Asparagus is a favorite vegetable of many. It's healthy and delicious, and something about those tall, slender spears brings an air of sophistication and elegance to any meal. Asparagus is often served in fancy restaurants alongside a filet mignon or perfectly cooked salmon filet.
Just because fancy restaurants cook asparagus just right doesn't mean everyone can. A lot can go wrong when cooking asparagus, and when it does, the veggie can turn mushy and unpalatable. So, how do you stop that from happening? Follow the tips below.
1. Trim the asparagus
Fresh from the grocery store, the thick, circular end — not the delicate, pointed end — is tough and difficult to chew. Here's how to trim off this woody part:
Lay the asparagus out on a counter or cutting board and pick up the longest stalk. Holding each end, bend the asparagus away from you until the thick, woody end breaks off. Line this piece up with the others and cut across them at the point where the first asparagus stalk broke. You'll have perfectly trimmed asparagus without spending tons of time on it.
2. Peel the thick, toughest asparagus stalks
This skin can become tough and chewy, so get rid of it. Just slide a vegetable peeler down the stalk, away from you. Often, you won't even need to peel the entire stalk — just about halfway down.
3. Steam the asparagus
Steaming is probably the most popular way to cook asparagus. If you're using a steamer insert, cut the asparagus first so it fits.
If you want to steam this veggie whole, tie the bundles together at the narrow tips using kitchen twine. Place the bundle upright in a large pot that can be completely covered with the asparagus inside. Fill the bottom of the pot with an inch or two of water — no more than needed to cover the tough, woody ends. Salt the asparagus and the water generously, and then place the lid on the pot. Bring to a boil and let it keep boiling for about three minutes. Take the lid off the pot and use tongs to remove the asparagus. Snip off the twine with a pair of kitchen shears.
This method works best for steaming asparagus because those tough ends get the most contact with the heat and cook the longest. Meanwhile, the dainty pointed ends — the best part of the asparagus — will cook through perfectly without becoming overcooked.
Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the asparagus while it's still hot. There won't be anything else to impart flavor, such as natural browning, so this step will increase the yummyness.
4. Grill asparagus
Grilling not only browns the asparagus and brings out its natural sugars, but it also gives the veggie a slightly smoky flavor that complements its earthy greenness. Anyone who's ever tried to lay asparagus down across a grill grate, however, will tell you that you'll lose more asparagus to the barbecue than you will to other people's plates.
Instead, skewer asparagus right through the middle so the spear sits horizontally on the skewer. This way, you can skewer several spearson the same skewer. Drizzle them with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place them on a piping hot grill for just a few minutes.
5. Blanch the asparagus
Asparagus can be just as good cold as hot. But how do you cook it to ensure it doesn't turn to mush by the time you're ready to serve it cold? You blanch it. Here's how:
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil. Add the asparagus and let it boil for just two minutes. When the cooking time is over, plunge the asparagus into a large bowl of ice water, making sure all stalks are completely covered. When the asparagus is completely cold, take it out of the ice water and pat it dry with paper towels. Then, chop it up for use in salads or anything else that would benefit from that extra bit of delish.
With this method, it's even more important to add fresh lemon juice before serving the vegetable. Salt or any other seasoning you've sprinkled into the cooking water will wash away when you dunk the asparagus into the cold bath, so it will need something for flavor.
6. Sauté asparagus
Sautéeing is an easy way to kick up asparagus' flavor. Cut the spear diagonally into 2-inch pieces, or leave it whole (whatever the dish calls for). Add a tablespoon of butter to a frying pan, along with a tablespoon of olive oil so the butter doesn't burn, and place the skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, add the asparagus and toss to completely coat it in fat. Season with salt and pepper, and sauté, flipping and stirring regularly, for three to five minutes. Serve it immediately.
7. Roast asparagus
Roasting asparagus is the best way to bring out its natural sugars and flavors. To do it, preheat the oven to 450 degrees Farenheit. Trim and peel the asparagus if necessary, but leave the spears whole for this cooking method. Lay the spears out on a baking sheet or in a baking dish, and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Roll the spears around a little to coat them lightly. Avoid soaking them with too much oil so they don't turn mushy and greasy.
Season the asparagus with salt and pepper, and place it in the oven. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the spears. Roll them around once or twice during roasting so they cook through evenly.