I always know that spring has officially arrived when I start to see asparagus pop up at the farmers market. The vegetable is at its peak for a short time during the season, so I always try to take advantage of it while I can.
That means I usually have a lot of asparagus on my hands around this time of year, but luckily I’ve never had a problem using it all up. Asparagus is so flavorful on its own that it doesn’t take a lot to turn it into a masterpiece. In fact, I’m often able to prepare the veggie with just a few ingredients I already have in my pantry. Not to mention, there are so many simple ways to cook with asparagus, from raw and sliced for a quick salad, to boiled for a decadent, creamy side dish.
Here, professional chefs break down exactly how to prep and clean asparagus—whether you’re working with the white or green variety—plus all of their favorite ways to prepare the vegetable.
First, let’s discuss the types of asparagus you can buy.
Green asparagus is the most common type you’ll see at the supermarket. Sven Mede, VP of culinary operations at Blau and Associates, loves green asparagus because of how versatile it is. Its earthy, grassy flavor translates well to a wide variety of recipes, including salads, soups, frittatas, pastas, risottos, and beyond.
White asparagus is less common and a little more finicky. It’s more popular in Europe, where it’s beloved for its sweeter flavor and bitter notes. It’s white because it’s grown underground where it isn’t exposed to sunlight and therefore can’t develop the chlorophyll that’s responsible for green asparagus’ color, explains Carlos Calderon, chef at North Italia. He says it’s super delicious and definitely worth trying, but slightly less versatile than the green stuff. If you’re lucky enough to spot a bundle of white asparagus at your local farmers market or Whole Foods, highlight the vegetable by cooking it with simple ingredients that won’t overpower its flavor.
Also, important PSA: Snapping the stalks is unnecessary.
There are lot of people on the internet that swear by snapping asparagus stalks, and honestly, I used to be one of them. The supposed reasoning is that you can easily get rid of the tough parts of the stalk by bending each one and breaking it wherever it naturally snaps. But you don’t actually need to do any snapping, says Calderon. All you do have to do is trim one inch off the bottom to get rid of the woody, fibrous stem.
This method takes less time overall, because you can trim a bunch of stalks at once with a large chef knife but you have to snap each one individually. And you end up getting more asparagus, because snapping often removes part of the vegetable that is technically good to eat.
You also don’t have to peel all asparagus. Green asparagus has a tender outer skin that’s easy to eat and can add a beautiful, green color to your dinner table. On the other hand, Mede says that white asparagus is more fibrous and has a tough, bitter skin that always needs to be peeled.
Try preparing asparagus these three ways:
You need very few ingredients for a great asparagus dish. For this story, I tried out three simple asparagus-cooking methods and none of them required more than five ingredients. For each one, all I needed was olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and, of course, asparagus.
1. Boil white asparagus in water, lemon juice, and butter.
“Traditionally in Europe, white asparagus is cooked for about six to eight minutes in water with lemon, then served right away,” Mede explains. If you don’t have any lemons or butter around, though, you can totally use something else. When I tried out the method, I swapped in white wine vinegar and olive oil for the lemons and butter and the results were delicious.
To boil white asparagus yourself, bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add a tablespoon of salt, and a tablespoon or two of lemon juice and butter (or white wine vinegar and olive oil). Peel the skin off 12 white asparagus stalks and tie them up into bundles of six using kitchen twine or rope. Doing this will help preserve their structure as they cook in the hot water. Transfer them to the pot, bring the water down to a simmer, and let the asparagus cook until they’re fork tender—about eight to 15 minutes depending on their size. Remove them from the pot and eat plain or serve them with a sauce like hollandaise.
2. Roast green asparagus till it’s crispy and smoky.
If you need a super simple side dish, roasted green asparagus is always a great way to go. Simply toss your asparagus on a sheet pan with olive oil and salt and let it do its thing in a 425 degree F oven for about 20 to 30 minutes, says Calderon. Be sure to spread the stalks on the pan so that they’re not overlapping—the closer they are together, the more steam they will produce, which will result in a mushy final product. Try to keep them about an inch apart from each other to ensure they crisp up perfectly. You’ll know they’re ready when they’re a little black on the tips and easy to pierce with a fork.
Don’t feel limited to olive oil, though. I love to roast asparagus in things like miso paste, spicy gochujang, and even tahini. If you think it’ll taste good, it probably will.
3. Slice raw asparagus for a refreshing salad.
Mede says that you can and should eat asparagus raw, whether its white or green. I personally like to slice it thinly with a mandolin or a vegetable peeler so that it’s a bit more tender, but you can also bite right into a raw stalk if you feel like it.
To make an easy spring salad, thinly shave green or white asparagus (or both), toss it with white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and dig in. Feel free to use whatever dressing you like, though. If you want to top it with a creamy caesar or a tangy balsamic, go for it. Whatever you choose, it’s hard to mess up this excellent ingredient.