Everything about Asparagus

Everything about Asparagus

Green asparagus can be eaten cold or warm, grilled, boiled, roasted or steamed. In my opinion white asparagus needs to be steamed. I haven’t found an other satisfactory way of preparing it.

About peeling asparagus: To peel or not to peel?

To peel the asparagus use a vegetable peeler and trim off the bottoms. White asparagus should always be peeled using a vegetable peeler – no question there.

Green asparagus is another thing. Early spring asparagus that is pencil thin and gorgeously green and fresh need nothing done to them at all but having a quick wash in cold water and the bottoms trimmed.

Older thicker green asparagus should be peeled is a general rule That if it’s thicker than your first finger then you might like to think about it, if its as thick as your thumb then peel it. Peeling larger thicker stalks of asparagus can actually give you more vegetable on the table as you don’t need to trim off so much from the bottom of each stalk.

A quick word about “snapping” off the bottoms! Has it worked for you? Well not for me and I have been doing it a long time now. Use your thumb nail and press it into the stalk where it looks like it’s turning woody. If your nail does not go through the skin easily try up a little farther along the stalk until it does – that’s where to trim. Then you shouldn’t have to peel them at all.

Steaming White Asparagus

White asparagus should in my opinion be steamed. In the bottom of a vegetable steamer or large pot fitted with a fan steamer, place just enough hot water to come within one centimeter of the bottom of the steaming basket with 1 tsp. of salt and 1 tbsp. of white wine vinegar. Lay all the peeled and washed asparagus in the bottom of the steamer. If some are thicker than others, place the thicker ones on the bottom.

Since white asparagus is usually larger and thicker they will take a few minutes longer to steam than green asparagus. Once the water has come up to the boil, let it steam for 5 to 7 minutes. Begin checking feeling with the point of a sharp knife for doneness after 5 minutes.  When cooked plunge them into cold water, to stop them from becoming over cooked. Store in the fridge on paper towels covered with plastic wrap, these should keep for at least 2-3 days.

Steaming Green Asparagus

Green asparagus is steamed about 4 to 6 minutes, start checking 4 minutes after the water begins to boil when steaming. As soon as they are cooked they should be plunged into a bowl of ice water to stop their cooking but more importantly to set their color. The ice water will return them to a fresh bright green. Store in the fridge on paper towels covered with plastic wrap, these should keep for at least 2-3 days, but they begin to loose their color after a few hours.

If you are cutting up the asparagus to use in a salad and the tips are important as a decorating element you will need them done exactly right. So perhaps you can steam the stalks for the dish you are preparing. Cook and then plunge into ice water. Then steam or boil the tips separately as they take less time to cook and you want them to still have a bit of a bite left. As soon as they are cooked plunge them into ice water and then store them in the fridge as above.

Boiling Green Asparagus

If boiling; place the asparagus into already boiling salted water.  They will take about 4 to 6 minutes, start checking after 4 minutes with the point of a sharp knife. As soon as they are cooked they should be plunged into a bowl of ice water to stop their cooking but more importantly to set their color. The ice water will return them to a fresh bright green. Store in the fridge on damp paper towels covered with plastic wrap, these should keep for at least 24 hours, but they begin to loose their color after a few hours.

Sauteed Green Asparagus

Sauteing green asparagus is a great way of preparing young, thin, spring asparagus; it gives it a wonderful nutty flavor. Wash, dry, trim and peel and trim if needed. You may have to saute them in batches depending on the size of your frying pan. In a large frying pan place about a tablespoon of butter and one of olive oil or some kind of vegetable oil. Heat the pan to hot but not so hot that the butter will burn. Place the green asparagus into the pan and saute it on one side for a minute or two and then turn it to cook it on the other side. You will get a great fresh green color from using this method but it really is in my opinion only good for very young, thin green asparagus that will cook relatively fast. But if you have it available, you’re in luck and then it’s a great way of cooking them.

One problem I find with this method is if you have an electric stove, you need to keep and eye on things. They tend to get too hot sometimes.

About Grilling Asparagus

This is a good method for medium thick asparagus. Line an oven tray large enough to hold all the asparagus in one layer with aluminum foil. This will make clean up easier. Wash, dry and trim off the woody ends of the asparagus.
With a brush, brush all the asparagus with the olive oil. Place the asparagus on the tray, salt and pepper them.
Roast in the top third of the oven for 10 to 15 minutes – This depends on how thick the asparagus are. Medium ones should take about 12 minutes. Check as they roast.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle over a little Parmesan cheese and return to the oven just long enough to let the cheese melt. Place on a serving plate with a little extra olive oil drizzled over them, sprinkle over the parsley and a few wedges of lemon if you like.

On Buying Asparagus

The season for asparagus in Europe is late May when you can find fine pencil thin asparagus to mid July when they are thicker and 4 or 5 spears are enough for a portion. The season for white asparagus is the same.

I think that the best come from England and France but we have when the time is right very good asparagus here as well. From about the second week in June. Extremely early asparagus (early March) usually come from Spain and are grown in greenhouses. We do have Swedish greenhouse grown asparagus very early as well and the ones for sale have looked as if they were harvested in late july. That can’t be right – but they are there.

When buying asparagus try getting a look under the paper wrapper that they sell them in, to see what condition the bottom of the stalks are in. If freshness is the goal then any type of asparagus that is dry, woody and hard like a tree at the bottom tells you that it is old and/or it has been poorly handled and stored. The reason for the paper around the bottom is to fool you, so you can’t tell just how old it is! You will find the same problems at the markets such as Högtorget where it is not wrapped, you have to look and be aware of what you are buying.  Be sure to also inspect the florets (or the tops) to be sure that they are in good condition.

With modern shipping and storage our Swedish asparagus can take 24 to 36 hours to make it into the market. English asparagus can take up to 3 days, so it’s doubly important that it is handled well through out the cutting and shipping process. There are all kinds of vegetables from Africa and the Far East that get to our markets even faster (24 hours), than our Swedish vegetables do thanks to air transport.


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A Quick Note

I wanted to take a minute to say that I do try and weigh as many of the ingredients as I can. I think it helps make recipe results more consistent. Of course professional bakers even measure liquids by weight. I don't mind pulling out my little digital scale when I need to.

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