In her biweekly column, Kitchen Basics, Susan Pachikara of Cardamom Kitchen demystifies essential cooking skills with step-by-step instructions and her own handsome photos. Whether she's showing us how much brown sugar we're meant to "pack"(or is it cram?) into measuring cups or how to detect when our onions are properly caramelized, Susan is the nonna we never had -- until now. Now, go on and get cozy under her wing.
This week, Susan demonstrates how to select, prep, and blanch asparagus.
Spring usually lasts a month at best in the Windy City. But this year it has lingered, bringing with it the rustle of young leaves and welcome scent of early blossoms. Twiggy-legged robins continue to break the day with their heartfelt odes. Velveteen bees and brightly-colored moths appear out of nowhere. Fluffy-tailed squirrels wrestle and prance about, readying themselves for love just as food lovers ready themselves for the arrival of asparagus.
For home cooks, the return of asparagus marks a much-anticipated turning point in the kitchen. Its delicate grassy flavor affirms the promise of spring and the eventual appearance of summer’s bounty. Thin or thick, purple or green, asparagus offers a crunchy texture that spruces up veggie platters and salads, and pairs beautifully with pasta.
How to Select & Store Asparagus
Asparagus has a very short shelf life, so it’s important to select fresh stalks and use them as quickly as possible. Choose spears that are smooth and taut and have tightly interwoven tips. If the tips are open, it’s a sure sign that the asparagus is past its prime.
To store asparagus, fill the bottom of a glass with water, place the ends in the water (like a bouquet), and refrigerate for no more than five days. Alternatively, cover the ends in a moist paper towel and place it in a plastic bag before storing it in the refrigerator.
How to Prepare Asparagus
Although its tops are tender, asparagus has tough, woody ends, which much be peeled or removed.
To peel: Wash and dry the asparagus. Cut off the bottom 1/4-inch of the stalks. Using a vegetable peeler, gently remove the tough green skin covering the lower quarter to third of each stalk.
To break off ends: Wash and dry the asparagus. Hold the top of a stalk in one hand and pinch the body of the stalk one-third of the way from the bottom. Pull both hands toward each other. The stalk will snap just where the tough section begins. Discard the tough ends.
How to Blanch Asparagus
Although asparagus can be grilled, stir-fried, roasted, or steamed, I prefer to blanch it this time of year. Blanching involves boiling (or steaming) it briefly and then cooling it in ice water. Blanching helps to subdue its raw edge and safeguards its crisp texture.
Fill a large bowl with ice and water to create an ice bath. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Carefully lower the asparagus into the water and cook until it is just tender. Transfer the asparagus to the ice bath with a pair of tongs. After 2 to 3 minutes, drain the asparagus in a colander.
Top the asparagus with a crumbled soft- or hard-boiled egg for added flavor.
I’d love to see your tips for prepping and cooking asparagus! Share them with your fellow cooks in the comments section below.
Are you new to cooking? Tell me what skills you'd like to learn and your idea could be featured in an upcoming post!
Want more basic tips from Susan? Check out her previous post: Kitchen Basics: Whipping Egg Whites.
All photos by Susan Pachikara.
Susan writes the blog Cardamom Kitchen to share her culinary experiences as an Indian-American rooted in the Midwest.