We don’t like to throw around terms like “best” or “perfect” much here at the farm. Firstly, when food is concerned, things can get very subjective. Secondly, most dishes can always be improved with the right recipe, special tools or techniques. But once in a while, we find a combination of ingredient, recipe, tools and technique that yields a seemingly perfect dish every time. And that is what we can say about this asparagus. It is perfect every time (at least when asparagus is in season).
So what’s the trick? Here is the cool thing, there is no trick. Nope, there is just a process. It takes a little more work and a few steps, but when the spring asparagus is so good, isn’t it worth some extra time? We think so.
The other cool thing here is that while you can go very high-tech and use a sous-vide cooker (we do), you can also hack a sous-vide or just steam the asparagus and it will still work. The key is in the other steps.
So here are the steps: break off the woody ends of the asparagus, peel the last inch or so of the stalk, cook the asparagus at about 190 degrees for 4-5 minutes (depending on thickness), immediately stop the cooking with an ice bath or running under very cold water, dry the asparagus and then sear for 30-60 seconds in a rocket hot pan. Season and serve with butter or a nice salsa verde. Perfect.
The most important step here is to stop the first cook in the ice bath and then finish the asparagus in a hot pan (or even hot grill). Most other methods either cook asparagus too long (and it keeps cooking), or with uneven heat. You get mushy or tough asparagus (sometimes both at once). And just steaming the asparagus gets you close, but you get none of the sweet caramelized flavors of high heat cooking. By using a combined method you get the best of both worlds, and the asparagus stays green and crisp.
So how do you hack a home sous-vide cooker? In this case, the easy way is to take a food-safe sealable plastic bag, layer in the asparagus and get as much air out as you can. You can remove air with a straw or by gently lowering the bag into water to force out the air. Then you bring a large pot of water to barely a simmer (again about 190-195 degrees), turn off the heat, add the bag of asparagus (weight it down if you have to), cover and let cook for 4-5 minutes and then chill in the ice bath. Presto, hacked sous-vide.
Regardless, once you follow all these steps you will have asparagus at its best. Bright, green and just a bit crunchy, but with nice char marks and some sweet/smokey/earthy notes. Heaven. And well worth the effort.
Notes Before You Start:
- Try to buy asparagus stalks of the thickness for even cooking.
- Sous-vide cookers are getting cheaper all the time and are worth a look. They are known for being great with proteins, but they are even better with veggies. Here is a good guide to current models.
- If you feel uncomfortable hacking a sous-vide setup then steaming will still work. The key is the ice bath to stop the cooking.
What You Get: Perfect asparagus, without too much effort.
What You Need: No special equipment required. But if there is a reason to buy a sous-vide cooker, this may be it.
How Long? Even with the extra steps, you can so this in well under 20 minutes.
- Asparagus stalks, as fresh as you can get them
- High-heat cooking oil like peanut or grapeseed
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Butter (optional)
- Salsa Verde (optional, but very tasty, here is a recipe)
- Break off any tough or woody ends from the asparagus. Then peel the outer skin from the last 1-2 inches of the stalks.
- Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.
- Cook the asparagus using a sous-vide cooker or steamer. You want 190 degrees for 4-5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalks. Cool the asparagus immediately in the ice bath. Hold the asparagus until just before service.
- Place a heavy skillet or grill pan over very high heat. When hot, add the oil. Dry any external moisture from the asparagus with a paper towel and then add the asparagus to the skillet. Cook the asparagus until you get a few browned / caramelized marks, 30-60 seconds. Season and serve immediately with butter or salsa verde.