"Spargel" is easy to find if you live in Germany, though it is more difficult to locate the US. German asparagus is low in calories and high in vitamins and minerals, making it a popular indulgence, although pouring Hollandaise sauce over it makes it a very substantial, special German dinner.
Use locally-grown asparagus when possible. Once cut, asparagus must be handled properly to prevent drying. Much of the white asparagus in American supermarkets I have seen has not been kept in a moist environment and eating it would be as pleasurable as chewing twigs.
What to Look for When Buying Fresh, White Asparagus.
- Look at the cut ends. Are they dried out? Gently squeezing the ends should produce juice droplets. If you live in Germany, check with the seller before touching any produce yourself.
- Are the asparagus spears straight and white? The straighter and whiter they are, the more you should expect to pay for them. Violet-colored or crooked asparagus tastes the same but is harder to peel and not break, plus the violet color is considered a flaw in Germany.
- Is the asparagus thick and stocky? The thicker the asparagus spears, the bigger the yield after peeling, and the easier it is to peel.
Storing and Handling Asparagus
- Do not keep asparagus more than a day or two after purchase. Keep it in a loosely-wrapped, damp kitchen towel in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator.
- Handle asparagus carefully to minimize breakage. White asparagus is less flexible than green and can snap off, especially right behind the head. While it still tastes good, it is usually reserved for stock and soup at that point.
Peeling White Asparagus
White asparagus must be peeled, as the outside is fibrous and even woody at times.
- The usual way to peel asparagus is to hold it in your non-dominant hand, gripping it gently right below the head with the thumb and index finger and resting the stalk on the palm and wrist.
- You can use a common vegetable peeler or an asparagus peeler.
Make sure they are sharp. You may use a paring knife if you have nothing else, but you will have greater wastage.
- Starting just below the head, peel toward the cut end. Turn the asparagus slightly and repeat until the whole stalk has been peeled.
- Once all the asparagus has been peeled, cut off the cut ends about one inch up. In doing this, if you notice any more fibers sticking to the asparagus, peel it away. The pleasure in eating this asparagus is greatly diminished when you try to cut it with fiber strands still on it, or put it in your mouth and then try to chew the strands.
- Keep the peeled asparagus in a damp kitchen towel until ready to cook, usually right before serving.
- You may wish to apportion the asparagus and tie bundles big enough to serve one with kitchen string. A portion is usually thought of as 12 to 16 ounces, kitchen-ready.
Getting Ready to Cook Asparagus
There are several ways to cook asparagus, steaming and boiling are the most common methods for white asparagus. Roasting is a good method for green asparagus, as in this recipe for Roasted Asparagus with Hazelnuts.
Asparagus pots, which look like tall, narrow spaghetti pots with inserts, allow the asparagus to stand up while cooking. Water is filled only halfway up the stalks and the heads actually steam. The asparagus cooks more evenly that way.
You may also use any pan which has room enough for the asparagus to lie flat in the water and not be bent while boiling.
The water you are cooking the asparagus in usually contains a little butter, salt and a pinch of sugar. If you are using the water as soup stock later, you will use half the salt you would use normally. Here is a detailed recipe for cooking white asparagus.
Serving a Simple Asparagus Dinner to Friends and Family
As mentioned before, the majority of asparagus is served very simply. For your asparagus dinner, you will need:
- At least one pound (or "Pfund") asparagus per person.
- Melted butter, in a gravy dish or chafing dish.
- Thinly sliced cooked ham or air-dried ham, or both.
- Boiled, new potatoes, about three or four per person.
You may also want to serve the asparagus with this meal:
Nice serving utensils to have are:
- An oval or rectangular serving dish for the asparagus, preheated.
- Preheated plates.
- Asparagus tongs.
- Chafing dish for the butter or sauces.