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Preparing Asparagus

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preparing asparagus

Preparing Asparagus

Preparing asparagus is a lot easier than you might expect.  Buying, cleaning and actually cooking asparagus are all parts of actually preparing asparagus.

 preparing asparagus

What is Asparagus? preparing asparagus

It’s important to understand what asparagus is before jumping into preparing asparagus.  Asparagus is essentially a flower or a fern (which is why they are stored in water in stores). It takes about 3 years to grow and be harvested, but is actually best when its harvested between 6-8 years.  Don’t get confused though, the asparagus that you buy at the store is not 3 years old.  The plant or the base it is harvested from is, but the asparagus crowns (we most often refer to them as the asparagus spears) are generally only a few weeks old.  The young thin spears are generally tender and ready to cook/eat, while the thicker tougher spears are older and require some more preparation. preparing asparagus

 preparing asparagus

Is Asparagus good for you? preparing asparagus

Nutritionally, asparagus contains only about 4 calories per spear and contains lots of nutrients like Vitamin C (like most vegetables), Fiber and Potassium. . . So yes, it is healthy for you.

 preparing asparagus

Buying Asparagus preparing asparagus

When buying asparagus, look for a bright green color, firm stems and most importantly nice tight heads that aren’t slimy or falling apart. preparing asparagus

Asparagus tops

How do you prepare Asparagus?

Preparing asparagus is fairly easy.  Simply cut the stems off (the stems are usually tough and “woody”) and discard them.  There are alot of differing opinions on how far up to cut asparagus.  Some people will say to bend the asparagus until it breaks and then cut it at that spot.  I personally have found that bending method tends to waste a fair amount of the spears.  So I suggest that when preparing asparagus if you cut just above the the bottom rubber band (if they are in a bunch) or cutting off about the bottom 25-33% that is ideal.

preparing asparagus

Asparagus bunchCutting AsparagusAsparagus Cut

Cooking Asparagus preparing asparagus

There are many ways to cook asparagus.  It can be steamed, roasted in the oven, sauteed in a stir-fry, tempura-dipped and deep fried, etc.  Probably the common way is to steam it.  Simply add a cup or two of salted water (for flavor) to a pot or a pan and add the asparagus (about one whole bunch-which will probably feed at lest 3 or 4 people).  Add a lid and turn the heat to high.  preparing asparagus

Steaming Asparagus

At this point I wait to see a fair amount of steam coming from under the lid and I then turn off the heat (usually takes 2 minutes or so).  If I’m going to use the asparagus for a salad or vegetable tray, I run the asparagus under cold water to “shock it” and stop it from cooking anymore.  If I’m going to serve it hot, I will take it out of the pan and put it on a serving tray and top it with some butter, salt and pepper. preparing asparagus

The challenge with cooking vegetables like asparagus this way is the vegetables loose minerals and flavor compounds into the water while they cook.  Then what do we do with the water that now has alot of those flavors and molecules leached into them?  Almost always it gets poured down the drain . . .preparing asparagus

Another way to cook the asparagus so that this doesn’t happen is to cook it in melted butter, olive oil or another kind of fat instead of water.  This way the flavor molecules and nutrients don’t leach out into the liquid, but instead stay intact in the asparagus. . . plus, it lets you skip a step of adding fat to it after it cooks. preparing asparaguspreparing asparagus

How do you serve it? preparing asparagus

Asparagus is great accompaniment on vegetable trays, wrapped in ham as an appetizer, served as a side with dishes like a classic eggs benedict or as a component of the classic “Oscar-type” dish.

sEggs Benedict Classic with Asparagus


Does eating Asparagus really give your urine a smell? preparing asparagus

The short answer is yes.  The real answer is, it depends.  The following is taken from “Kitchen Chemistry” done by The Royal Society of Chemistry and Chef Heston  Blummenthal.  preparing asparagus

Between 30-50% of us notice this smell. “It seems probable that sulfur-containing amino acids such as methionine are broken down in the body to other sulfur-based compounds. These, like many sulfur-containing compounds, have an unpleasant smell. preparing asparagus

The reason that not everyone can smell ‘aspragus-pee’ is the subject of debate. Scientists remain divided on why people have different urinary responses to eating asparagus. One camp thinks only about half of the population have a gene enabling them to break down the sulfur-containing amino acids in asparagus into their smellier components. Others think that everyone digests asparagus the same way, but less than half of us have a gene that enables us to smell the specific compounds formed in the digestion of asparagus.” preparing asparagus

 preparing asparagus, preparing asparagus, preparing asparagus

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About the author, Shawn

Chef Shawn has worked in almost every segment of the foodservice industry. He holds business degrees and certificates in Culinary Arts, Hospitality & Tourism Management, Accounting and Professional Sales. He is Certified Executive Chef (CEC) and a Certified Culinary Educator (CCE) through The American Culinary Federation. A Certified Culinary Professional (CCP) through the International Association of Culinary Professionals. He is the author of The First Timer’s Cookbook and The First Timer’s Bakebook. His work has been recognized nationwide as well as being a regular contributor to numerous food service publications and outlets and is the recipient of numerous awards-most recently the 2015 Culinary Educator of the Year through the local American Culinary Federation’s chapter-Beehive State Chef’s Association.

He the owner of multiple food service businesses and currently the host of the Business Chef Podcast.


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  2. Moving Home on 05/11/2012 at 2:44 PM

    Wow, so much info on this so healty and really tasty vegetable, which, judjing from my own experience is not so well employed in our everyday cooking at home. I really never cooked asparagus and have eaten it only when were dining out. I did not really knew it can be prepared in other way than being steamed, so you gave me some real good ideas!

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