Asparagus, 12 Ways
The recipes below assume 1 ½ to 2 pound of asparagus, which will feed four, but adjust up or down as necessary. Both thin or thick asparagus will work here; it’s really just a matter of preference. The thin ones cook almost instantly and you don’t have to peel them; the thick ones are sturdier and have an incredible snap, and are better if you take the time to peel them (but honestly, I don’t always). Whichever you use, you’ll want to cut the bottoms off; I snap one by hand to see where the natural break is, then chop the rest of the ends off with a knife in one fell swoop. I prefer crisp-tender asparagus to soft, but either way, it’s done when you can pierce the thickest part of a spear with a sharp knife without much resistance. This might take less than five minutes for very slender asparagus, twice that for thick ones.
The first recipe in each category is the main recipe, then the two that follow are variations. All the ingredients are in bold, so you can easily see what you’ll need. Salt and pepper are assumed.
1. Steamed Asparagus with Brown Butter
Put asparagus in a covered pot with 1 inch of water (it may stand, lean, or lie flat) and turn heat to high. Put 2 to 4 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium heat; stir occasionally until the foam subsides and the butter turns nut brown. When asparagus is done, drain, drizzle with butter, and serve.
2. Steamed Asparagus with Aioli
Skip the brown butter. Put a large egg yolk in a food processor with 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1 to 4 garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest. Turn it on and drizzle in 1 cup olive oil; an emulsion will form. Serve asparagus dipped in aïoli.
3. Steamed Asparagus with Fried Eggs and Ham
Skip the brown butter. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 4 slices good ham and warm gently on both sides; remove. Add 2 more tablespoons butter to the skillet and fry 4 large eggs until whites are firm. Serve the asparagus topped with ham, eggs, and any pan juices.
4. Roasted Asparagus with or Without Bacon
Heat the oven to 450°F. Toss the asparagus with 2 tablespoons olive oil (more if you don’t use bacon) and 4 ounces bacon, chopped (optional) in a roasting pan. Roast, turning the asparagus once or twice, until done. Garnish: grated Parmesan.
5. Roasted Asparagus with Carrots, Sesame, and Soy
Skip the bacon. Substitute sesame oil for the olive oil, and add 2 thinly sliced carrots to the roasting pan. After 5 minutes of roasting, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sesame seeds. When asparagus is done, drizzle with soy sauce and toss. Garnish: crumbled toasted nori.
6. Roasted Asparagus with Blue Cheese and Bread Crumbs
After 5 minutes of roasting, turn the asparagus and top with 1 ⁄ 2 cup fresh bread crumbs and 1 ⁄ 4 cup crumbled blue cheese. Continue to roast without turning until the asparagus is done. Turn on the broiler and broil until the tops brown, about 1 minute.
7. Stir-Fried Asparagus with Shallots and Fish Sauce
Cut the asparagus into 2-inch pieces. Put a large skillet over high heat for 3 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons peanut oil, then the asparagus and 10 halved shallots. Cook, stirring, until the asparagus and shallots are dry and beginning to brown. Add 2 tablespoons water and 1 tablespoon fish sauce; continue to cook until done, 2 or 3 minutes more. Garnish: chopped peanuts.
8. Stir-Fried Asparagus with Scallops and Black Beans
Soak 1 tablespoon fermented black beans in sake or white wine to cover while the skillet heats. Substitute 1 tablespoon minced garlic for the shallots and soy sauce for the fish sauce. Add the black beans and 1 ⁄ 2 pound sliced or cubed scallops to the pan along with soy sauce and water and cook just until the scallops are cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Garnish: chopped chives.
9. Stir-Fried Asparagus with Chicken and Shiitakes
Skip the shallots. When the skillet is hot, add the oil, then 1 ⁄ 2 pound cubed chicken thighs. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned; remove. Add the asparagus and 1 ⁄ 2 pound trimmed and sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms; sauté, substituting oyster sauce for the fish sauce, then add the chicken along with the oyster sauce and water, and cook until the chicken is cooked all the way through, 3 or 4 minutes. Garnish: more oyster sauce.
10. Grilled Asparagus with Lemon Marinade
Heat a grill; position the rack 4 to 6 inches from the flame. Combine 2 tablespoons olive oil and the zest and juice of 1 lemon; brush onto the asparagus. Grill the asparagus, turning once or twice and brushing with sauce until done, 8 to 10 minutes. Garnish: lemon wedges.
11. Grilled Asparagus with Grape Tomatoes and Pesto
Skip the lemon; skewer 1 pint of grape tomatoes and grill with the asparagus, brushing all with olive oil. Purée 1 cup fresh basil leaves, 1 small garlic clove, 1 tablespoon pine nuts, 1 ⁄ 4 cup (or more) olive oil, and 1 ⁄ 4 cup grated Parmesan in a mini food processor. Serve the vegetables with the pesto.
12. Grilled Asparagus with Red Pepper Glaze
Substitute lime zest and juice for the lemon; add 1 tablespoon honey and 1 ⁄ 2 teaspoon (or more) hot red chile flakes. Grill 1 yellow bell pepper—cut into thick strips—and 4 trimmed whole scallions along with the asparagus, brushing all with the glaze. Garnish: lime wedges.