This is a repeat post, but really should be reposted every spring. Knowing how to cook asparagus properly gives you access to one of the treats of the season. My organic farmer neighbor has been picking asparagus on and off for the last 3 weeks, but now the crop is really coming in. She has 4 year old plants and so they are taking off. As fast as she can pick them, more grows. Her crop is mostly the fatter variety, great for grilling and if you’ve never tasted REALLY fresh(just picked) asparagus, you are in for a treat.
So to the vegetable.
Buying and Storing:
Look for sturdy, snappy, bright green asparagus with CLOSED buds-they should not look frilly. The stalks can be thin or thick, depending on what you will use it for, just make sure they do not look woody or slimy. Bring home the bounty and store, wrapped in a paper (NOT PLASTIC, which will encourage rot)bag or paper towels in the most humid part of your refrigerator. If you want to store it longer than a day or two, stand it, tips up in a shallow container of water in the fridge.
Cut off the woody part-usually about 1-2 inches at the bottom OR take a spear and hold the bottom in one hand and just below the tip in your other hand and gently bend it until it breaks…the tip end will be the tender part, as it should break into a woody part and a tender part. Do this with a 4-5 spears and they should be about the same length. Cut the rest at the same point. If the spears are very thin, you can cook them now; if the spears are thicker, peel the bottom 1/3 with a vegetable peeler. This slims the spear a bit and helps it cook evenly. It also rids the vegetable of what can be a fibrous peel that could be unpleasant in the mouth.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Plunge the asparagus in the water-don’t bother with tying it-and cook from 1 minute for very thin asparagus to up to 10 minutes for very, very thick spears. If I am only cooking for a few people, I actually use the same fry pan that I will finish the dish in to cook the asparagus-just make sure it is deep enough to fully cover the asparagus with salted water. And dry the pan before continuing with your recipe.
The Important Parts:
Never dump the asparagus into a colander. It will break the tips!! Fish the spears out with tongs or a Chinese skimmer. But do it quickly-asparagus can overcook in moments. This is not the time to chat with the dog.
Have a bowl of cold water(or ice and water) handy to put the cooked asparagus in directly from the pot. This will a) stop the cooking and b) keep the bright green color.
When the asparagus is cool, drain the water off and pat dry with a paper towel. DO NOT LEAVE THE ASPARAGUS IN THE WATER TOO LONG-IT WILL SOAK UP WATER AND GET SOGGY. The cooked, dried asparagus can sit for several hours before it is used.
You are now ready to make an asparagus dish.
Asparagus with Brown Butter
- Prep asparagus as above.
- Put a tablespoon or two of unsalted butter in a fry pan that is large enough to hold the asparagus in a single layer.
- Melt the butter over medium-high heat until it is bubbling.
- Turn the heat down to medium-low and slowly cook the butter until it begins to get light brown around the edges-be careful not to take the browning too far or it will burn before the asparagus gets reheated. You should just start to smell a nutty smell.
- Add the asparagus and toss for a minute or two by shaking the pan to move the asparagus around on the heat. The less you use a utensil with this delicate vegetable, the better.
- Sprinkle with some kosher or finishing salt, a squeeze of lemon and/or some lemon zest and serve immediately.