Early Spring Asparagus
Now that it is officially spring, we can look forward to young spring asparagus. These odd looking green spears push through the thawed ground just in time to dissolve away the winter blues. The early spring asparagus spears are tender and often thin, needing little in the way of preparation and adornment. I found the simpler the better for these young spears. If you grow your own asparagus, then you know how sweet and fresh the first spears taste. My friend grows asparagus and eats the first spring spears raw because they are that delicious and tender.
I am not as fortunate as my friend, so I rely on the store and farmer’s market for my spring asparagus. From the farmers market they are slightly older than just picked, however at the grocery they are much older. When buying asparagus look for spears with tight tips and smooth skin. As they get older, the tips open and look like they are about to sprout. If you have the room, stand the asparagus spears, loosely packed and upright standing in a container with a shallow layer of water. If not, untie the bundle and let them rest loose in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator.
How to Prepare Spring Asparagus
The best preparation is to cut off the woody end about 2 inches (5 cm) from the bottom. Though, how much actually depends on how old the asparagus was when harvested. I used to bend the asparagus in half and let the spears break where the woody core ended, and the fresh stalk began. Often, I felt there was a lot of waste using the bend and break technique, so I started cutting them and gauging for myself. If the asparagus spears are older, you may need to trim off a longer piece. You can feel with your fingertips where the tender part and the woody part meet.
As the season progresses, and with fatter asparagus spears, the stalks become fibrous making the outer skin stringy and hard to bite. I peel a thin layer, using a vegetable peeler, off the skin from the bottom to about an inch or two below the tip. You can peel the asparagus if you want a fancy dressed-up presentation as well. Early in the season, and with thin asparagus spears, you won’t need to peel the spears, only if you want to. Check out my recipe for Asparagus with Orange Mayonnaise how to peel asparagus spears. You can also use the orange mayonnaise with this recipe as well.
Click on this link for nutritional benefits of asparagus.
How to Cook Asparagus
This stove top grilling method produces asparagus the whole family will enjoy. It never ceases to amaze me how this cooking technique turned our sons’ heads and hearts and they began eating their asparagus. Needless to say, we started cooking asparagus using our grill pan all the time after that. No complaints, no “Eat your vegetables,” conversations at the dinner table. Life was good. Before the grill pan method, I would quickly blanch asparagus, then season with butter or olive oil. It produces great asparagus, but it wasn’t everyone’s favorite.
To make stove top grilled asparagus, all you need is a grill pan or skillet, some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or sherry vinegar, Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. My grill pan does not accommodate a full pound (466 g) of asparagus, so I cooked them in two batches. A larger 12-inch (30 cm) skillet might hold a pound (466 g). As the asparagus cooks in the pan, the heat gently chars the asparagus in spots creating extra flavor. You do not get the smokiness of the outdoor grill, but there is just enough sear for extra oomph.
More asparagus recipes
Early Spring Asparagus
Early spring asparagus is tender and sweet and does not need a lot of extra adornment for the flavor to shine. This is a simple preparation using a grill pan or skillet and nothing more than olive oil, salt and pepper, with or without balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs.
Herbs like basil, tarragon, thyme, chives or arugula flowers taste delicious with asparagus. Fresh lemon or orange zest. You can also garnish with chopped walnuts and/or a diced hard-boiled egg.
- 1 lb (466 g) fresh asparagus
- 1 TB extra virgin olive oil
- pinch of Kosher Salt less than half teaspoon
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tsp balsamic vinegar optional
Place a grill pan or heavy-duty skillet on the stove set to medium-high heat. Let the pan heat up. Place you hand about 6 inches (15 cm) above the pan. If the heat is starting to feel hot and uncomfortable then your pan is ready, about 4 minutes. It should not be smoking hot.
While waiting for the pan to heat up, Using a sharp knife, trim off the woody end of the spear, about 2 inches (5 cm). Place the spears in a bowl.
Drizzle the spears with extra virgin olive oil, and add pinch of kosher salt and black pepper. Toss to evenly coat.
Arrange the spears in one row across the grill pan or skillet. You won't fit the whole pound (466 g), but add as much as you can fit in a single layer. Allow the spears to cook undisturbed for a few minutes, then turn them over on the other side. Cook undisturbed for a couple of minutes more and turn again. Keep cooking and turning until the asparagus spears are just tender when pierced with a fork but still has some bite.
Turn off the heat and sprinkle some balsamic vinegar or sherry vinegar over the asparagus spears and turn over a few times to coat.
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