Everybody loves asparagus, don’t they? However, too many times they are overcooked and limp. This short “How To” post will take you through the steps for cooking a perfect “Al Dente” asparagus that can be eaten on a lovely salad or served slightly chilled as a veggie side. Plus we’ll share a few facts about asparagus along the way.
We love all asparagus, but those young tender “first harvested” are the best. Here in Sweden, our season doesn’t start to around mid-May, but in the lower part of the US home gardeners are beginning to see those wonderful jewels peek out of the earth.
Back in Kentucky where we used to live, I’ll bet the asparagus are getting close to peeking out as well. We had a nice sized (no, large) kitchen garden, which had two separate asparagus patches. If I remember correctly, we had about a hundred plants. This is a lot of asparagus joy. The new owners of our old place will soon be buried in asparagus.
Did you know that you can only harvest mature asparagus for about six weeks? After the harvesting is complete, you just let them grow into these lovely tall ferns. In the fall, they turn a golden yellow. Want to grow asparagus? Find yourself a nice sunny spot in your garden and get those crowns ordered and that dirt moving. Growing asparagus is fun and easy. If you’re interested in learning more about planting, growing, harvesting and caring for asparagus go to Tasteful Garden for a quick how-to read. If you’re in the USA and want very high quality garden starts, I’d highly recommend Tasteful Garden. We ordered from them every year. Their tomatoes are fantastic too.
Selection and Storage
If you don’t have home-grown asparagus, find the best quality you can. Look for asparagus spears that are odorless, uniform in diameter, brightly colored and have a tight head. Stay away from asparagus that are limp or wilted. Good vegetable purveyors will store their asparagus refrigerated and standing upright. It’s always best to eat your asparagus the day of purchase (unless they are super fresh). However, if you need to store some, just trim the cut end and stand them upright in a glass/crock with an inch of water or so. Then change the water each day. This method works for me.
Flash Cooked and Chilled Asparagus
Begin by heating up a large pot of salted water to boil. While the water is heating, wash and drain the asparagus. Prep the asparagus by cutting about an inch off the bottom end. Next, using a potato peeler strip the outer skin of the bottom third of each spear. Now, go ahead and set-up an ice bath (a bowl of cold water with lots of ice in it) for the flash chill and set it next to your pot.
Drop in the spears for one minute* to flash cook. Then remove the spears and immediately immerse them in the ice bath to flash chill and stop the cooking process. Let the spears fully cool, remove from the ice bath and drain.
*Prior to cooking all of my asparagus, I always do a cooking test to determine the exact flash cooking time. Just cook one or two spears as directed above. The spear should still have a bit of crunch. Too much crunch, add a few seconds to the flash cooking. Too mushy, cut down the cooking by a few seconds. Also, taste the bottom end of the cooked asparagus. If the spear is fibrous and tough, cut back the bottom ends of your uncooked asparagus another inch or so. Want to serve them warm as a side, no worries, just shorten the water bath to one minute or so.