Asparagus is an edible shoot with herbaceous flavours. Originating in the middle- east, asparagus has been eaten for over 2000 years. It is a widely cultivated spring vegetable that is popular as an entrée and in side dishes. It also marries well into Asian cuisine.
There are three types of asparagus: green, white and purple asparagus.
- Green asparagus – Green asparagus turn green through the process of photosynthesis as the bud emerges from the dirt. It is a common misconception that thin long spears are younger and therefore better eating but it is the thicker, glossy, bright green spears that are best.
- White asparagus – White asparagus is the exact same variety as green asparagus but it is starved of sunlight during the growing process. This is labour intensive as the crop needs to be constantly shielded until harvest. This makes it more expensive and in limited supply.
- Purple asparagus – Purple asparagus is an entirely different variety to white and green and is high in antioxidants. It has lower fibre content and is less woody. The flavour is sweeter and fruity in comparison to green and white asparagus.
How to select and store asparagus
When selecting asparagus, you need to select firm bright spears that have closed, compact heads. When fresh asparagus is snapped it should be crisp and the interior should be moist.
To store, you should wrap asparagus in a moist wrap such as a clean wet tea towel or some moistened paper towel. After it is wrapped you place it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
An alternative method is to trim the bottoms of the stem and stand the asparagus upright in a glass that has a little water in the bottom of it. You cover this and place it in the refrigerator. Asparagus is best consumed close to the day it’s bought as it has limited storage life.
Best ways to cook asparagus
You can steam, roast, blanch, grill, boil, fry and pickle asparagus. Steaming and blanching are the best cooking methods to preserve the nutrients. Asparagus is also great served with buttery sauces as an entrée.
How to cook asparagus
- Wash under cold running water to remove any residual dirt.
- Trim the base. Usually you would need to remove approximately 1/3rd of the base. An easy way of doing this is to bend the base over until it finds its snapping point and discard the base.
- Some people choose to peel the base with a vegetable peeler but I only do this for old woody stalks.
- Drop asparagus in boiling water and return to boil and cook for two minutes.
- Drain water and serve.
- If using for salads, you would need to drop the spears into ice water at this stage to halt the cooking process.
It is important not to overcook asparagus. Remember that it will continue to cook after you have removed it from a heat source, so allow for this during cooking.