Last night we took full advantage of a farm stand and their fresh asparagus. It is far easier to choose, store and cook asparagus spears than you may realize. And the fresh spears are far better than the often mushy gunk that comes in a can.
Asparagus is commonly sold in a bunch held together with rubber bands: it should be heavy for the size; much like a good melon will be heavier than it looks. Don’t purchase a bunch that feels light, or shows obvious breakage in the stems. Look carefully at the bottom of the stems. You should see a gradation in color that starts with a mostly white bottom, through an oddly purple-green up to a full and vibrant green. The tips of the plant should be clean, dry and tightly closed. Open heads tell you the stalks have started to go to seed – and will be woody in texture. The ideal heads should look like this:
I try to have a mix of smaller and medium sized (about ½ inch diameter) stems. Much larger and they are better served as stir fry and cut on the diagonal. If I am not cooking it that day, I remove the rubber bands, and put the asparagus, tips up, in a jar with ½” of water and cover that loosely with a produce bag. It will stay fresh for 5 – 7 days stored like that.
To make Grilled or Broiled Asparagus spears you will need
5 – 7 spears per person, tipped
½ Tbsp olive oil
½ – ¾ tsp. of coarse kosher salt
Freshly ground Black pepper
½ tsp. fresh lemon juice, or ¼ sliced fresh lemon
First you need to “tip” the asparagus. To do this, you start at the bottom of the stalk and run your fingers up while gently bending the stalk. It will break with little effort about 1 – 2 inches from the cut end.
On a sheet of foil (if broiling) or a plate – line all of the asparagus up – and drizzle the olive oil over them. Make sure the spear is completely covered with oil. Then you will sprinkle the kosher salt over the spears, distributing it evenly. Then pepper to taste, but at least ½ tsp.
Your prepped spears will look like this:
Now is the simple part. If you are grilling, you want to lay the spears perpendicular to the grating, and grill for about 10 minutes (or until the fatter spears wilt when held up) on a medium hot grill, rotating the spears frequently.
If you are using a broiler – set the broiler to high, move the rack to the highest level in the oven. Place the foil and asparagus onto a sheet pan and place under the broiler for 5 minutes, remove from the heat, rotate, and return to broil for an additional 5 – 7 minutes.
Last night I put the asparagus into the oven at 350 for 20 minutes, the last 20 minutes that the chicken was baking. Simply fold up the foil into a packet, and place the packet directly onto the oven rack. 20 minutes is usually sufficient for all but the fattest spears.
Take the spears from the heat, and drizzle the lemon juice over all of them. This both brightens the taste, and removes the need for the heavier hollandaise sauces so common with asparagus spears.
Your finished spears should look something like this: