Cleaning and preparing fresh Asparagus
When bringing home farm-fresh Asparagus, it’s important to always give it a rinse to remove any dirt and grit from the stalks that may be left over from harvest. Rinse lightly under cool water and roll them on a paper towel to dry. When you’re ready to cook, you’ll want to remove the bottom portion of the stalk, as it is woody and fibrous (not good eats!). If you bend the stalk lightly in your hands, and you should be able to tell where the stiffer stalk ends and the tender edible part begins, that’s where you’ll want to break or cut the stalk. Don’t forget, you can compost the bottom portions of the stalks for your garden!
With your Asparagus cleaned and prepared, you’re ready to get cooking. Without further adieu, let’s jump right into my personal favorite and go-to, the grill!
When in doubt, grill out! Grilled Asparagus is my personal favorite because there’s just something about the heat and char of a grill that brings out the meaty and earthy flavors of the Asparagus. Gas or charcoal, it doesn’t matter, Asparagus is good on any grill! I like to first start by putting my Asparagus into a gallon ziploc bag with some olive oil, salt, pepper, ground mustard and a dash of cayenne pepper.
There are a number of other things you could add here as well to kick it up another notch – a touch of red wine vinegar and some garlic, some soy sauce and the juice and zest of your favorite citrus, or even a touch of tomato paste and some parmesan cheese. Asparagus is super versatile, and many things pair well with it.. get experimental! Grillmaster’s secret: a tiny dash of sugar helps vegetables to caramelize on the grill. Let the Asparagus cook over high heat for about 4-5 minutes per side. The cook time will really depend on the size of the spears. Smaller spears are also more tender, so that makes them cook even faster. You’re looking for a light char, but not burnt – once you see sizzling and smoking, it’s probably time to flip.
Using the same ziploc bag preparation, we can also broil Asparagus to get a good char! It will be slightly longer cook times than grilling since the heat source is now above the food rather than below it. This is a great option when it’s too cold or rainy to grill!
For the Asparagus purist, blanching is going to be your best bet. There’s nothing like fresh Asparagus, and sometimes you just don’t want to get in the way of that wonderful flavor. The process of blanching involves briefly boiling Asparagus in a pot of salted water, then at the perfect time removing it and placing it in an ice-bath to stop the cooking process. The exact cooking time, again, will depend on the size of the stalks. The ice-bath is known as ‘shocking’ and gives us incredibly crisp, perfectly cooked spears of green deliciousness. Blanched Asparagus is great to add to salads or just eat plain, it’s that good! To eat as a side dish, I like to empty the water from the pot and toss the Asparagus back in with a little melted butter, and a little salt and pepper to taste. Don’t throw that Asparagus water down the sink, though! Did you know that it’s full of nutrients lost during the boiling? Wait for that water to cool off and use it to water your plants, they will love you for it!
You might like the idea of blanching, but may ask, why would I want to feed my plants those lost nutrients? Shouldn’t those be for me? Steaming to the rescue! Following a similar process of cooking and shocking, we instead use the steam from boiling water rather than the water itself to do the cooking. This leaves all of the nutritional content in the plant for you to enjoy! I recommend finishing the Asparagus with some butter, salt and pepper after it’s been shocked.
Another one of my favorites, time to break out the Wok! Stir frying is a great way to bring out some nice flavors in your Asparagus, and it fits incredibly well with Asian flavor profiles. Start out over medium-high heat, add a generous amount of peanut oil to your Wok and wait for it to get hot before adding your veggies. I also like to add a couple splashes of Sesame oil, this gives it a nice, nutty, authentic flavor. Once your Asparagus has cooked for a few minutes and is starting to wilt, you can add in any other vegetables you might want to accompany your Asparagus – like mushrooms or onions. If your Wok gets a little too hot and things start to burn, it’s good to have some water ready (or better yet, chicken stock) to add to the pan if necessary. After a few more minutes over high heat, add in some diced ginger and garlic. These ingredients can burn, so add them at the end when the vegetables are almost done cooking. You can also add in your soy sauce at this time, and for extra flavor a splash of rice wine will help to soak up the tasty brown bits in the pan and add a touch of sweetness. Let it cook for another 30 seconds or so, tossing often. Finish with a little butter, sesame seeds and soy sauce to taste, and serve!