There are a lot of vegetables that herald the arrival of spring (fiddlehead ferns, ramps, early peas), but If there is one universally loved and easy to find vegetable that shouts “spring!” the loudest it’s probably asparagus. Although you can find asparagus year-round, the growing season in this country is February through June so when those first spears appear in the markets, you know for sure the winter is in the rear-view mirror.
There are so many ways to cook these lovely green stalks. They can star in a side dish, be a supporting member of a skillet meal, hold their own in a vegetable saute. They can be steamed, boiled, stir-fried, roasted, baked, grilled, broiled — pretty much any way you can cook something, you can cook asparagus (I haven’t tried sous vide yet, but I will!). Also, if your asparagus are very fresh, you can slice them and use them raw in salads, or as part of a vegetable (crudité) platter.
Thick or thin? Your choice. I think for a while there was something very sexy and desirable and chic about the very skinny asparagus, but really it’s a matter of preference. The thin ones just need the bottom inch or so cut off, cook faster and work nicely in sautéed or stir fried dishes. The fatter ones take longer to cook, but the thickness provides a much more satisfying bite.
The most traditional kitchen technique for trimming asparagus is to hold the stalk in the middle and by the bottom end and to bend it until it snaps, removing the woody and fibrous bottom few inches from the stalk. I’m not that big of a fan of this method, I think this wastes more of the edible stalk than necessary, especially if you are preparing thick asparagus.
I prefer to cut and, then, for thick asparagus, peel the bottoms to remove the not-so-pleasant tough outer skin of the spear. For any asparagus, you can just cut the bottom inch or so off the asparagus. Then, for thick asparagus, you simply take a vegetable peeler and peel the green outer layer off from the bottom 3-ish inches of the stalk.
The answer depends on the thickness of the asparagus, the temperature you are cooking them at, and with some cooking methods, like baking or roasting, how crowded the pan is.
For roasting, the cooking time for thin stalks at 425°F is about 8 to 10 minutes for thin stalks, 10 to 14 minutes for thick stalks. The cooking time depends on the thickness of the stalks, and it really depends on how you like your asparagus cooked. Keep in mind that the asparagus will continue to “cook” after they leave the oven, especially if you leave them on the hot tray. Take them out just before they are as cooked as you would ultimately like them to be.
Crisp-tender? Tender-crisp? Super soft? For quite a while now it’s been the fashion to eat asparagus and many other vegetables quite al dente; well-cooked vegetables have been sneered at as old-fashioned and unchic. And while I think that vegetables cooked into oblivion are not a great thing, I also think you should cook your vegetables to how done you like to eat them. If you and your family are fans of slightly mushy veggies, then you should cook them until they are slightly mushy. You don’t need undercooked vegetables to prove you’re cool.
The best way to store asparagus is to trim off the bottom, then stand them in a tall wide glass or vase or pitcher in a few inches of cold water, and store them in the fridge. They should last for 2 or three days that way. You can also leave them in a bag in a produce drawer, but they do tend to get a little banged up and age a bit faster.
Here are the basics for perfected roasted asparagus every time. Roasting is as easy a cooking method as there is, the high heat deepening the flavor of any vegetable, and all those nutrients stay right in the veggies where they belong.
This is a 4-ingredient, 10-minute recipe. The combo of mushrooms and some green vegetables is a very popular one in Chinese cooking, and that's because it works every time. The toasted sesame seeds are optional, but they really take only an extra 2 minutes.
Raw asparagus may seem surprising, but if the asparagus is very fresh it adds a wonderful delicate asparagus flavor, and a nice crunch. This is a great, portable vegetable and grain salad, perfect for a potluck or a picnic, or to pack for a work lunch.