Asparagus are the growing shoots of a fern-like plant.
Asparagus varies in width. The thinner spears are more fibrous but also more flavorful, while the thicker spears are more tender in the inside but less concentrated in flavor. Regardless of size, the bottom of the spears is usually tough and fibrous.
Asparagus is relatively high in sugar with a delicate flavor. Notably, asparagus contains a chemical that is metabolised and excreted in the urine, giving it a distinctive, mildly unpleasant odour. Not everyone who eats asparagus produces the odor, and not everyone is able to smell the odor once it is produced.
There are three different common 'varieties' of asparagus, which are actually the same plant grown under different conditions. Green asparagus is left exposed to the air so that it grows normally. White asparagus is piled high with straw or dirt as it grows so that the shoots remain pale. The flavour is identical, but some believe that white asparagus is more tender. Finally, a purple asparagus is occasionally seen, which is again the same but with purple streaks on the stem.
The shoots of the related Prussian asparagus (Ornithogalum pyrenaicum) have been used for similar purposes as true asparagus.
|Seasonality tables | Autumn | Winter | Spring | Summer | All year
Asparagus has a very specific growing season that starts in May and traditionally ends on the 24th of June. Out of season asparagus is grown in regions close to the equator or in greenhouses. If fresh asparagus isn't available, canned, jarred, or frozen asparagus usually is.
Selection and storage edit
When selecting asparagus, look for closed tips and crisp spears, with no dryness If green, they should be bright in color. Unfortunately, asparagus doesn't store particularly well, with its sugars turning to starch and its tender texture becoming fibrous. It can be kept for a short time in the fridge, set in a glass of water covered with plastic or damp towels.
Almost the whole asparagus shoot is edible, but the tender growing end is the most prized. The base of the shoot can be woody and fibrous, and it is generally snapped or cut off about a third of the way up. Another way to prepare asparagus for cooking is to peel it with a knife or a vegetable peeler, working from the middle towards the end. This will remove the toughest fibers from the outside although some will remain and will need to be cut an inch or so from the base of the stems.
Asparagus can be used in a variety of ways, from raw to steamed, grilled, fried, and braised. Even tough asparagus can be cooked into stocks or soups and strained to achieve a better texture.
In its simplest form, the shoots are boiled or steamed until tender and served with a light sauce or melted butter. It is traditionally steamed in a dedicated steamer that consists of a very tall narrow pot with about an inch of boiling water in the bottom. The asparagus is tied in a bundle and stood upright in the steamer for about 5 minutes so that the toughest end gets the most cooking and the tips are just barely steamed. A modern alternative is to use a frying pan—put boiling water in the pan and slide the asparagus gently into the water so it can lie sideways across the pan. When boiling, use salted water at a strong boil so that it cooks through before losing the green color.
Asparagus is very good in stir-fries, where it is usually cut into lengths of about 1 inch and added at the last minute before serving.