|Fresh asparagus prepared by butter steaming in a skillet.|
How to Prepare AsparagusI have been a huge fan of fresh asparagus for years and love it just about any way that you can cook it - steamed, blanched, stir fried, grilled, roasted - the marinated bacon wrapped version is mighty delicious and a favorite of mine too.
It's a spring crop, mostly coming to us in the Deep South from the west coast, and is at its peak for flavor during the months of April and May, so it is still so strange to me that we can find it available year-round these days.
I can remember a time when the only way to eat it out of season was canned, but the texture of canned asparagus is on the mushy side, very different from fresh and a tad bit pricey too. Mama used to treat herself to the occasional can as a treat, and I can still envision her lifting a cold spear right out of the can, dangling it in the air and dropping it into her mouth with a silly smirk of satisfaction, as if it were some kind of a decadent, gourmet delicacy! I suppose on her very limited grocery budget it was.
It's still available in the can of course, though these days most often delegated to those old fashioned, nostalgic casseroles and bakes that some of us still remember from our youth... recipes that most of the younger folks today don't even know about!
Always choose fresh asparagus that is smooth in texture, bright green and firm, with tightly closed tips. To store them, I always place them standing up in a tall mug with about one inch of water in the bottom, like a bouquet of flowers. Place the produce bag loosely over the top and store in the fridge. Change the water out daily, and if you happen to not get to them right away, they will stay nice and fresh for several days and even up to a week.
You'll see some asparagus spears that are very thick and others that are very thin. This doesn't make much difference to be honest, though the very thick ones can tend to be a bit tough and will sometimes benefit from taking a vegetable peeler to them. You'll always need to trim off the woody ends because they are stringy and inedible, though they can be reserved to add to a homemade vegetable stock. If you bend the asparagus toward the bottom of the stalk, it will naturally snap where they need to be trimmed, though most of the time, I simply trim off about the bottom quarter of the stalk, then rinse them.
I prepare asparagus several different ways and like many of you, one of my favorites is oven roasted, and it's so easy too! Simply toss the trimmed asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper and lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet. For the thick spears, I roast them in a preheated 450 degree oven for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until tender. For thinner spears reduce the temperature to 400 degrees F and they are usually done in about 8 to 10 minutes.
To grill them, season in the same manner, but use a grill pan, thread them on skewers in groupings of 5 or 6, or lay them crosswise against the oiled grates and cook over a medium high, direct heat for about 4 minutes per side, turning once, or until tender, again, adjusting for time if the spears are thin.
To steam, place the trimmed asparagus in a single layer in the top of a steamer basket that has been placed over a pot containing about an inch of boiling water. Cover and check them for tenderness at about 5 minutes, using the pointed tip of a sharp knife. Finish them with salt, pepper and melted butter, or a vinaigrette of some kind. Steaming works best with the thicker stalks of asparagus.
Hands-down, this "butter steamed" method is my favorite and the one I use the most now. The process is similar to my butter stewed new potatoes, and it really does a fantastic job with asparagus, simply seasoned with butter, salt and pepper, letting all the natural flavor of the asparagus shine through.
Sometimes I use garlic salt and I almost always grate some fresh Parmesan all over the top when I take them out of the skillet.
You may have noticed a white asparagus in the grocery store before. Don't fall for it. They aren't widely available and frankly expensive, mostly appealing as a novelty to restaurants really, rather than the home cook. The only difference between the green and white asparagus is that white are grown in darkness to make them colorless, but they do taste pretty much the same otherwise.
I decided to plate these for photos on my vintage 1970s "Crazy Daisy Spring Blossom" Corelle platter. Can you believe that I have had this platter since I was a teenager,which trust me... was a long time ago. It, along with a set of the dishes, was an addition to my hope chest. Anybody remember those?
Back in my day, while many of us went on to college, the goal for many women still was to meet a good man, marry, have a beautiful wedding, and have babies - and yes, unlike today, in that order. Most of us started building what we called hope chests when we were young, whether they were actual physical Lane cedar chests, or just an area in the top of a closet designated for purchases that would one day furnish our future residences. Mine was more designated as a "my first apartment" hope chest, because I was one of those "I can't wait to turn 18 and move out" teens, although in truth, I did end up marrying very young and having that baby in my 20s anyway. The upside of that is that I am a fairly young grandma!
Asparagus is great as a side dish, tossed in a skillet meal or in casseroles, on a salad, and even in an omelet. What is your favorite way to enjoy them?
Recipe: Skillet Asparagus©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 5 min |Cook time: 8 min | Yield: About 4 to 6 servings
- 2 pounds of fresh asparagus spears
- 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to taste, optional
Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus where they bend naturally; rinse. Melt butter in a large lidded skillet over medium heat and lay whole asparagus spears in the skillet. Gently shake the pan to coat all of the spears with butter, cover, reduce to medium low and let cook for about 8 to 12 minutes, or until they reach desired tenderness, shaking the pan several times. Uncover, test for tenderness with the tip of a steak knife, season with salt and pepper, transfer to serving platter and grate fresh Parmesan cheese over the top. Serve immediately.
Cook's Note: Total cooking time will be dependent on the size and thickness of the asparagus spears. This recipe may successfully be halved. Try garlic salt in place of kosher salt.
Tip: Snap off the ends of several pieces of asparagus where they naturally break, then line up the remaining asparagus in groups and use a knife to trim them evenly with the ones you snapped.
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©Deep South Dish
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