How To Cook Asparagus

Learn the best cooking methods for this fresh green vegetable, high in nutrients.

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Asparagus is a vegetable high in many different vitamins and nutrients as well as a great source of fiber. There are a multitude of ways to cook asparagus that are not only delicious but super easy. Let’s take a look at a few popular methods. 

FIRST THING'S FIRST

When buying asparagus, look for firm, rich green colored spears, with fresh ends and compact heads. If the asparagus has dry ends, cracks or wilted tips, avoid it, since these are signs that it is not fresh. Asparagus is grown in many sizes, ranging from small to jumbo. Since all sizes are flavorful, the important thing is to select a bundle with stalks that are the same length and thickness, as this will result in more consistent cooking.

Unless you’re lucky enough to get asparagus that's freshly harvested from a garden, you will need to trim the stem ends, which have dried out and are fibrous and tough to eat. To trim the stalks, line the asparagus up so that the ends are even and use a sharp knife to cut off the bottom inch or so of the spears. Instead of discarding the ends, they can be used to make vegetable stock or soup, but more on that later. Some people prefer to peel the stalks too, since it will be more tender this way and, arguably, looks nicer, but it’s really not necessary.  

Asparagus is grown in many sizes, ranging from small to jumbo.

STEAMING AND BLANCHING

Steaming and blanching are two easy ways to prepare asparagus, both of which are great methods for people who are new to cooking it. The downside is that it can be easy to overcook the vegetable in both instances and end up with mushy ‘baby food.’ To prevent this, make sure to keep a close eye on the spears when steaming them. You’ll notice it only takes about five minutes until they become bright green in color and fork-tender. Steamed asparagus is commonly served with butter and salt or hollandaise sauce. 

Blanching asparagus is a great method if you are going to be serving the vegetable cold, in a salad, for instance. Simply submerge it in salted boiling water for no more than 1 to 3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalk. Once it is tender, drain and place the asparagus in a bowl filled with ice cold water to stop the cooking process and cool down the spears. Once cooled, pat dry and eat immediately or refrigerate for later. If you want to eat the asparagus on its own, it’s recommended to season it with salt and pepper, as well as a squeeze of lemon.

Blanching asparagus is a great method if you are going to be serving the vegetable cold, in a salad, for instance.

SAUTEED

In order to sauté asparagus properly, you will first need to blanch it, as previously mentioned. Sautéing asparagus is very simple. The key is to use very few additional ingredients in order to allow the flavor of the asparagus to shine. Many chefs lightly sauté asparagus in extra virgin olive oil, along with a little minced garlic and shallot, before seasoning it with salt, black pepper and lemon juice to accent the natural flavors of the vegetable. If you like a little heat, add a dash of red pepper flakes as well. 

You really don’t need to saute asparagus for long, since you’re basically just reheating it, with the addition of a few ingredients. This cooking method is very common for stir fries and pasta, for which it’s a good idea to chop the spears into bite-sized pieces before cooking. 

GRILLED

Grilling is a great way to prepare asparagus without having to pre-blanch or steam it. Since asparagus is a spring time harvested vegetable, it is commonly eaten in the summer at backyard barbeques. Simply coat the asparagus in a neutral oil, season with salt and pepper and grill over medium-high heat until it is cooked to your liking. Some stalks will be thicker than others and may take longer to cook. Some people prefer to cook the asparagus at a high heat so that the tips, or flowers, of the spears become charred or burnt. This creates a crunchier texture but won’t taste nearly as bitter as other charred foods. Cooking asparagus over high heat will also bring out the nutty nuance of asparagus's predominantly grassy flavor.

Since asparagus is a spring time harvested vegetable, it is commonly eaten in the summer at backyard barbeques.

WASTE NOT

Asparagus can be made into a warm bisque or even a chilled soup, depending on which you prefer. You can use the whole spear of asparagus if you want to but, in all honesty, this is where you want to use the “waste” parts of the asparagus. When you eat asparagus in any other form of cooking, it is standard practice to cut off the woody ends of the stalks and throw them away. They are perfect, however, to boil and puree for a flavorful soup. 

That’s a wrap on how to cook asparagus! Of course, it can also be roasted, battered and fried (tempura), microwaved and even pickled and served alongside cured meats or as a savory cocktail garnish.