Kitchen Basics: Asparagus

April 23, 2012

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.

asparagus

Susan

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.

asparagus

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.

peel asparagus

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. 

asparagus

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. 

blanch asparagus

Top the asparagus with a crumbled soft- or hard-boiled egg for added flavor.

asparagus

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. 

susan cardamom kitchen

20 Comments Add a Comment
  • Missing_avatar

    smd1227 says: OK, can you tell I like Dijon with asparagus? Here's one more recipe that's a family fav. Asparagus with mushrooms & Dijon 1 lb asparagus (trimmed) water 14 cup butter 2 cups sliced mushrooms 2 tbsps dijon mustard 14 tsp pepper 18 tsp salt 12 tsp minced garlic Place asparagus spears in a 10" skillet. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until spears are crisp tender. Drain and return to skillet. Add remaining ingredients, stir well, and heat over medium heat until mushrooms are cooked through.

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • Maddy-macau-robuchon

    Maddy is the senior editor of Whole Foods Market Cooking.

    Maddy, Editor says: Hi smd1227, thanks for sharing these recipes! I encourage you to add them to the site by clicking on "Recipes" at the top of the page and selecting "Add a Recipe," so they can be easily found via search.

    about 1 year ago
  • Missing_avatar

    smd1227 says: Mmmmmmm, asparagus. Here's a recipe I use often. My family loves this: Sautéed Asparagus with Dijon Vinaigrette Asparagus, 1 lb. (thin variety, base removed and cut into 3" bits) Sherry or red-wine vinegar, 2 tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil, 2 tbsp. Dijon mustard, 2 tsp. Fleur de sel and pepper, to taste Blend together the Dijon mustard with a tablespoon of the oil and the vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste, beat to mix well and keep it aside. Heat the rest of the oil and fry the asparagus bits, while seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook for a maximum of 12 minutes on a low-medium flame. Sauté occasionally. Once the asparagus is cooked, a lustrous green and crunchy, place it into a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the fried asparagus and toss until all the pieces are well coated. Serve hot on individual plates, garnished with a boiled egg, halved lengthwise.

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: I'll have to give your recipe a try. I love anything with Dijon mustard.

    about 1 year ago
  • Missing_avatar

    chutney says: Susan, Thanks so much for the tip about putting the asparagus in a glass of water in the fridge, tips up. I tried this after I saw it in your post and the spears are really liking it!! Thanks very much.

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: I'm so glad it was helpful! Cheers, Susan

    about 1 year ago
  • Missing_avatar

    jaslosar says: Never would have thought of the egg addition. The pics are beautiful. Thanks Susan!

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: Yes, asparagus pairs beautifully with eggs. Add it to a quiche or frittata or tuck a few blanched spears inside an omelette. Glad you like the photos!

    about 1 year ago
  • Missing_avatar

    Lisa Cohoe says: I never thought to peel off the tough green skin on the bottom portion of the asparagus stalk. Will have to try blanching asparagus. In the past, I have steamed and stirfried it but have never tried blanching it. Love your columns.

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: So glad you're enjoying the column, Lisa. Let me know if there are any other topics you'd like me to cover.

    about 1 year ago
  • Leo

    La452 says: I am addicted to grilled asparagus - I pick out the fattest stalks I can find, trim and peel them, then hit them with just olive oil, lemon, and salt, and grill the fast and hot so they get a nice char but don't go mushy. A little parmesan cheese to finish them, and a couple grinds of pepper. Heaven.

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: That does sound heavenly. Thank you for the tip!

    about 1 year ago
  • Missing_avatar

    Mary C says: I use asparagus in my vegetable salads. Just wash them, cut them into bite size pieces and mix them with other veggies. Susan, I love your photos. You have a very good sense of color. I learn much from reading your columns. Thanks!

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: Glad you like the photos. Thank you for the tip!

    about 1 year ago
  • Elm

    adamben says: i like to saute them in olive oil, sometimes with garlic, then salt and pepper, but, then again, i like doing that to most any vegetables!

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: Love it, Adam. Thanks for the tip!

    about 1 year ago
  • S2

    Susan_P says: Thanks for sharing this, Maria. It sounds delicious!

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • Missing_avatar

    chutney says: I actually love asparagus raw. After washing the stalks, I break them into little parts and add them to herb salads. The asparagus adds a definitive crunch to the mixture. I usually sprinkle on some shredded parmesan cheese and a simple salad dressing made of olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary and thyme. Yum!

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: That sounds divine!

    about 1 year ago
  • Missing_avatar

    Maria42 says: I usually steam my asparagus and then use a couple of lemons for flavor. No salt or pepper necessary. Maybe a little butter. Works out great!

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »

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