Saturday, May 23, 2015

Vegetable Techniques - Asparagus

I LOVE asparagus!  And most people do. Except the kids at the house I cook for. They all did the asparagus pee test and the kids totally could smell the difference the next morning after I made asparagus for them. They have now decided to NEVER eat asparagus again. Well, more for me and their parents then.

If you purchase asparagus and are not using it right away, the best way to store it is trim the ends off, and sit cut side down in a bowl of water. This can sit in the refrigerator for up to a week and will stay fresher than sitting in the vegetable drawer.
The most common way I see asparagus cooked is left whole in spears and roasted or grilled. I think this is great, as long as you dont cook them too long. There should be a little crunch left. The way I make it most often is to trim the ends, cut it on the bias (diagonal), and then do a quick saute.  Thinner works better for this preparation, thicker spears are better for grilling or roasting.

The other way I have been making asparagus lately is to do a quick blanch so that I can use them as a snack, dipped in my favorite salad dressing. This makes for a quick snack when I first come home from work ravenous and will tide me over until dinner.

First the saute...

Ingredients:
1 bunch asparagus,
olive oil
salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
saute pan

Procedure:
Trim the bottom, woody ends off the asparagus, about 3 inches, and discard. Slice on a bias, or diagonal, cutting each spear into about 4 pieces as shown below. Take your time. Slice one spear at a time if you need to until it feels easy, getting a nice diagonal cut.
Heat a saute pan over medium high heat, and when hot, add a little olive oil, about 1 tablespoon.
Add the asparagus to the hot pan and toss to coat with the oil. Stirring frequently for about 2 minutes.
Add some minced garlic and sprinkle with some salt, while continuing to stir frequently, until vegetables are done to your liking.
I sprinkle with salt as I cook the vegetables, taste a piece, see if I like it, add a little more salt if needed. Go with how you usually season your vegetables, or if you are not sure, I ended up somewhere between 1/4 tsp and 1/2 tsp.

Mine were perfect at 4 1/2 minutes in the pan. You can stick one with a fork to see how tender they are or my favorite method is just to eat a piece since that is the real test of whether it is done or not. Yours could take a little longer depending on how thick the spears are and how big you cut your pieces. Just stir and continue sauteing until you are happy with how they taste.

Serve!

And now for the blanching....

Ingredients:
1 bunch asparagus - medium size is best, dont use super thin spears
1 pot of boiling water
colander
bowl of water and ice (optional)

Procedure:
Trim the bottom, woody ends off the asparagus, about 3 inches, and discard.
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, or whatever size pot you have that will best fit the size of the vegetables.
Add the asparagus and leave in the water for about 20 to 30 seconds. Again, this depends on how thick your vegetable is. So, since this is a pretty quick step, stay close with a fork and test a spear at about the 20 to 30 mark to see how they are doing. If the fork goes through semi easily, time to drain.
One way to quickly cool down blanched vegetables is to submerge in an ice bath or "shock" them. This is done by filling a bowl slightly larger than your vegetables with water and some ice cubes. You dont want the vegetables to overcook, and this helps to cool them down very quickly. Set up the ice bath beforehand and have it sitting on the counter by the pot.  As soon as your asparagus are done, pull them out with tongs and place into the ice water.
The asparagus only needs to stay in the ice bath for a minute or so. Then take them out and place on a paper towl to absorb any excess moisture. This can now store in a container in the fridge for about a week. Serve with your favorite sauce or salad dressing.  My favorite is this Sesame Ginger Dressing from Whole Foods.
You can skip the ice bath step as well, which I often do. I sometimes just pour the pot into a colander and rinse the vegetables under cold water to help stop the cooking process. This wont cool the vegetables as fast, which means your asparagus will continue to get softer. Just be aware that you might want to drain them after being in the water for about 20 seconds.

I hope you try these out. If you do, let me know how it came out!

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