A Beginner’s Guide to Asparagus
Since moving to WA, I’ve seen asparagus available almost year round, but really, we’re just getting in to fresh asparagus season, so I thought I would share some tips on selection through cooking.
Asparagus is imported almost year round, the first domestic crops start coming in from California as early as February with the main harvesting peaking in April and May, with some mid-western and eastern harvesting extending in to June or even July.
In the store, look for sturdy spears with tight, clean tips. The cut end should not look dried out, wrinkled or woody. Most vendors will display the asparagus in trays of water to prevent drying.
While the common belief is that skinny asparagus spears are tastier and more tender than thicker spears, the true determining factor of good taste and texture is how fresh the asparagus is. Like sweet corn, as soon as asparagus is picked the natural sugars quickly start turning in to starch, causing it to lose it’s sweetness and become tough. It’s best to buy the day you’re going to use it, or at least within the next day or two.
If you need to store your asparagus, using an old pickle or a canning jar works great. Stand the stalks up in the jar with about an inch of water in it, cover with a bit of plastic wrap or a plastic bag (like the produce bag you brought it home in) and they should be ok for about 3 days in the fridge. If you don’t have a jar, try wrapping a moist paper towel around the cut ends before storing in a plastic bag.
Before cooking, remove the lower inch or two of the stalk. There’s a lot of debate about the “proper” way to trim your asparagus. Some purists believe you must snap, others say cutting is fine. It is really up to you, you can use a knife or gently bend each spear near the cut end until it snaps. If your asparagus is fresh, the rest o the stalk should not be fibrous and you shouldn’t need to peel the spears.
To cook, you can steam on the stove top for about 3 to 5 minutes or in a microwave for about 3 minutes. You can also roast them – toss the spears with a couple teaspoons of oil and roast at 450F for about 15-20 minutes. Personally, I love to grill them. Toss with a bit of oil and either cut/break in to pieces and use a grill basket or try bundling a group of spears together using wooden skewers to make them easier to turn and help prevent them from falling through the grate.
You can serve them straight up, or after they are cooked toss with a splash of balsamic vinegar, some sea salt and either some sesame seeds or slivered almonds.
Asparagus is a great source of Vitamin K, with one cup providing nearly 70% of the recommended daily intake. It is also a good source of Vitamin A, folate, iron, Vitamins B1 and B2, copper, fiber, and manganese. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients found in asparagus are some of the best risk reducers known for common chronic health problems including type 2 diabetes and heart disease as well as aiding in the risk reduction of certain cancers. Additionally, asparagus contain inulin, a probiotic that can help with your digestive tract health.
For a bit of a personal confession here, I never liked asparagus growing up. Honestly, I thought it was like eating sticks. But a few years ago decided to give it another try, and I love it. Like I said, I love to grill it, but roasting and even stir-frying are other great ways to cook it up. This is one of those vegetables where getting it during it’s peak season can really make a difference, so if you haven’t tried in awhile, I really encourage you to do so this spring!