Kitchen Tip—Asparagus

You know spring is right around the corner once your grocer’s produce aisle is filled with fresh asparagus. Asparagus is readily available from March–June every year. Since this is the time of year that asparagus is at its peak I thought I would give you some tips on how to select it, as well as some cooking methods to try. Next time you head down to your local market be sure to pick up some of this delicious vegetable.

Where does asparagus come from?
According to the California Asparagus Commission, California produces close to 70% of the United State’s asparagus supply. Together Washington and Michigan grow approximately 30% while small quantities are also grown in a few other states. Asparagus grows very quickly. On a warm California day, asparagus can grow as much as 7” in a day.

How to select good asparagus:
When picking out asparagus, look for long, blemish-free, bright green spears with closed, compact tips, and no flowering. Try to find bunches with similar sized spears. Spears of a similar size will cook at a more even rate. Select a size, which best suits your cooking method. Thicker spears are perfect for throwing on the barbie or roasting in the oven. Thinner spears are great when added to stir fry or an omelet. Tenderness relates to color, not size as one might think. You may find that thicker stalks can be woody, so peel the skin at the base to remove the outer layer.

How to store asparagus:
Keep fresh asparagus cool and moist until you intend to use it. Asparagus may be stored for a longer period of time by placing the bundled stalk upright in a dish with enough water to keep the stalks moist (about an inch). You can also wrap the cut ends in a wet paper towel, then cover the paper towel with plastic wrap and refrigerate. If the tips are slightly wilted, freshen them up by soaking them in ice water for 15 minutes before preparing.

Cooking Methods:
There are several ways to prepare asparagus steam, grill, sauté, you name it! You can even pickle asparagus and store it for several years. My favorite way to eat asparagus is to marinate it in Italian dressing and grilling it. Here are a few other recommended cooking methods

Note: Cooking times may vary. Thinner spears require less cooking time while thicker spears may take a little longer.

  • To boil, place whole trimmed asparagus in a large skillet with 1 1/2 inches of water. Bring to boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 3–5 minutes.
  • To steam, place asparagus on a steamer rack in a large saucepan over rapidly boiling water. Cover saucepan and steam for 6–8 minutes.
  • To microwave, arrange asparagus in a microwave safe dish. Cover dish with plastic wrap, turning back one corner to vent steam. Microwave on high for 3–6 minutes. Let stand 3–5 minutes.
  • To stir-fry, cut asparagus spears in to 2 inch diagonal slices, keeping tips whole. In a large skillet, heat 1 to 2 tbsp of vegetable oil. Add asparagus pieces and stir-fry for 5–7 minutes.
  • To grill, marinade extra large asparagus in Italian dressing for at least 30 minutes. Place directly on the grill turning several times and grill until brown and tender, about 8–10 minutes. I then like to toss the asparagus in the Italian dressing before serving to soak up some extra flavor.
  • To roast, toss extra large asparagus spears with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic. Preheat oven to 375º. Arrange on cooking sheet and place in pre-heated oven for 6–8 minutes.

Nutritional Info:
Asparagus is low in calories and sodium. It’s a great source of vitamins B6, A, C, E, and K, as well as calcium, magnesium and zinc, dietary fiber, protein, folic acid, iron, potassium, and much more.

What’s your favorite way to eat asparagus?

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8 responses

    • Well there is much debate on exactly why asparagus gives urine an unusual smell. Scientists are not entirely sure which sets of chemical compounds contained in the vegetable actually cause the odoriferous urine. Since the vegetable itself does not contain the odor we know that whatever happens is during digestion. One theory is that asparagus contains a sulfur compound called mercaptan, which is also found in onion, garlic, rotten eggs, and skunks. After eating asparagus the smell occurs when the substance is broken down and the kidneys excrete it as waste in the urine. Others believe that chemical compounds called thioesters create the smell. If this chemical compound is broken down and mixed with genetically created enzymes the result could be stinky urine. There are a few other theories I found floating around out there. I vote for the mercapatan theory, as it seems to be the most prevalent.

      What scientists do agree on is that the ability to create the unusual odor as well as smell the odor is in fact related to autosomal genes. In one study only 50 percent of the people that ate asparagus developed the distinctive odor and only 22 percent of people could smell the sulphurous scent. People with a certain gene have the enzyme needed to break down the components of the asparagus creating the unusual smell, and others lack this enzyme, which is why not everyone’s urine smells after eating asparagus. Others with a totally different gene can smell the results of that broken down chemical. Therefore the ability to produce and it and to smell it are both genetic. That is, those who produce it can’t always smell it, and those who can smell it don’t necessarily produce it.

      I hope this answers your question.

  1. Thanks Jason (and Becca) I was wondering about the pee thing too! Similar to the italian dressing marinade, I like to grill asparagus marinated in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. You can also always wrap those bad boys in BACON. Yummmmmm!

  2. Pingback: Recipe—Asparagus Gruyére Tart | Diva di Cucina

  3. Pingback: Recipe—Asparagus and Feta Salad | Diva di Cucina

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