Spear Tips: 12 Ways to Cook Asparagus

A few weeks ago, I did a newsletter featuring (thank you for all the nice emails!). I hope it got people thinking about all the wonderful, non-parsnip-related possibilities of the next few months, but I realize that in a lot of places (including where I live), it doesn’t actually feel like spring until deep into April. But now it’s almost May, so I think I’m finally ready to really dive in.

For me, spring is all about the vegetables: green ones, tender, crisp, refreshing, versatile, and quick-cooking. This could describe any number of things, but I want to start with asparagus. Because I love it. Yes, you can get asparagus (and basically anything) all year round in our season-less supermarkets, but in spring, even grocery store asparagus might come from a local source; if it’s good and fresh, the stalks will snap when you apply pressure, instead of just bending. Spring asparagus doesn’t need much to taste good (olive oil, lemon, and salt will do the trick), but it does need something; plus, if you keep flavoring it the same way over and over again, you’ll be bored by May. So here’s asparagus, 12 different ways.

How it works: The “recipe” (or 12) below includes four cooking methods (steamed, roasted, stir-fried, and grilled), each with a main recipe and two variations. For the grilled ones, you can always use the broiler instead. All the recipes assume you’re using 1 ½ to 2 pound of asparagus, which will feed four, but adjust up or down as necessary. As you know, asparagus comes in different colors, including white, which I think is kind of overrated. The bigger choice you’ll have to make is thick or thin. Either will work here; it’s really just a matter of preference. The thin ones cook almost instantly and you don’t have to peel them; the thick ones are sturdier and have an incredible snap, and are better if you take the time to peel them (but honestly, I don’t always). Whichever you use, you’ll want to cut the bottoms off; I snap one by hand to see where the natural break is, then chop the rest of the ends off with a knife in one fell swoop.

I prefer crisp-tender asparagus to soft, but either way, it’s done when you can pierce the thickest part of a spear with a sharp knife without much resistance. This might take less than five minutes for very slender asparagus, twice that for thick ones.

Poke around the recipes and see what jumps out; there are options for everyone (with bacon, with brown butter, with scallops, with pesto, and plenty more). Spring is really here, and I'm gonna start eating like it.

— Mark

I love asparagus: the snap, the crunch, how it feels delicate and hearty at the same time, and the way it takes on all sorts of other flavors and ingredients. These recipes span four of the best cooking methods for asparagus (steaming, roasting, stir-frying, and grilling). While there are "only" 12 dishes here, even just reading through the list may well give you 20 more ideas.


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