Editor's note: When we decided to do Asparagus for our CHEFS In Season article, we reached out to our friends at Cook's Country and asked if they might have some great tips to share. Did they ever! Today's CHEFS Mix post is a collection of tips for selecting, preparing and cooking asparagus, from the great folks over at Cook's Country.
CHEFS In Season is a monthly article featuring in season fruits, vegetables, game and more. Each article contains selection, storing, preparing and cooking tips. Find featured recipes plus browse the archive.
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Published May 1, 2010. From Cook's Illustrated.
What is white asparagus, and how does its taste compare to green asparagus?
White asparagus is simply green asparagus that has never seen the light of day. The plant is grown under soil or some other covering to block out the sun’s rays, preventing photosynthesis and the development of chlorophyll, which turns the spears green. Europeans prize locally grown white asparagus as a springtime delicacy, but since there are no domestic producers in the U.S., the great majority of white asparagus available in supermarkets is imported from Peru. When we pan-roasted Peruvian white asparagus and green asparagus and sampled them side by side, tasters dubbed the green spears “vegetal,” “sweet,” and “grassy,” with a “slightly mineral” aftertaste. The white spears had a less pronounced flavor, reminding tasters of “a cross between peas and turnips.” Overall, the white spears didn’t wow us, presumably because their delicate flavor had faded during shipping and storage.
If we have the opportunity to try freshly picked white asparagus, we won’t hesitate. As for the usual supermarket offerings, with a price difference of at least $2 per pound (we paid $3.99 per pound for green and $5.99 per pound for white), we’ll stick with the green stuff.
Should I buy different thicknesses of asparagus for different applications?
While shopping for asparagus to fill our Hearty Omelet with Asparagus, we bought stalks as thin as pencils and others as fat as nickels. To find out how size affects flavor or texture, we steamed, broiled, and sautéed both thin and thick spears, adjusting the cooking times to make up for the difference in size. While both groups were tender when steamed, the slender spears were less watery and had a more intense asparagus flavor than the fat ones. Inversely, broiling and sautéing both produced perfectly cooked thick asparagus—tender, moist interiors surrounded by crisp, browned skin—but left the thin asparagus emaciated inside of their shriveled, tough skins.
Thin Spears: Best for steaming. Thick Spears: Best for broiling or sautéing.
Published March 1, 2011. From Cook's Illustrated.
Sometimes the asparagus stalks at local markets are as thin as pencils; other times they’re fat and meaty. Is thickness an indication of maturity? And does size affect taste?
Asparagus spears are the plant shoots of an underground crown that can produce for up to 20 years. The thickness of a spear has nothing to do with its age—that is, a thin spear will not mature into a thicker spear. Rather, diameter is determined by two factors: the age of the entire plant (younger crowns produce more slender stalks) and its variety.
So, which size is preferable? We snapped off the woody bottoms of fat and skinny spears and tasted them side-by-side, both steamed and tossed with olive oil and salt. While both types tasted equally sweet, nutty, and grassy, we expected the delicate-looking thin spears to be more tender. To our surprise, the thicker spears actually had the better texture (if only by a hair). The reason? The vegetable’s fiber is slightly more concentrated in thinner spears.
Since thick and thin spears are both good bets, choose the size that best suits your cooking method. Thicker stalks are better for broiling and roasting because they will stand up to the intense dry heat that would quickly shrivel skinnier spears. We also like thicker spears for grilling since they are easier to manipulate. Quick-cooking thinner spears are good candidates for steaming and stir-frying.
"Recipes That Work®" Cook's Country February/March 2009
Here is the best method for preserving the freshness of this delicate vegetable.
To determine how to best maintain asparagus’ bright color and crisp texture, we tested refrigerating spears in the plastic bag we’d bought them in, enclosed in a paper bag, wrapped in a damp paper towel, and with the stalk ends trimmed and standing up in a small amount of water. After three days the results were clear. Those left in the plastic bag had become slimy, while the paper bag and towel bunches had shriveled tips and limp stalks. However, the bunch stored in water looked as good as fresh and retained its firm texture.
To store asparagus this way, trim the bottom 1/2-inch of the stalks and stand the spears upright in a glass. Add enough water to cover the bottom of the stalks by 1 inch and place the glass in the refrigerator. Asparagus stored this way should remain relatively fresh for about four days; you may need to add a little more water every few days. Re-trim the very bottom of the stalks before using.
Store cut asparagus in water to keep it fresh longer.
Published May 1, 2011. From Cook's Illustrated.
Even the most thin, delicate spears of asparagus still have tough, woody ends that must be removed. To break off the ends at precisely the right point, all you need is your hands.
Grip the stalk about halfway down; with the other hand, hold the stem between the thumb and index finger about an inch or so from the bottom and bend the stalk until it snaps.
Published September 1, 2008. From Cook's Illustrated.
Asparagus side dishes often don't get much attention and taste rather dull. How do you build flavor with a minimum of work?
Pencil-thin asparagus are easily overcooked and thick spears are woody; choose asparagus 1/2- to 5/8-inch thick.
Trim tough ends.
Basic Cooking Methods
Broiling and pan-roasting concentrate flavors in delicate asparagus. Toss 2 pounds trimmed asparagus with 1 tablespoon olive oil on baking sheet and broil, shaking pan once, for 8 to 10 minutes. Or heat 1 tablespoon each vegetable oil and butter in 12-inch nonstick skillet. Add 2 pounds trimmed asparagus, with half of tips pointing in one direction and other half pointing in opposite direction. Cover and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Uncover and cook over high heat until tender and browned, 5 to 7 minutes.
From Cook's Country April/May 2012
Why This Recipe Works: Simply roasting asparagus and topping it with shaved Parmesan gives you limp spears and rubbery cheese. To get crisp-tender asparagus, we salted it to rid it of excess moisture. From there, we dipped the spears in a combination of honey and egg whites whipped to soft peaks and coated them with a mixture of bread crumbs and Parmesan. Finally, to reinforce the Parmesan flavor, we topped the spears with an extra dose of cheese at the end of roasting.
Avoid pencil-thin asparagus for this recipe. Work quickly when tossing the asparagus with the egg whites, as the salt will rapidly begin to deflate the whites.
2 pounds (1/2-inch-thick) asparagus, trimmed
Salt and pepper
3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon honey
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with vegetable oil spray. Using fork, poke holes up and down stalks of asparagus. Toss asparagus with 1/2-teaspoon salt and let stand for 30 minutes on a paper towel–lined baking sheet.
Meanwhile, combine 1 cup Parmesan, breadcrumbs, butter, 1/4-teaspoon salt, 1/8-teaspoon pepper, and cayenne in bowl. Transfer half of breadcrumb mixture to shallow dish and reserve remaining mixture. Using stand mixer fitted with whisk, whip egg whites and honey on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-high and whip until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape into 13 by 9-inch baking dish and toss asparagus in mixture. Working 1 spear at a time, dredge half of asparagus in breadcrumbs and transfer to baking sheet. Refill shallow dish with reserved breadcrumb mixture and repeat with remaining half of asparagus.
Bake asparagus until just beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2-cup Parmesan and continue to bake until cheese is melted and bread crumbs are golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to platter. Serve. Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish
From Cook's Country April/May 2010
Why This Recipe Works: For our Creamy Asparagus Soup recipe, we found that cooking asparagus on medium-low heat slowly coaxed out its flavor. But there was a fine line between perfect and overcooked; for its fresh flavor to translate to the soup, the asparagus needed to be just tender enough to puree, but no more. For the soup’s base, we quickly discovered that water was bland (no surprise). A homemade asparagus stock wasn’t worth the extra effort, and additions of wine or vermouth turned a delicate soup grassy and acidic. Ultimately, our tasters liked store-bought chicken broth the best. We tested a number of “cream" components, from yogurt to sour cream, crème fraîche, and rice milk, and they were all too heavy, too tangy, or just too weird. In the end, a pour of heavy cream tasted just right. To give the soup a silky quality we switched from a base of onions to leeks. When pureed they made the soup creamier and added heft.
2 pounds asparagus, stem ends trimmed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 small leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
Salt and pepper
3-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
Cook Tips: Cut tips off asparagus spears and chop stalks into 1/2-inch pieces. Peel the bottom 1/3 of the spears with a vegetable peeler, if they are thicker than 1/2-inch. Melt 1-1/2 tablespoons butter in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add asparagus tips and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 2 minutes. Set aside.
Soften Vegetables: Add remaining butter and asparagus, leeks, 1/2-teaspoon salt, and 1/8-teaspoon pepper to empty pot and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes.
Simmer Soup: Add broth to pot and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in peas and Parmesan. Puree soup in blender in 2 batches and return to pot. Stir in cream, lemon juice, and asparagus tips, and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve. (Soup can be refrigerated in airtight container for 2 days.) Serves 6
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Your Turn: What's your favorite was to enjoy asparagus?