Alex Guarnaschelli: How to Make Amazing Asparagus
Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-School Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.
I really like asparagus because they taste like the first smell of grass in in spring.
And, let’s face it, springtime is the best time for asparagus, especially if you live in the Northern U.S. where the first warmth of the season produces the first asparagus harvest.
I live in NYC and, truthfully, the asparagus season really dries up far earlier than you might think. I find myself scrounging around for them sometime in July. As a result, since asparagus peaks early and doesn’t hang around my neck of the woods for a long period of time, I always grab at them the first chance I get.
Asparagus are pricey and precious. I want to make sure I pick out the right ones. So, what do I look for? I always look for firm, clean, straight stalks. Wobbly stalks are a telltale sign of old asparagus. I personally prefer green “pencil” (the smaller) asparagus for its light crunch and ability to quickly sauté or grill. If the larger, thicker asparagus look nicer, I will buy those instead. I always defer to what looks the best at the store.
When I get them home, I don’t break off the bottoms of the stalks and or peel thinner asparagus before cooking. I prefer to cut only the very bottom part from the stalk; breaking it off causes more of the bottom to go to waste, which is otherwise perfectly edible. With thicker asparagus, I cut off the woody bottom and peel them because that outer layer of skin can be chewy and tough.
But what about cooking them? I sometimes put a baking sheet of lightly oiled asparagus (arranged in a single layer) under my broiler for a few minutes and just let them broil. I sometimes also cook them in heavily salted water for about 3 – 4 minutes. I remove them from the boiling water and immediately plunge the stalk into a bowl of ice water to stop them from overcooking, drying them off with a kitchen towel.
My favorite and the simplest of all? Straight up steamed and served with refreshing vinaigrette or some lemon. I love tried-and-true Balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice with asparagus. If you do decide to blanch or steam and serve with lemon or vinegar, just be careful to add any acid only immediately before serving because the asparagus risk losing their bright green color if they hang around too long with citrus juice or vinegar.
Ever buy asparagus and realize you’re not going to serve them right away? I always have the problem of going to the supermarket and buying a bit more produce than I could possibly eat. If left to my own devices in the fruit section alone, I will fill my cart! As for asparagus, store them with their stems in water like a bouquet of flowers. I find it works to keep them in good shape a little longer in the fridge, if need be. The same is true for storing bunches of herbs. Seems I am always buying a bunch of fresh herbs and using only a few sprigs at a time. Storing them like a bouquet of flowers is especially great for basil, tarragon and parsley.
Steamed Asparagus with Lemon Orange Dressing
Serves 4 people
2 tbsp. canola oil
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
A few grates of zest and all of the juice from 1 small orange
A few gates of zest and all of the juice from 2 medium lemons
2 tsp. clover honey
1 tbsp. Dijon (smooth) mustard
1 small clove garlic, minced
24 stalks green “pencil” asparagus, ends trimmed
1. Make the dressing: In a large jar or any container with a fitted lid, combine the canola oil, olive oil, orange and lemon zests, lemon juice, orange juice, honey, mustard and garlic. Cover and shake until blended. Taste for seasoning. You may need a touch more oil depending on how much juice you yielded from your citrus.
2. Use a steamer to steam the asparagus (in a single layer) until tender, 5-6 minutes. Season with salt. Drizzle with the dressing.