These delectable spears of spring, with their vivid color and delicate flavor, are good hot or cold, dressed up or down. Here’s what to look for when you’re buying fresh asparagus so your recipes turn out just they way you want them.
Pictured: Simply Steamed Asparagus
How to Buy Asparagus
1) Choose Pristine Buds
The tips have the best flavor, so make sure they are firm and unwilted. Do a sniff test, too. Asparagus that’s past its prime gets smelly fast.
- Asparagus begins to lose its sweetness as soon as it’s picked, so try to cook it as soon as possible after you buy it.
- Markets should refrigerate their asparagus or store it standing upright in cold water.
2) Try for Same-Size Stalks
Asparagus comes in several sizes, ranging in diameter from thinner than a drinking straw to fatter than your thumb. If you have to, undo several bundles so you can put together a pound or so of the stalks you want.
- Thin, tender spears can be sautéed, steamed, or rubbed lightly with olive oil and grilled.
- Fatter asparagus spears will need to be trimmed and either steamed or boiled in order to be tender.
- While some people prefer the smaller spears for their delicacy and tenderness, others like thick asparagus for its more robust flavor and meaty texture.
More: How to Cook Asparagus
3) Think Spring
Decent fresh asparagus shows up from Mexico soon after New Year’s. If you’re buying local, you won’t see it at the farmers’ market until spring. If you’re in Florida, that means February; further north, it’s closer to April. Buying in season also means much cheaper prices.
4) Prepping Asparagus Is A “Snap”
You want to remove and discard the woodsy ends of the stalks before cooking. You can just cut them off with a knife, but what’s more fun is to use your hands to snap the stalks in two. They naturally snap at about the point where the woodsy part begins. You can also use a vegetable peeler or paring knife to scrape away the tough bits. Some cooks also like to trim off the tiny leaves on the stems. But unless they’re very spiky, you can leave them on.
5) There is No Storage, There is Only Eating
Asparagus is a one-night-only type of vegetable—it doesn’t store well, and as leftovers it’s mushy and smelly. For the freshest flavor, try to buy and eat asparagus the same day.
- If you do plan to store it in your refrigerator for a few days after you get it home, treat it like a bouquet of flowers: trim a small amount from the bottoms of the stalks with a sharp knife and place them in a tall glass with a little water in the bottom. Cover the top loosely with a plastic bag, and store in the refrigerator. Change the water daily. This will help keep the stalks firm and crisp until you are ready to cook them.
Did You Know?
White asparagus is just green asparagus that hasn’t seen the light of day. To keep it from turning green, it’s grown in total darkness under mounds of dirt. Popular in Europe, white asparagus is tender and mild.