For beautifully bright-green asparagus with stalks that retain just the right amount of snap, steaming is the best bet. For a touch of char and the rich caramelization it brings, searing is best. But what if you want asparagus that features the best of both?
That was our goal as we considered the many delicious ways to serve asparagus. We wanted a method that would allow us to both steam and sear—and to do it in a single pan.
For our first attempt, we tried steam-cooking the asparagus in a covered skillet, followed by a quick sear. It’s similar to an approach we’ve used with broccoli, in which oil and water are added to the pan at once. As the water steams off, it gently cooks the broccoli. When the water is gone, the oil takes over and the broccoli quickly browns.
But with our asparagus, the results were lackluster. The steaming left the asparagus wet, which prevented proper browning. But when we reversed the process—first searing the spears with a blast of high heat, then covering the pan for a quick steam—we got tender, toothsome spears with just the right amount of flavor-enhancing char.
While these pan-seared asparagus are great directly from the pan, they pair well with all sorts of seasonings. We like to make use of the already-hot skillet—to bloom spices, sauté garlic, etc.—for a one-pan affair that comes together quickly. Make-ahead sauces streamline things even further: Simply toss the hot asparagus with the sauce as soon as it’s removed from the pan.