A Guide to Buying and Cooking Asparagus
In my part of the world, spring has sprung. This means I’m busy looking for early spring vegetables – like asparagus – and getting them planted in my garden. But even if you don’t grow your own vegetables, spring is an ideal time to purchase and cook asparagus.
Although it’s available year round in most grocery stories in the United States, it’s at its most tender and tasty in the spring.
How to Buy Asparagus
Look for bright green, firm asparagus stalks. The tips should be tightly closed and plump. Avoid asparagus that’s dark or fading.
Thick spears indicate young spring asparagus; the stalks become thinner – and more fibrous – as spring progresses.
White and Purple Asparagus?
White asparagus is simply ordinary green asparagus that’s been denied sunlight. Consequently, it is more tender and has a more mild flavor – and very little nutrition.
Purple asparagus is more sweeter than green asparagus, but will turn dark green once it’s cooked.
How to Store Asparagus
Fresh asparagus lasts in the refrigerator for up to four days, although its best to buy it the day you will cook it. For best results, store the vegetable upright in a jar, with the stems in about an inch of water, then cover loosely with a plastic bag.
Or, wrap the ends in some damp paper towels and toss the whole bundle into an unsealed plastic bag.
How to Prepare Asparagus
Before cooking, snap off any tough stem bottoms simply by bending the asparagus with your fingers. If none of the stem snaps off, it’s tender enough for cooking and eating.
Many chefs like to peel asparagus before cooking it. Although this removes some of the nutritional value of the vegetable, it makes older asparagus more tender. It also makes the asparagus look greener once prepared, because the cooking time is shorter.
White asparagus has a more fibrous – almost woody – outer layer, so it’s almost always peeled before cooking.
To peel asparagus, scrape off the outer skin from top to bottom using a vegetable peeler.
How To Cook Asparagus
By far my favorite way to cook asparagus is by steaming until the spears are tender, but not mushy. Many chefs prefer a special steamer designed for asparagus that allows you to steam the vegetable standing upright, but I find cooking it flat in a large, ordinary steamer works just as well.
To blanch asparagus, drop the spears into a pot of boiling water.
Use seven to eight quarts of water for every two to three pounds of vegetable. Use too little water, and it takes the liquid too long to return to a boil after you place the asparagus in the pot, resulting in poorly cooked food. The faster the water re-boils, the fresher and tastier the asparagus will be.
When done, the asparagus should be tender but still crisp. Total cooking time shouldn’t be more than three or four minutes, tops. Once the asparagus is cooked, drop the spears into a bowl ice water until completely cool. This prevents them from over-cooking and becoming mushy.
You may also broil, grill, or roast asparagus. Very young, fresh asparagus can also be eaten raw.
Excellent go-with for asparagus include parsley, chives, tarragon, lemon juice, sour cream, and yogurt.
Don’t forget to look for OurDeer’s asparagus recipes.
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