Fresh green asparagus, available year round for many, is freshest and most plentiful in the spring months.
Where to Find
The spears can be found in most supermarkets, farmers markets and specialty produce stores. The spears are usually bound together by large rubber bands, one at the base of the spears and one near the tips. Each bundle usually weighs about a pound and contains 12 to 18 spears of similar size width. Many vendors will stand the bundles on end in a tray of water to keep them fresh.
For best results, use asparagus within a day or two at most from the date of purchase. Choose spears that are bright green and very firm. Pay careful attention to the tips. They should be tight and stiff. Wider spears are a little meatier and are preferred by many over thinner spears, but it is a matter of personal preference.
You may want to take into consideration the recipe you will be preparing when making your selection. A salad or stir-fry may be better suited for thinner spears, while a sauté or oven roasting may produce better results with thicker spears.
While asparagus is available in white, purple and green varieties, most supermarkets only offer the green variety for purchase.
There are several methods for storing asparagus:
• It can be stored loosely in a plastic or paper bag in the crisper section of your refrigerator.
• The spears can be placed in a tall drinking glass or vase with a small amount of water in the bottom. Optionally, you can place a plastic bag over the spears to keep in moisture.
• Cut the woody ends off the base of the spears, bundle the spears and wrap the cut ends in a damp paper towel. Most spears are packaged with a rubber band. The band makes an ideal way to secure the paper towel.
Rinse asparagus spears in cold water to remove any loose dirt or sand caught in the tips. Give the spears a good shake and place in paper towels to absorb loose moisture. Snap or trim off the woody ends of each spear. Asparagus does not require peeling; however peeling thick spears may be desirable.
Asparagus is versatile and can be prepared in many ways. Several popular methods include:
– Rinse and dry asparagus spears. Brush liberally with olive or vegetable oil. Preheat gas or charcoal grill to medium heat. Place spears on grill grate over direct heat and grill 3 to 4 minutes per side, turning once. Alternately, spears can be placed on foil and grilled until crisp-tender, approximately 7 to 8 minutes.
– Preheat oven to 450 F. Arrange spears in a single layer on the bottom of a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss in oil to coat spears.
– Add enough water to saucepan to reach ½ to ¾ inch water level. Bring to a gentle boil. Arrange whole or cut spears in steamer basket and place over boiling water. Cover the saucepan and reduce heat to medium low. Steam asparagus for 3 to 4 minutes or until crisp-tender.
– Heat skillet over medium high heat. Add olive oil or butter to skillet. Add whole or cut spears to hot oil or melted butter and sauté, stirring occasionally until asparagus is crisp-tender, approximately 5 minutes.
– Asparagus can be consumed raw. Peeling long, thin, delicate strips of asparagus is a popular technique for preparing asparagus for use in salads.