How to Make Asparagus

There are a lot of vegetables that herald the arrival of spring (fiddlehead ferns, ramps, early peas), but If there is one universally loved and easy to find vegetable that shouts “Spring!” the loudest it’s probably asparagus.   When those first spears appear in the markets, you know for sure the winter is in the rearview mirror.

How to Cook Asparagus

What Are Asparagus?

Asparagus are members of a flowering plant family, and the shoots from the plants grow in long slender stalks with a tightly closed bud at the tip.  Those are the part of the plant that we buy, cook, and eat.

Different Types of Asparagus

Asparagus varies in color, with green being the most commonly available and popular in the U.S.  There is also purple asparagus, and white asparagus, which is very popular in Europe (the whiteness is due to the face that it is grown without any sunlight to prompt photosynthesis).  There is also wild asparagus.

Roasted Asparagus with Creamy Mustard-Oregano Sauce / Mia / Katie Workman /

Asparagus Season

Asparagus are harvested from February to June in various locales, with March and April being the prime season in most places.

Where to Find Asparagus

Asparagus pops up in early spring at Farmers’ markets all over the country, but you can also buy it in the market in the produce section.  

Different countries grow asparagus at different times of the year, and in some cases it’s grown in greenhouses, so even though it’s a spring vegetable, it can be found at the market pretty much year round.  But there is a world of difference between fresh local (or even semi-local) asparagus, and asparagus that has been flown in from some far-flung place.

How to Roast Asparagus

How to Choose Asparagus

Look for asparagus that are not too dried out at the cut ends (all asparagus is a bit dried at the base where it was cut from the plant).  The tips should be tightly closed as well, without any fraying or damage.  The stalks themselves should be firm and smooth other than the tiny petal-leaves that emerge.  If you see asparagus that looks wrinkled or withered, skip it.

How to Store Asparagus

Think of asparagus as the flowering vegetable that they are.  When you get them home, trim off an inch or so from the bottom, and place them in a tall wide glass or vase or measuring cup with a couple of inches of water.  Loosely cover the tops with a plastic bag and store in the fridge for 3 to 7 days, depending on their freshness. You can also leave them in a bag in a produce drawer, but they do tend to get a little banged up and age a bit faster.

How to Cook Asparagus

There are so many ways to prepare asparagus these lovely green stalks.  They can star in a side dish, be a supporting member of a skillet meal, hold their own in a vegetable sauté.  They can be steamed, boiled, stir-fried, roasted (click here for everything you need to know about roasting asparagus!), baked, grilled (click here for everything you need to know about grilling asparagus!), broiled – pretty much any way you can cook something, you can cook asparagus (I haven’t tried sous vide yet, but someday I will. Maybe.).  

How to Steam Asparagus

You can steam asparagus by putting it on a rack or in a basket suspended over simmering water, in a pot with the lid on. But if you don’t have a steamer apparatus, it’s easy to steam them in a covered pot with just a small amount of water brought to a simmer, just enough to provide the moisture, hence the steam, that you need to cook them through.

How to Cook Asparagus

How to Boil Asparagus

This can be done by simply including more water in the pot than you would for steaming. I prefer steaming them, as I feel less of the flavor is lost to the cooking water.

How to Blanch Asparagus

Blanching is simply cooking a food briefly in boiling water, and then immediately draining them and plunging them into ice water.  Blanching is a quick-cook method, usually used with vegetables, that not only softens the vegetables slightly, but also locks in their color by dunking them right after cooking into cold water.  This also stops them from cooking further in the residual cooking heat, also called carryover cooking.  

Ice Bath for Asparagus

The simple step of adding an ice bath to your blanching yields great results. If you cooked the vegetables for a couple of minutes and skipped the ice bath they would just soften a bit, and lose a bit of their brightness, but everything would still be a-ok.  However, setting up an ice water bath takes very little extra time, and also, the bowl that you use for the water bath can be immediately put to use for something else, like a salad.  it really makes a nice difference for asparagus in particular, leaving them as crisp-tender as you like, and a brilliant green.

How to Cook Asparagus

Can You Eat Raw Asparagus?

If your asparagus are very fresh, you can slice them and use them raw in salads, or as part of a vegetable (crudité) platter.  Definitely make sure you peel or trim off any tough ends, which will be unpleasant to eat. Also peel them, or at lest the bottom half, if the skin seems thick and tough. Check out the farro salad recipe at the end for a great way to use raw asparagus in a salad!

Thick Asparagus vs. Thin Asparagus

Thick or thin?  Your choice.  I think for a while there was something very sexy and desirable and chic about the very skinny asparagus, but really it’s a matter of preference.  The thin ones just need the bottom inch or so cut off, cook faster and work nicely in sautéed or stir fried dishes.  The fatter ones take longer to cook, but the thickness provides a much more satisfying bite.   

How to Cook Asparagus

How to Prepare Asparagus

The most traditional kitchen technique for trimming asparagus is to hold the stalk in the middle and by the bottom end and to bend it until it snaps, removing the woody and fibrous bottom few inches from the stalk.  I’m not that big of a fan of this method, I think this wastes more of the edible stalk than necessary, especially if you are preparing thick asparagus.

You can also freeze asparagus: click here for instructions!

How to Cook Asparagus

I prefer to cut off the bottom and then, for thick asparagus, peel the bottoms of the stalks to remove the not-so-pleasant tough outer skin of the spear.  For any asparagus, you can just cut the bottom inch or so off the asparagus.  Then, for thick asparagus, you simply take a vegetable peeler and peel the green outer layer off from the bottom 3-ish inches of the stalk.  

How to Cook Asparagus

How to Tell if Asparagus is Bad

First if there is a sour or “off” smell, it’s probably past its prime. You should also avoid asparagus with sliminess or wetness, especially at the tips. Asparagus that is wrinkled along the stems is also older, should be avoided. And if it has anything resembling mold (black spots, fuzzy spots), toss it for sure.

How to Clean Asparagus

A rinse under cold water is usually all that asparagus needs. They are rarely very dirty. If you are preparing them using a dry heat method, like roasting or grilling, dry them before cooking. If you are steaming or boiling them, then you don’t have to worry about drying them first.

How Long to Cook Asparagus

The answer depends on the thickness of the asparagus, the temperature you are cooking them at, and with some cooking methods, like baking or roasting, how crowded the pan is. 

For roasting, the cooking time for thin stalks at 425 degrees is about 8 to 10 minutes for thin stalks, 10 to 14 minutes for thick stalks.  If baking at 350 degrees thinner stalks will take about 12 minutes, and thicker stalks will take about 14 to 18 minutes.

The cooking time also really depends on how you like your asparagus cooked.  Keep in mind that the asparagus will continue to “cook” after they leave the oven, especially if you leave them on the hot tray.  Take them out a just before they are as cooked as you would ultimately like them to be.  

Garlicky Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan

Crisp-tender?  Tender-crisp?  Super soft?  For quite a while now it’s been the fashion to eat asparagus and many other vegetables quite al dente; well cooked vegetables have been sneered at as old-fashioned and unchic.  And while I think that vegetables cooked into oblivion are not a great thing, I also think you should cook your vegetables to how done you like to eat them.  If you and your family are fans of slightly mushy veggies, then you should cook them until they are slightly mushy.  You don’t need undercooked vegetables to prove you’re cool.  

Is Asparagus Good for You?

Yes!  Asparagus is a very nutritious vegetable.  It has high doses of vitamin K, antioxidants, fiber, and is also very low in calories.

11 Asparagus Recipes

Now let’s dig into those recipes!

How to Roast Asparagus

How to Roast Asparagus

Roasting asparagus is probably my favorite ways to cook asparagus.  The natural sugars in the vegetables are concentrated by the high heat and you get a lovely golden exterior. Roasting asparagus is probably my favorite ways to cook asparagus.  The natural sugars in the vegetables are concentrated by the high heat and you get a lovely golden exterior.

Garlicky Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan

Garlicky Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan

A notch above plain roasted asparagus, but not a whole lot more effort. Panko bread crumbs mixed with garlic, Parmesan, olive oil and parley make a lovely crumbly topping for asparagus.

Asparagus with Herb Dipping Sauce / Photo by Mia / Katie Workman /

Asparagus with Herb Dipping Sauce

When you want to bump up spring a notch.

Sesame Asparagus and Shiitake Mushrooms / Photo by Mia / Katie Workman /

Sesame Asparagus and Shiitake Mushrooms

The combo of mushrooms and some green vegetables is a very popular one in Chinese cooking, and that’s because it work every time. This is a 4-ingredient, 10-minute recipe.

Vegetarian Pasta Salad

Vegetarian Pasta Salad

This pasta salad is portable and flexible. It’s also a nice way to play around with the vegetables of the season. Barely cooked asparagus lend crunch and color to this quintessential pasta salad.

Roasted Asparagus with Creamy Lemon Dressing / Katie Workman /

Roasted Asparagus with Creamy Lemon Dressing

This lemon sauce would perk up pretty much any kind of roasted vegetable. The dressing is vivid with citrus and a bit (not too much!) of hot sauce.

Farro and Vegetable Salad / Carrie Crow / Katie Workman /

Farro and Vegetable Salad

I love the way the additional of a couple of handfuls of cooked whole grains adds so much heft and interest to a salad.
Raw asparagus may seem surprising, but if the asparagus is very fresh it adds a wonderful delicate asparagus flavor, and a nice crunch. This is a great, portable vegetable and grain salad, perfect for a potluck or a picnic, or to pack for a work lunch.

Roasted Asparagus with Pesto Crème Fraiche

Roasted Asparagus with Pesto Crème Fraiche

Simply roasted asparagus become downright magical when drizzled with a sauce made from creamy creme fraiche and herby pesto.

Vegetarian Spring Orzo Salad

Vegetarian Spring Orzo Salad

This cheery, fresh green-and-white orzo salad features asparagus and sugar snap peas.

Asparagus Soup

Asparagus Soup

This creamy soup is a terrific way to showcase one of the most lovable vegetables of spring in a slurpable way.

Asparagus with Scallion Chimichurri Sauce

Asparagus with Scallion Chimichurri Sauce

An easy herby sauce brings some simply cooked asparagus to a whole other level.

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