Asparagus plants produce young edible shoots—called “spears”–for about six weeks each spring just as the days begin to lengthen and winter fades. The season for asparagus is late winter through late spring—the season’s peak depends upon where you live.
How to Select Asparagus
- Select asparagus with firm, plump, straight, round spears. The tips should be compact.
- Choose stalks that are about the same size and thickness—pencil-thin, standard or jumbo–for even cooking.
- The color should be strong for the variety: green, deep purple or ivory white.
- The white, woody bottoms should be less than 15 percent of the total length.
- There should be no blemishes or bruises.
How to Store Asparagus
- Asparagus is best cooked fresh on the day of harvest.
- To store asparagus, cut off 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the bottom, wrap the fresh-cut area in a wet paper towel, and place it in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator crisper.
- Asparagus will keep for 2 to 3 days.
- To prolong storage, stand the cut-end down in 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5 cm) of water and place a plastic bag over the top. Change the water daily.
How to Serve Asparagus
- Asparagus can eat it raw, steamed, blanched, sautéd, stir-fried, baked, roasted, and grilled.
- Asparagus should be served “al dente” which means firm enough to bite into.
- The tips of asparagus are eaten with a fork, and the rest of the stem can be eaten with a fork and knife or your fingers.
- One early American cookbook suggested that asparagus be served with “oyl and vinegar.” That’s still great culinary advice.
How to Prepare Asparagus for Cooking
- Wash asparagus just before cooking then break or cut off the stalk at its natural breaking point. An asparagus spear will break naturally where it becomes tough.
- Remove the skin of older or larger asparagus–which can be tough–with a vegetable peeler.
How to Shave Asparagus
- Asparagus can be eaten raw. Shave the spears for serving. doesn’t have to
- To make perfect asparagus ribbons, use a Y-shaped vegetable peeler with a horizontal blade.
- Run the blade down the spear to make long, even-sized ribbons.
- The ribbons can be served on salads or atop other cooked vegetables.
How to Steam Asparagus on a Stovetop
- The best way to steam asparagus is standing up with the tender tips just above the water level.
- Trim and cut stem ends level, tie the spears together in a bundle, and place them in 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water in a tall, covered saucepan.
- Cover and cook for 5 to 10 minutes depending upon thickness until just tender. This way the bottoms are cooked and the tops are steamed.
- If you want to serve cooked asparagus cold, plunge the cooked spears into cold water to halt the cooking process, but do not let them soak.
How to Steam Asparagus in a Microwave
- Dampen 3 or 4 paper towels and place them on a microwaveable plate.
- Place rinsed and trimmed spears in a single layer on the towels.
- Season with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.
- Roll the paper towels and asparagus into a spiral bundle.
- Microwave on high for 3 minutes.
How to Blanch Asparagus
- To blanch asparagus horizontally, place the spears in 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water in a non-reactive skillet such as copper or aluminum (iron pots react to tannins in the asparagus and alter the color of the vegetable).
- Place the spears in just boiling water for 1 to 5 minutes and cook until tender-crisp; turn occasionally.
- Remove spears with a slotted spoon and place in an ice bath or run under cold water to set the color.
- The residual heat will continue to cook asparagus stalks for 30 to 60 seconds after they are removed from the heat.
- Pat dry. Be sure to thoroughly drain or dry cooked asparagus to remove excess moisture from the spear tips so as not to dilute a serving sauce.
How to Sauté Asparagus
- Cut thin spears into 2-inch pieces; large spears do not sear well.
- Use a cast-iron or stainless steel skillet that can safely heat until just smoking.
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat.
- Add cut spears, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and cook.
- Stir until tender, 3 to 4 minutes for thin spears, or 6 to 8 minutes for thick spears.
How to Grill Asparagus
- Use thick spears that will not fall through the grates.
- Toss the spears with olive oil and kosher salt, then place the asparagus spears perpendicular to the grill grates.
- Cook for 4 minutes.
- Turn them with tongs and cook another 2 to 4 minutes.
- Serve with a vinaigrette or sprinkle with bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, or fresh basil or mint.
How to Roast Asparagus
- Arrange spears on a baking sheet with space between each spear.
- Drizzle spear with olive oil and season with kosher salt.
- Roast between 400° and 450°F for 10 to 15 minutes depending on the thickness of the spears; turn the spears midway.
- Roast spears until they are light brown and just crisp.
How to Bake Asparagus
- Use thick asparagus spears for baking; these will hold their form best during cooking.
- Bake asparagus with potatoes, artichokes, leeks, mushrooms, onions, carrots, turnips, and tomatoes.
How to Stir Fry Asparagus
- Cut spears into 2-inch pieces to make them easier to cook.
- In a nonstick skillet or a wok, heat olive oil over high heat.
- Add the asparagus and salt and pepper lightly.
- Cook, stirring often, about 3 minutes or until spears are easily pierced with the tip of a paring knife.
Asparagus Flavor Partners
- Asparagus has flavor affinities for butter, cheese, chervil, eggs, lemon, olive oil, pasta, rice or risotto, seafood, tarragon, and tomato.
Types of Asparagus: Green, Purple, White
- There are more than 300 varieties of asparagus. Only about 20 are edible.
- Spears range in size from pencil-thin to two or three times as thick. Spears range in color from lush green to deep purple to white. White is not a natural color for asparagus. White asparagus is man-made when spears are purposely covered with soil and blanched white through the lack of exposure to sunlight.
- Asparagus can be divided into three main categories:
- Green asparagus is the most common. Green spears are harvested at about 6 to 8 inches in length. They are considered the most flavorful by many.
- White asparagus is favored by Northern Europeans. White spears are usually thick, smooth and tender. They are harvested just after the tips break through the mounded soil that surrounds them. The most famous white asparagus is grown in Argenteuil just outside Paris.
- Purple asparagus has a fruity flavor and is the sweetest tasting asparagus. Purple asparagus is harvested when only 2 or 3 inches tall.
- One asparagus variety called Viola is naturally purple, but the purple pigment turns green when heated.
- Asparagus contains vitamin A and is a fair source of iron and vitamins B and C and is a source of folic acid.
- There are 35 calories to the serving.
- About 94 percent of the weight of an asparagus spear is water.
Get to Know Asparagus
- Asparagus is a member of the lily of the valley family and is believed to have originated in the eastern Mediterranean where wild asparagus still grows. The word asparagus can be traced back to the Persian word asparag, meaning sprout.
- Asparagus—which is a perennial vegetable—was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. Early Roman records give instructions for cooking asparagus. After the fall of Rome, asparagus was cultivated in Syria, Egypt, and Spain. From Spain, its popularity spread throughout Europe.
- Asparagus shoots grow from an underground stem or crown. The first two years after planting, a bed of asparagus is not productive; the third year spears are thick enough to be harvested. Individual asparagus plants can produce edible spears for more than 10 years.
- Asparagus shoots must be harvested by hand with a special knife that is inserted in the ground near the shoot and tilted to cut it off above the root. About half the length of an asparagus stalk that comes to your table is underground growth.
The botanical name of asparagus is Asparagus officinalis.