How to Cook Asparagus Pretty Close to Perfect

Categories: How To, Vegetarian

Photos by John Kiely
You don't need a fancy pan to cook asparagus.

The first culinary sign of spring in much of the U.S. and Europe is asparagus shooting up from the soil. Americans generally cut them off to eat when they reach seven to nine inches in length, to prevent them from getting woody, but Europeans -- especially Germans -- cover them with dirt, to block out the sunlight and produce white asparagus, which are treasured for being more tender and less bitter.

Asparagus season starts in January in California, then moves north about this time to Washington, Michigan, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, where the asparagus will keep popping up until June. There's no asparagus season here on the Gulf Coast, as the vegetable requires ground freezes and a dry season.

Still, there's lots of low-priced asparagus in stores right now, as imports from Peru and Mexico are competing with asparagus harvested in America, and the cost has plummeted from a usual $3.99 per pound to the $1.69 I saw in the H-E-B on Buffalo Speedway. That's not so good for U.S. farmers, as production has dropped from 50,000 acres ten years ago to about 25,000 acres this year, but it's certainly good news for American diners.

aspargusHEB.JPG
Supply and demand makes for asparagus bargains.

No Special Pan Necessary to Cook Asparagus

It's easy to cook asparagus consistently and tenderly; try the following method of power-steaming. It doesn't require the use of a tall cylindrical asparagus pan or specialized steamer, just a simple covered skillet or sauté pan.

Choosing Asparagus

Asparagus stalks should be firm and not wrinkly. Asparagus as thin as a pencil won't require peeling. Thicker asparagus tastes just as good, and can be peeled with a super-sharp OXO or Kuhn Rikon vegetable peeler; strip the skin from tip to bottom on four sides, so that the stalk is somewhat squared. It's also a good idea to grab the whole bunch of asparagus and cut off the bottom inch or two to get rid of any woody parts (and simply to get it to fit in the pan.)

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4 comments
James Rains
James Rains

Perfect asparagus only needs two additional ingredients: butter and Tony Chachere's.

Bruce_Are
Bruce_Are topcommenter

Or rub it with olive oil (or better yet walnut oil) and salt and pepper and bake it until it's bright green and somewhat tender.

LaurenK
LaurenK

Or just steam it for five minutes--very easy and no need for 200 calories of butter!

JohnKiely
JohnKiely

At a River Oaks book signing, I heard Julia Child (aged 90) say, "Oh, butter never hurt anyone."

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