Spring is here, and very shortly we’ll see the start of the short British asparagus season in the UK. Of course, asparagus is commonplace these days at the supermarket, but it is always worth hunting out those fresh green spears from a local food market or even fresh from the field.
Once they’re in-hand, however, the question then turns to how to eat or cook them. Here is everything you will ever need to know about how to cook asparagus.
When cooking asparagus, you can tie them into little bundles, which makes them easier to remove. Drop these bundles or individual spears into some boiling water, cover and cook for three to five minutes, depending on the thickness of the spears. Take them out, drain and plunge into some ice-cold water, or serve straight away.
To steam, place the spears in a steaming basket with a little water underneath. Cover and cook for three minutes.
Asparagus loves to be griddled in a pan – simply drizzle with a little olive oil and turn occasionally or try Jamie’s recipe for griddled asparagus with olive oil, lemon and Parmesan.
If you’ve got a barbecue going, lightly coat the spears in oil and cook on a medium heat, turning often so that the spears do not burn.
Asparagus develops a lovely, rich flavour when roasted and this is probably my favourite method of cooking it. Simply pre-heat the oven to 220°C, gas mark 7, line a tray with foil or baking paper, lay the asparagus spears onto the tray, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. I also like to add a couple of fresh cloves of garlic and a little freshly grated of lemon zest. Roast for ten minutes. You can use your roasted asparagus to stir through a risotto, or a creamy pasta dish.
If you’re serving the roasted asparagus on its own, you can stay simple but go big on flavour with Jamie’s pancetta, anchovy and cherry tomato version.
Asparagus is often used in Asian cooking, either in salads or in stir-fries. It needs only a minute or so in a hot wok, so always remember to add it in towards the end of cooking the rest of your dish. A splash of soy and a sprinkle of sesame seeds work well.
You can, in fact, eat asparagus raw. One of my favourite raw asparagus recipes is Miss Foodwise’s Asparagus ribbons and pomegranate pearls salad.
Raw asparagus is also great with feta cheese and radish. I occasionally add a spear or two to a fresh green smoothie, too.
The best accompaniments for asparagus are olive oil or a little butter – in both cases, season with a little sea salt and fresh black pepper, too. As mentioned, freshly-shaved Parmesan or crumbled feta cheese are great partners, as are little goat’s cheese, or strong cheddars. My British asparagus Westcombe cheddar tart makes for the perfect centrepiece for a spring picnic or lunch. I also make a simple Polish recipe at home called Asparagus á la Polonaise by cooking the asparagus in water seasoned with sugar and salt and then topping it with butter, slightly browned in a pan mixed with fresh breadcrumbs.
Asparagus and eggs are a timeless spring combination too. Try dipping fresh spears into a softly boiled egg, or make asparagus soup and top it with a poached egg and a drizzle of olive oil.
It would be a crime not to mention hollandaise – a classic French sauce made of melted butter, fresh egg yolks, lemon juice and a little mustard or a pinch of cayenne – the pairing of which with asparagus is simply heavenly. Follow Izi’s step-by-step guide to making hollandaise sauce here or try my blender hollandaise version for a speedy alternative.
Notes on asparagus
Thin spears of asparagus tend to be younger and fresher in flavour, whilst thicker spears will have been left to grow for longer and have a more pronounced flavour.
Try and use your asparagus as soon as possible, but if you don’t use it straight away, a good tip is to store it standing up in a jug of water in the fridge.