asparagus recipes

Warm, tender (thoroughly cooked!) asparagus is a simple, wonderful pleasure

Maximo Bistro's asparagus with hollandaise and pea puree

If you've never had properly cooked asparagus, you're missing out on something wonderful indeed.

I was reminded of its simple and irrefutable pleasure on a recent trip to Mexico City, over lunch at Máximo Bistrot Local, Eduardo García's glammy restaurant in the Colonia Roma neighborhood. I chose as a starter "espárragos, holandesa, ajo tostado," and loved what was set before me: fat, jumbo asparagus, beautifully trimmed and peeled nearly to the tips, poached to almost custardy tenderness and served with luscious, lightly lemony and perfect hollandaise sauce on one side and silky, buttery pea purée on the other. 

Classic hollandaise for me is a luxury (maybe it's time to rediscover its joys in a post!), but the real revelation on that plate was this: So many professional kitchens send asparagus spears to the table undercooked that if you're accustomed to eating it in restaurants, it's entirely possible you've never experienced how luscious it can be.

(Meanwhile, Máximo chef-owner Eduardo García has a pretty amazing cook-busting-borders story.)

Undercooked asparagus, crunchy and forbidding, can taste like a punishment. But if you simmer asparagus long enough to cook it through, its texture becomes soft and almost creamy, and its lovely flavor comes into full bloom.

 

It's worth taking the time to peel it first. First trim off the woody end of the stalk, then use a vegetable peeler to (gently, so you don't break the stalk) peel it about two thirds of the way up to the tip. I find that letting the spear rest flat on the cutting board and using only very gentle pressure to peel gets the job done most easily. 

Set a pan of salted water to a boil, add the asparagus and cook, covered, until the spears are tender. How long this will take depends on their thickness. Medium-thin to medium spears will take about 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 minutes, jumbos a bit longer.

But rather than time them, I lift them gently with tongs, and when they're just a bit floppy, like this:

 

. . . I pull them out.

Then I might serve them warm, letting a small pat of butter melt over them first if that's my mood, or leaving them plain if I'm going lo-cal.

If you know your way around a kitchen, you won't need an actual recipe for this, but in case you do, here you go:

Once you discover or rediscover this simple pleasure, you'll probably want to branch out. You can prepare the spears this way, skip the butter, pour a vinaigrette over them and serve them either warmish or room temp. You can also shock them in cold water, chill them, then dress in vinaigrette later. For the vinaigrette, I might go one of four ways: simple vinaigrette with a little Dijon mustard; the same boosted with a dab of anchovy paste; dressed in a simple vinaigrette then garnished with crushed pink peppers; or dressed in a shallot vinaigrette.

Last spring, I became obsessed with gribiche, which continues to show up on fashionable restaurant menus. Whether you make a classic version or a more modern one (like the new-wave one shown below), it's spectacular on poached asparagus. 

 

Of course there's an exception to the thorough cooking idea: Shaved raw asparagus can be wonderful in salads or as a garnish on fish or chicken dishes. But when you do choose to cook them, the lesson of thorough cooking holds for other methods besides poaching: stir-frying, roasting or grilling. (Lots of people steam asparagus, but it's not a method I love for this veg.) In any case, if you cook them past that hard, green-tasting crunchiness, they're so much nicer. 

Want more asparagus ideas? Here are a million, more or less. 

Isn't this the greatest season?!

 

 

 

A million delicious ways to put asparagus on your springtime table (including some new ones!)

Goodbye, Brussels sprouts. Hello, asparagus – springtime's A-list vegetable.

Of course fava beans, English peas and artichokes rock the season as well, but asparagus stands apart, as it's so abundant and easy to get along with. If asparagus were as expensive as it was once upon a time, we'd likely celebrate it as a luxury, up there with morels and ramps and fiddlehead ferns. But it's not – which is why it finds a starring role on my table several times a week when it's in season.

There are a million delicious things you can do with it, from steaming to roasting to grilling to braising, sautéeing or stir-frying – even shaving the stalks with a peeler and adding them raw to a salad.

Most traditional is steaming it – in one of those upright baskets. I've never owned one; instead I trim the ends, use a vegetable peeler to peel the stalks halfway up or more, lay them flat in a wide pan and simmer them in salted water. After draining the stalks well, you can dress them in butter and serve them warm or send them to the table with a fluffy, lemony hollandaise. Or dress them in vinaigrette (that's lovely served warm, at room temp or chilled). Or keep them naked, chill 'em and serve with mayo. 

Easiest is roasting asparagus. A turn in the oven gives it a completely different character, no less delicious. Just snap off the tough bottoms or trim them with a knife, lay them on a baking sheet with a teaspoon or so of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, roll the stalks around to coat them, and roast for 17 minutes (for stalks of medium thickness) at 400 degrees F.

Grilling is nearly as easy: Brush the stalks or roll them around in a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt, toss them on the grill or a hot grill pan and cook until they're just tender.

One mistake people (including home cooks and many a restaurant) often make: undercooking them. They shouldn't be crunchy; they need to be tender. How to know when they're done? Use tongs to lift them up by the middle of the stalk. When they're done, they'll droop a bit on either side. 

Roasted asparagus and radishes from Steven Satterfield's Root to Leaf cookbook

Last spring I fell in love with Steven Satterfield's recipe for roasted asparagus with green garlic and radishes, from his then-just-published cookbook Root to Leaf: A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons. I haven't been able to find green garlic where I live in North Texas, so used regular garlic, Satterfield's suggested substitution. Simple and fabulous, the dish instantly became a regular player in my spring repertoire. Best of all, it's so easy to put together you don't even really need the recipe: Just cut the asparagus into 1 1/2-inch lengths, cut the radishes into quarters and toss both in a bowl with a little olive oil, finely chopped garlic, salt and pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet, baking dish or roasting pan and roast in a 400 degree oven till they're just tender, about 15 minutes. Want more specifics? Here's the adapted recipe:

Last weekend I fell in love again: With a technique for braising asparagus in butter I gleaned from a recent story and recipe in the New York Times by David Tanis. 

Butter-braised asparagus with herbs

The technique is brilliant: Place asparagus spears flat in a pan with a good deal of butter and a little water, salt and pepper; cover the pan and cook till the asparagus is just tender. Remove the asparagus and reduce the cooking liquid to nice sauce. Tanis adds lemon zest, lemon juice and chopped herbs, then garnishes the dish with herb leaves. It was super, though I had to tweak the recipe a bit (mine needed more liquid and longer in the pan; I added more water and a little more butter. I'll add an adapted recipe here once have time to retest it (watch this space!). In any case, butter-braising gives the asparagus a rich and luxurious silkiness and this too will become a go-to treatment chez moi. I love the lemon and herb flavors with it, but it should be great without them, too.

Meanwhile, in case you're wondering about the photo that leads off this post, that's a salad of shaved raw asparagus, sautéed asparagus and black lentils from Michael Anthony's V is for Vegetables, which just won a James Beard Foundation Book Award in the category of Vegetable Focused and Vegetarian. Again, this recipe needed some adjustments (more acid in the dressing, for one thing), but it's pretty swell, so I'll tweak and provide an adaptation soon! (I was wowed last fall by Anthony's cooking at Untitled at the Whitney Museum in New York City, so was excited to cook from his book). 

Asparagus with new-wave gribiche

Are you still with me? I want you to have all these asparagus ideas and recipes in one place. Another great way to serve asparagus is with sauce gribiche, whether the new-wave version shown in the photo above, or a slightly more traditional one. Just simmer the stalks in salted water, roast or grill them (as explained earlier in this post), and dress with the gribiche of your choice. Here's the new-wave gribiche recipe:

And here's an adaptation of Judy Rodger's four-minute egg gribiche from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

Just one more direction, and it's a good one: Stir-fry asparagus Chinese-style. I wrote about this version adapted from Lucky Peach 101 Easy Asian Recipes in mid-February, when springtime was still a dream away.

I know you want the recipe. Here you go:

Now let's get cooking!