The Rites of Spring
Posted on March 24th, 2021
The melting snow of Winter gives way to the Chef’s favorite season, Spring. Thoughts of fiddleheads, morels, stinging nettles, peas, cardoons, and ramps excite the senses in anticipation of a fresh new crop.
Foremost among these fleeting gifts of Nature is asparagus. Tender, crisp, and vibrant, these Vernal harbingers sprout forth, begging to be cooked!
Asparagus, while available year-round, is at its best in the month of April. This member of the Lily Family has been cultivated for about 2500 years. The Ancient Greek and Romans revered this cousin of onion and garlic for its perceived medicinal properties. They believed that asparagus could cure toothaches and prevent bee stings as well as being an aphrodisiac. The tender shoots grow from “crowns” buried in loose, sandy soil. Plants mature after about three years, peak at six to eight, and will continue producing for up to fifteen years if well maintained.
Select asparagus that has tight, well-formed tips, and firm stalks. Larger diameter stalks cook to be more tender than the “pencil” thin ones. Keep asparagus cold and wrapped in moist toweling around the bottom. Consume as soon as possible after purchase for optimum flavor.
To prepare asparagus, hold the base and bend the stalks. The stalks will break naturally in the perfect spot. Do not discard the bottoms; they can be used in vegetable stock or as the base for soup. The stems can be peeled if desired with a vegetable peeler starting from the broken end and cutting upwards. Bring salted water to a boil and cook the asparagus until it is as done as you wish, about three to eight minutes depending on thickness. Immediately remove the cooked asparagus and plunge them into an ice water bath to “shock” them and stop the cooking process. Skipping this step will result in “carry-over” cooking which will cause the once bright green, crisp spears to become soggy, stringy, and grey. Drain the asparagus and gently reheat just before serving in whole butter (just a little!). Season with Kosher salt and black pepper to taste and enjoy!