Overcooked asparagus is limp and unappetizing, but undercooked is equally disappointing. Thanks to the two, distinct portions of the vegetable, it’s not so easy to strike the right balance. The woody, fibrous stalks require a certain amount of heat to soften, while the tender tips and leaves cook up much faster.
Thankfully, we’ve found a workaround, inspired by Nancy Singleton Hachisu’s smart approach in her book, “Japanese Farm Food.” Hachisu holds the asparagus by its grassy tendrils and dunks the tough stalk into boiling water first, before dropping the whole spear in.
We love the idea, but after standing over a pot of boiling water for one minute, we may have discovered that we're not as patient or tough as the James Beard Award-nominated cookbook author. It felt like a long time. So, here’s how we modify the technique:
We simply separate the tips and the stalks first before following Hachisu's two-phase cooking. We cook the tough, fibrous pieces in salted, boiling water for one minute, and then we toss in the tips and cook for another two minutes.
This yields asparagus that is evenly cooked, and perfect for whatever you’re making, like the One-Pot Soba Supper where we first employed this technique. (Dressing that evenly cooked asparagus in miso butter—one of our favorite ways to use miso—doesn’t hurt either. See here for some miso varieties that we love.)
Now, you may not always want to chop up your asparagus, in which case, we’ve got a handful of other ways to use these multifaceted spears. See below for some of our favorite asparagus recipes.
In this quick and easy method for basic pan-roasted asparagus, an initial blast over high heat gives the spears a light char to develop sweet, nutty flavor, then covered cooking with a little water renders the spears perfectly crisp-tender.
Pasta with Creamy Asparagus
This lively springtime pasta dish was inspired by the “River Cafe London,” cookbook from Britain's landmark restaurant.
Asparagus and Romaine Salad
Using tofu in a green goddess dressing, this salad lightens up a California classic.
Asparagus with Sauce Gribiche and Fried Capers
Here, classic French sauce gribiche (similar to mayonnaise, but made with cooked, not raw, egg yolks, and seasoned with capers and herbs) dresses up asparagus.