Asparagus is a seasonal delicacy that many people enjoy, but if you have never cooked it before it can be a bit confusing figuring out where to start!
These long green stems taste great when prepared in a variety of ways, but we need to know which bits to use to get the most out of them.
So, what part of asparagus do you eat? The tip of the asparagus stalk is the most tender part and is considered to be a delicacy. The stem nearest the tip is also good to eat, but the lower part of the stem can be woody and unappetizing.
Wondering what to do with that bunch of asparagus that you bought on a whim? Let’s take a look at the best way to prepare and cook this delicious and versatile vegetable!
What Is Asparagus?
When it comes to vegetables, asparagus is one of the weirdest ones that we eat. These long green stems look almost prehistoric, and they are unlike anything else in the grocery store. So what exactly is this odd-looking green vegetable?
The asparagus that we buy in the store is actually the growing stem of a complicated underground root system called a crown.
This crown sends up many green shoots in spring, which are harvested when they are around 6 inches long. Each plant will send up many shoots over its growing system, giving us harvests of asparagus spears for several weeks.
This might sound like an easy vegetable to grow, but asparagus farming is a long-term operation! It will take 4 years for a crown to be mature enough to start harvesting the stems.
This is why asparagus is quite expensive, as it occupies a large area of ground for a long time without producing any harvests.
But as anyone who has grown asparagus will tell you, it is worth the wait!
Luckily many asparagus farmers are doing this work for us, so all we need to do is pop to the store at the right time of year and there will be fresh bunches of asparagus waiting for us to purchase.
If you’re interested in more information on how asparagus is grown and cultivated, here’s a super informative video on the subject!
What Does Asparagus Taste Like?
Asparagus spears are a bit of a “love it or hate it” type of food. Fans of asparagus rave about the intense flavor, while asparagus-haters will tell you that it does not taste nice at all.
These green stems have a very unusual flavor, quite unlike any other type of vegetable! Some people say that it tastes slightly grassy.
The best way to describe it is a cross between broccoli and mushrooms, but that makes it sound far worse than it really is.
Another vegetable that tastes similar to asparagus is green beans, although asparagus is stronger in flavor.
The great thing about asparagus is that it melds well with other ingredients, and there is nothing more delicious than freshly steamed asparagus dripping in melted butter and a squeeze of lemon juice.
What Are The Different Types Of Asparagus?
Did you know that asparagus isn’t just green?
You can also get purple and white asparagus too!
Although the green variety is the most commonly available type of asparagus, in the spring you may also see fresh white and purple asparagus too.
White asparagus is the type most commonly used for canning.
White asparagus is the same type as green asparagus but is grown in dark conditions to prevent the stalks from turning green.
It is considered to be a delicacy, with a milder flavor than green asparagus.
However, the stalks of white asparagus can be quite woody, and require extra preparation and a different cooking technique.
Purple asparagus is a variety of green asparagus that has been selectively grown to enhance the purple color.
It contains more sugar than its green counterpart and is slightly sweeter and nuttier in flavor.
Unfortunately, the purple color turns to green when it is cooked, but it can be shredded and eaten raw in salads to preserve the color.
What Part Of Asparagus Do You Eat?
So, let’s take a look at that bunch of fresh asparagus spears you bought from the store—which parts do you eat?
In theory, the whole of the stem is edible, so you would not come to any harm if you ate the whole thing. However, some parts are more tender and flavorsome than others, so some selective preparation is required.
You will notice that each stem has a delicate bunch of buds at the top. This is the tastiest and most tender part of the asparagus.
Gourmet restaurants sometimes serve just these tips as a delicacy, but in our opinion, that is a waste of the rest of the stem.
As you look down the stem, you will see that it gradually gets wider. The thinner part at the top is the newer growth and is the most tender section of the stem. Further down the stem the growth is older and tends to be tough and woody.
These thicker sections also take longer to cook, and it can be tricky to get them tender enough to eat without overcooking the top section of the asparagus spear.
It is better to remove the woody lower section of the stem and only cook the tender section of the stalk along with the bud.
What Part Of Asparagus Do You Cut Off?
Does this mean you need to get your knives out and start chopping at your asparagus? No, not at all! Luckily there is a clever trick to preparing asparagus that means we can quickly and easily remove the woody part of the stem.
Take one asparagus spear and grasp it firmly at the bottom of the stem with one hand. Take hold of the other end of the stem with the other hand, just below the delicate bud.
Now, bend it! Twist the stem right round, until it snaps into two pieces. The point at which it snaps is where the woody part of the stem ends. The lower, thicker section should be discarded, and the top part can be prepared to eat.
So, no cutting is required at all, just a quick snap to remove the tougher section! You might want to quickly trim the snapped end of the section you are going to eat to make it look a bit neater, but this is not essential.
How To Prepare Asparagus To Eat
Once you have snapped the woody stem from your asparagus, you can then prepare it ready to eat.
The first thing to do is wash it, to remove any dirt and chemical residues. Give it a quick rinse under running water, or swish it in a basin full of cold water.
Remove the asparagus from the water and shake off any excess drops. Don’t worry if it is not completely dry, as this extra moisture can be beneficial during the cooking process.
What you do next depends on how you are planning on eating your asparagus. Asparagus can be eaten raw and tastes great in a dressed salad.
All three colors of asparagus can be eaten raw, but the white variety should be peeled first as the skin can be quite tough.
The uppermost parts of the asparagus stem and the top bud are the tenderest parts to eat raw. They should be thinly sliced to make them easy to chew.
The easiest way to do this is to slice each stalk on a long diagonal line, creating long, thin slices of asparagus. The top bud can be neatly sliced in half longways.
How To Cook Asparagus
If you are cooking your asparagus spears, once the woody bottoms section has been snapped off and discarded it is ready to cook. The only exception is if you have white asparagus, which should be peeled before you cook it.
The great thing about asparagus is that it is a versatile vegetable, that can stand up to a variety of cooking methods.
Each method enhances different flavors in this delightful green stalk, so asparagus fans will never get bored of their favorite vegetable!
Here are some of the best ways to cook asparagus:
A freshly steamed stem of tender asparagus is an absolute delight, and one of the best ways to preserve the flavor and texture of this vegetable. Asparagus spears will cook in 2-4 minutes in a steamer basket.
Boiling asparagus is a quick and easy way to prepare this vegetable. Simply bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, then drop in your asparagus spears.
They will take between 1-3 minutes to cook, depending on how thick the spears are.
Once the spears are cooked, drain them in a colander (this colander’s our favorite). If you are not using them straight away, blanch them in ice-cold water.
Also, if your pan is not big enough for the spears to lay horizontally, put the base of the stems in the water and put a tight-fitting lid on the pan. The uppermost part will steam as the lower section cooks in the boiling water.
This technique allows the asparagus to steam in its own juices, whilst also creating a delicious lightly-browned caramelized exterior.
When sautéing asparagus it is a good idea to cut the stems into shorter pieces, around 2 inches long.
Drop the asparagus pieces into a large pan containing melted butter or oil. Sauté them over high heat for around two minutes, tossing the contents regularly.
Toss your asparagus spears in oil or melted butter, and lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet.
Season well and roast them in the oven at 400°F for 10-12 minutes. The spears should be gently browned and slightly crispy.
Cooking asparagus on the grill or griddle is one of the best ways to make the most of this delicious vegetable.
Griddling creates dark caramelized lines along the green spears, which look stunning when added to a salad or used to top off a quiche or frittata.
This technique is great for white asparagus, as the firmer texture holds up well to the heat of the grill.
To griddle asparagus, coat the spears in oil or melted butter. Lay them gently on a hot grill or griddle pan, placing each spear lengthways across the ridges of the grill.
Cook the spears for 3-4 minutes, then turn them over and repeat on the other side. You are aiming for lightly charred lines along the outside of the spears, which will be tender and packed full of flavor on the inside.
How To Tell If Asparagus Is Cooked
Overcooked asparagus is not a pleasant gastronomic expertise, as it becomes mushy and loses its lovely crunchy texture. Asparagus does not take long to cook, so it does need watching carefully to make sure it is cooked to perfection!
Keep an eye on the color of your asparagus while it is cooking—it should turn from bright green to dull olive green. The paler it becomes, the more cooked it is. If you get grey asparagus then you’ve definitely overdone it!
The best way to tell if asparagus is cooked is to pierce it with a fork. The fork should penetrate the spear easily, without too much pressure required. If the flesh of the asparagus falls apart with the pressure of a fork then it is overcooked.
Now that we’ve gone over which part of asparagus is being eaten, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!
What is the best way to store asparagus?
Many people will tell you that asparagus should be eaten when it is as fresh as possible, to get the most benefit from its incredible nutritious properties.
Whilst this is true, not all of us live next door to an asparagus farm, and we may need to store asparagus for a little while before we eat it!
The good news is that asparagus can be kept in prime condition for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
To do this, you treat the asparagus stalks in the same way as you would cut flowers. Trim the end off each stalk, and stand them in a jar or container with around an inch of water in the bottom.
Loosely cover the tips of the asparagus with a plastic bag, and stand the jar upright in the fridge. If the water becomes cloudy, change it out with fresh water.
Then all you need to do is take out enough stalks for dinner, and leave the rest in the jar for another day!
Can you freeze asparagus?
The growing season of asparagus is quite short, and this delicious vegetable is normally only available during the spring. It makes sense that we might want to freeze asparagus, so we have a supply all year round.
Like most vegetables, asparagus can be frozen, but the high water content means that the texture of the asparagus will be changed during the process.
Blanching the asparagus can help to keep it in the best possible condition in the freezer. The stalks of asparagus stand up better when frozen, and the delicate tips can become quite mushy.
Alternatively, you can roast or griddle the asparagus before freezing. When prepared in this way it is perfect for adding to dishes such as quiches and omelets.
What is the best way to tell if asparagus is bad?
If your asparagus has started to fade in color, it is beginning to deteriorate. At this point, it is still OK to eat but should be consumed or frozen quickly before it turns bad.
The tips of the asparagus are the first part to go bad, and they may turn black and limp.
The spears of asparagus will also become softer over time. If you see any slimy residue, mold, or black spots on the stems, they should be discarded.
Fresh asparagus does not smell of anything much, so if you detect an odd odor, it has most likely started to go bad.
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