Get the facts on asparagus: How to prep it, how to cook it (do you really need an asparagus steamer?) and more.
As a resident of the icy tundra that is Vermont, I get pretty excited about signs of spring. Asparagus, with its delicate green color, bright flavor and newborn-shoot shape isn’t so much a sign of spring as it IS spring. When it arrives in tight bundles at my local farmers’ market, I always smile, because food is about to get really good again: snap peas, spring chickens, radishes, artichokes—the list goes on and on! Served on its own (roasted in the oven, with just a little olive oil and sea salt), asparagus has a rich, complex flavor with hints of lemon and caramelized sugar. Delish!
And yet, there are many people who don’t enjoy this delectable spring favorite. Some might be intimidated by asparagus’s strong flavor and strange shape. Others might have had it ruined for them as kids when an overzealous cook boiled it to oblivion. Maybe there are even some who are simply unfamiliar with asparagus and aren’t sure what all the fuss is about.
For all of you, I present this brief list of asparagus myths busted.
1. Myth or Truth? You Need to Peel Asparagus
True AND False. Chances are, your store-bought green asparagus is ready to go without being peeled—no fuss, no muss, no bother. However, should you find that your particular bunch has a few spears that are a bit tough and fibrous near the base, you can do some spot peeling to remove the offending areas. Also, it bears mentioning that other varieties of asparagus—especially European white asparagus (see more info on this below)—are traditionally peeled before eating.
2. Myth or Truth? You Need to Break the Ends Off Asparagus
True. Pretty much the only de rigueur prep for asparagus is snapping those flat bottom ends off. And they should snap—if you have a bunch that tends to bend rather than break, it’s probably past its prime.
3. Myth or Truth? You Need an Asparagus Steamer
Myth. Microwave it! Boil it in a normal pot! Roast it! Grill it! There are as many ways to enjoy asparagus as there are ways to cook it and you don’t need an asparagus steamer to do it. The most basic ways to cook asparagus include boiling it in a large pot for about 4 minutes or cutting it into pieces and steaming it in a large saucepan (use a steamer basket; it should be perfectly tender-crisp in about 4 minutes).
4. Myth or Truth? All Asparagus Is Green
Myth. There are actually three—count ’em!—different varieties of asparagus: green, white and purple. While green is by far the most common in the United States, in Europe they’re more partial to the white variety (it’s actually just green asparagus that hasn’t been exposed to the sun) and to purple. If you ever have the opportunity, you should try these other varieties, as they each have uniquely different flavors—white, for instance, is more akin to artichoke hearts than to green asparagus.
5. Myth or Truth? Asparagus Only Makes Some People’s Pee Smell
Myth. Asparagus contains a unique compound that, when metabolized, gives off a distinctive smell in the urine. Young asparagus contains higher concentrations of the compound so the odor is stronger after eating these vernal shoots. There are, however, no harmful effects, either from the sulfuric compounds or the odor. While it is believed that most everyone produces these odorous compounds after eating asparagus, many people can’t detect the smell. So if your friends say that their pee doesn’t have an odor from eating asparagus, it’s only because they can’t smell it.