also “grill” under the grill or on a grill pan.
Likewise, frying whole stems until you get a burn on both sides is another option. Berens likes to do this and then melts a compound butter over the asparagus in the residual heat of the pan. If necessary, cook in batches so the stems are crispy rather than steamy. Roasting is an equally appealing stove approach that shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, even over medium to medium heat.
McQuirter notes that simple oven roasting is also popular. This is usually what I do with nothing more than a dash of olive oil and a pinch of salt. You don’t need more than 10 to 15 minutes at around 425 degrees.
Recipe ideas. “I like this asparagus, which gives me that light, earthy, bitter taste,” says McQuirter. “I don’t have to mask it.” Its assertive presence means it can withstand other bold flavors. McQuirter is a fan of Cajun spices and says lemon, lime, and olive oil don’t outshine or are outshone by asparagus. She also uses chopped spears in a family-friendly tofu and curry scrambled egg for brunch. José Andrés’ Miso-Roasted Asparagus above combines the fermented soybean product with grilled stems, and Chef Anita Lo’s Spicy Asparagus coats 1-inch blanched pieces in a sauce that includes peanut butter, tahini, soy sauce, mirin, and Japanese shichimi spice mix togarashi (cayenne pepper) acts as a substitute).
You can also go in the opposite direction and combine asparagus with mild, creamy ingredients that make it a real star. In Oven Asparagus Puff, sautéed pieces of asparagus are baked with a mixture of eggs and cream and then topped with Munster cheese. Raise the asparagus under the risotto or use it as a pizza topping. McQuirter says chopped and sautéed asparagus would be great in a warm potato salad. “Potatoes are mild. You still get the taste. It compliments it, ”she says. She suggests quickly folding sautéed stems into burritos or fajitas.
Do you want some more recipes? Continue reading.