The Best Ways to Prep and Cook Asparagus, Including Martha's Favorite Method
Our favorite spring vegetable can be boiled, steamed, blanched, roasted, grilled, or sautéed.
Delicious spears of new asparagus are a spring delight. Thin or fat, green, white, or a mesmerizing purple, crowded in neat bundles at a farmers' market or nestled in trays at your local grocery store, asparagus is healthy and nutritious treat. These luscious shoots never fail to inspire a sense of mouth-watering anticipation.
Once you have brought fresh asparagus home, it's time to decided what to do with this versatile vegetable. What is the best way to cook asparagus? And should it be cooked at all? From techniques resulting in a juicily refreshing raw crunch to boiled tenderness and fire-kissed sweetness—as well as our founder, Martha Stewart's own favorite method—here we have the all the asparagus-preparation tips you need.
How to Choose Asparagus
For fat spears of asparagus, be sure to choose ones that are firmly upright, with smooth skins and unspoiled tips. For supple, thin asparagus, make sure their stems are not wrinkled (indicating dehydration or woodiness).
How to Keep Asparagus Fresh
To keep asparagus fresh at home, trim their ends and stand the spears upright in a bowl of water. If you don't need them for a few days, cover them and keep them in the refrigerator, refreshing the water when it dries. To revive wilted spears trim the ends and submerge them in a bowl of water—they will plump up after an hour in this refreshing bath.
How to Clean Asparagus
Asparagus is harvested when it is still a shoot recently emerged from the soil, so it may still be gritty. To dislodge sand and soil, soak asparagus in plenty of water.
How to Prepare Asparagus
Use only the most tender part of each stem—test for woodiness by snapping the stem near the base. It should break cleanly. Peel off thicker skin with a vegetable peeler.
The Case for Raw Asparagus
Asparagus is a succulent salad ingredient. Sliced at an angle, or slit lengthwise to expose as much pale, juicy core as possible (giant spears take well to a mandoline—just protect your fingers!). Raw asparagus is receptive to a sharp, citrussy salad dressing, or a quick topping of fresh goats cheese. With a slick of extra virgin olive oil and flurry of freshly grated Parmesan the spears make a wonderful vegetable carpaccio.
Cooking with Water
There is boiling, there is blanching, there is steaming—each is a time-honored method of preserving the vegetable's unique flavor as well as color. Martha's favorite way to prepare thin asparagus combines boiling with steaming. It is simple and quick. Bring a little salted water to a boil in a large skillet, then add asparagus in a single layer (the water should not reach higher than halfway up their sides). Cook furiously until the spears are just-tender, by which time the water will have evaporated. Dress at once with your favorite topping. We recommend a slick of extra virgin olive oil and a dusting of aromatic black pepper.
Sarah Carey, our editorial director of food, likes to blanch asparagus: Plunge raw asparagus into ample amounts of salted boiling water and cook until barely tender. Once cooked refresh in an ice bath before drying well. The technique is used to cook the asparagus for this salad with fava beans and toasted almonds. If you have larger asparagus, boiling in salted water ensures the stems are cooked through. Bring an ample pot of water to a boil, salt it to taste and boil the spears until just-fork tender. Drain, and serve hot or cool. Cooking fat white asparagus this way takes the edge off their slight bitterness.
To preserve all the water-soluble nutrients in any vegetable, steaming is best. A covered steamer basket placed over boiling water will produce tender asparagus within minutes. The unseasoned spears can then be eaten hot with a pat of butter sliding off their warm sides, or cooled and served with a classic side of mustard-mayonnaise for dipping. Another way to cook asparagus is to add raw asparagus at in the last minutes to moist preparations like sauces and risottos. This allows it to cook though while preserving its delicate flavor and crunch. This one-pan chicken dinner takes a similar approach, the asparagus is cut into small pieces and added to the sauce after the chicken and potatoes have been cooking.
Whether roasted stovetop, in a hot oven, or grilled over coals, dry heat imparts a delectable sweetness to asparagus. Sautéeing preserves the crunch of asparagus—keep tossing the asparagus over medium-high heat so they cook evenly. Roast asparagus in an oiled pan in an oven preheated to 425°F, shaking the pan occasionally to dislodge any sticking spears. Top with poached eggs or zesty capers and lemon.
Before grilling over coals or on a gas grill, toss the asparagus in a bowl with some oil to discourage sticking. Adding lemon or orange juice to the oil will boost their flavor with citrussy sweetness. And salty prosciutto is a perfect match for the mellow spears of grilled asparagus.