I tend to buy as many bunches of asparagus as I can possibly carry home with me when they first hit my local farmers market — and then come back the next day for some more. I can hardly get enough of it when it's at its peak season in the spring, so it's important that the bunches I bring back to my kitchen are the best. Here's what I look for when buying asparagus.
1. Stalks should be vibrant, straight, and firm, with moist ends.
The color of the asparagus you're buying should be bright and vibrant. The stalks shouldn't be wilted or bent in any way, but instead they should stand tall and feel firm, yet tender. If you try bending a stalk, it should feel as if it has the ability to snap cleanly if broken. The bottom of the stalks should also feel moist, rather than dried out or woody. A good farmer or grocer will often store their asparagus bunches standing up in a little water, which helps keeps their bottoms, and therefore the whole bunch, fresh.
2. The tips should be closed tightly and have a dark green or purple tinge.
The tips, also called the buds, of asparagus are just as important to pay attention to as the stalks. They should be firm and tightly closed. If they have a hint of dark green or purple color to them, that's a sign of quality. If the tips are dried or yellow in color, it's a sign that the asparagus is old. Mushy tips should be avoided as well, as that's a sign the asparagus is on its way to spoiling.
3. Thick or thin spears are simply a matter of preference, not quality.
As long as the asparagus checks off all the boxes above, choosing the skinny bunch versus the fat bunch is really just a matter of what you feel like eating that particular night. Thin spears tend to be a bit more tender and sweet — they take well to being blanched for a salad or tossed in a stir-fry. Fat spears are great picks when you want to toss the asparagus on the grill or roast it in the oven.
What do you look for when buying asparagus?