There's a common belief among asparagus lovers, which I myself held true for years, that thin asparagus is tender while thick asparagus is woody and tough. It seemed to make sense, at least visually. And if I happened to get a thick spear of asparagus that was surprisingly tender, I just raised my eyebrows and thought it a lucky accident.
But as Lynne Rossetto Kasper informed listeners during a recent episode of The Splendid Table, thickness is actually just a sign of the age of the crown, or the root bed, of the asparagus. If it's a very young crown, the spears will be thin. If the crown is older by a few years, you'll get thicker spears. And here's the thing: those fat spears are just as tender and tasty as the thin ones. (Trust me, I ate a lot of asparagus this spring.)
Of course, this is all assuming that you've found freshly-picked asparagus. You can tell by looking at the tips and the cut-ends of the spears. If the tops are closed tight and the bottoms still juicy, then the asparagus is fresh. If you notice the top flowering open or the bottoms very dry, that's a sign that the asparagus has started losing moisture and is past its prime.
• Hear the Full Episode! The Splendid Table with Lynne Rossetto Kasper: May 28, 2011
Do you find any difference between thick and thin spears of asparagus?