Cooking School — Asparagus
Typically, modern supermarkets carry asparagus almost year round. Coming in from Peru, Mexico, California and who knows where else, it’s hard to remember that this lovely spear is homegrown from April to July. I encourage you to look for local asparagus, so you can enjoy it at its peak of freshness. You’ve probably noticed white asparagus sold alongside the green. The only difference is that the white ones are grown completely covered in soil. Without exposure to the sun, the process of photosynthesis can’t trigger chlorophyll to turn the spears green.
Size Matters … Not
Asparagus spears can come as thin as a 1/4 inch in diameter and as thick as an inch in diameter. Size is no indication of tenderness. You should, however, choose spears that are more or less the same size so that they will all cook at the same rate. Some people prefer to peel the outer skin, but it’s really not necessary. There are a lot of nutrients stored there that would be better consumed than composted.
Look for tips that are tightly closed and green. Once you get them home, try to make a point of cooking the asparagus as soon as possible. The spears deteriorate quickly, and will lose most of their nutrients with two or three days of storage.
If you’re an asparagus-hater because you’ve only ever had it boiled in water within an inch of its life, try something a little different. My favourite way of preparing asparagus is to thread about 8 or 10 onto a skewer and grill them over charcoal. (The skewer keeps the asparagus from falling through the grill.) They’re done in about 5 minutes when they’re limp and very slightly charred. I dress them with a little extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Or, sauté them in a little butter and wine. The rule to remember is to cook them minimally.
Asparagus has a distinctive grassy, spinach-like taste that can be difficult to match with wine. But, there are some options that work particularly well, for instance, Chardonnay or Gewürztraminer can be particularly good pairing solutions.