The Vegetable Butcher Answers the Most Important Asparagus Question

published Jun 4, 2015
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(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

At some point we all started snapping asparagus, automatically, like programmed kitchen robots. Bend and snap. Bend and snap. I’ll admit, it’s awfully fun, and for asparagus with woody ends, it works well. The problem is, not all asparagus needs such aggressive treatment (and asparagus ain’t cheap).

So let’s take advantage of as much of that grassy and tender spear as possible. Just follow these guidelines to determine if your asparagus needs snapping and how much to spare.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

When You Buy Local and In-Season Asparagus

Asparagus begins to lose its natural sugars and moisture as soon as it is cut from the ground. If you buy asparagus in season at your local farmers market or specialty produce shop, likely it won’t have much of a dry, tough end.

Ask the vendor when the asparagus was picked and how it was picked. If it was harvested within a couple of days and picked by hand, likely there isn’t much to lose. Just snap or cut a small piece off the base, no more than an inch. (Fresh asparagus will snap cleanly like a green bean.) If the remaining end of the spear appears moist with no visible fibers, you don’t need to cut any more.

When You Buy Out-of-Season Asparagus

Asparagus is a seasonal treat, a delicacy to enjoy in the spring and early summer. If you are buying it out of season in your area or from a large grocery, likely, you will need to bend and snap away. (Commercial asparagus is not hand-snapped at the point it naturally breaks from its woody end, so there will be more fibrous bits to snap and throw away.)

Hold a spear on either end, and bend to the point it breaks. Save the ends for stock or asparagus soup.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Jumbo Asparagus

Jumbo (more mature) asparagus is extra juicy, but you may want to use a vegetable peeler to peel off the skin of the broader base of the spear — it can sometimes be a little tough.

Do you prefer the more tender tops? Naturally, the top of an asparagus spear is more tender than the base. If you don’t like the meaty bite that comes with the base of the stalk, then by all means, snap away. You might also try cutting the broader part of the spear in thin coins (straight across the spear) or thin oblong slices (at an angle).

White Asparagus

White asparagus is quite delicate and can be brittle. You never want to snap it. Trim the ends. Place the spear against your board and peel the entire spear, gently turning it against your board as you go.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)