10 Tasty Ways to Cook Fresh Asparagus
Fresh asparagus is to springtime like tomatoes are to summertime. The first time you spot them at the the farmer's market, it’s a sure sign that winter is over—and that warmer months are here to stay. Tossed with olive oil and seasoned with salt, and pepper, asparagus dazzles on the plate. Served with a squeeze of lemon juice, it's simply divine.
Without a doubt, asparagus is the ultimate versatile veggie. Its earthy, mild flavor and crisp texture makes it a perfect match for spring salads, pastas, soups, sandwiches, casseroles, and more. From grilled to roasted to pickled, there are endless ways to cook fresh asparagus, but it can be hard to know where to start.
Our handy guide to cooking asparagus shows you how to make the most of this green spring veggie.
Peak asparagus season is March through June, but you can find them in grocery stores year-round. Asparagus comes in various sizes—some spears are narrow while others are much thicker. Both are perfectly delicious, and the size you should choose depends on the cooking method. Thicker spears are meatier and perfect for grilling, while thinner spears are more tender and work well for quick-cooking methods like steaming or stir-frying.
Whether you’re grilling, roasting, or boiling it, prepping fresh asparagus is easy. Before you start cooking, you’ll need to remove the fibrous, woody stalks (the bottom ends of the asparagus).
Cooking Light Executive Editor Ann Taylor Pittman demonstrates an easy way to trim asparagus in the above video. In one hand, hold the asparagus right in the middle. Grab the stalk with your other hand. Gently bend the asparagus until it snaps naturally.
Make sure to save your asparagus ends—they puree nicely and can be used to boost the flavor of asparagus soup.
To Peel, or Not to Peel?
Peeling off the triangular “scales” on the spear gives asparagus a cleaner look, and it’s often how you’ll see them prepared in high-end restaurants. While it’s not necessary to peel thinner asparagus spears, this optional step can help make thicker spears more tender.
How to Blanch Asparagus
Blanching—or cooking food in boiling water, then plunging into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking—is a simple, moist-heat cooking method that works well for most veggies. For asparagus, blanching gives a bright green color and a crisp, tender texture. Blanched asparagus served at room temperature is perfect for salads.
For a basic blanching technique that works for any vegetable, watch this helpful video. Then, try the blanched asparagus recipe below (you’ll love the creamy dressing that’s made with buttermilk, avocado, and goat cheese).
Get the Recipe: Asparagus with Avocado-Herb Dressing
How to Shave Asparagus
Asparagus doesn’t have to be cooked to be delicious; shaved raw asparagus works wonders in salads, pasta dishes, or even as a pizza topper. To make perfect asparagus ribbons, use a Y-shaped vegetable peeler. Because the peeler’s blade is positioned horizontally, it’s much easier to apply even pressure when running it through the asparagus spear. As a result, you’ll be able to make long, even-sized ribbons—which is exactly what you want. Showcase shaved asparagus alongside green peas and fresh mint in our stunning spring pasta dish below.
Get the Recipe: Pasta with Shaved Asparagus and Pea Pesto
How to Bake Asparagus
Transform asparagus into a hearty main dish by incorporating it in a cheesy baked casserole, breakfast stata, or craveworthy gratin. Thicker asparagus spears hold their texture best when baked—thinner ones tend to get a bit mushy. Aside from cheese (which is always tasty!), asparagus combines well with other veggies such as potatoes, artichokes, leeks, mushrooms, onions, carrots, turnips, and tomatoes.
Get the Recipe: Asparagus, Potato, and Onion Gratin
How to Grill Asparagus
Grilling fresh asparagus gives a smoky char that elevates its mild flavor. Simply toss with olive oil and kosher salt, then place the asparagus spears perpendicular to the grill grates. Roll them around with your tongs to help them cook more evenly. Make sure you’re using thicker asparagus for grilling—if they’re too thin, they’re likely to slip through the grates.
Grilled asparagus makes a perfect spring salad or an easy side dish to grilled mains such as marinated flank steak or chicken. Sprinkle grilled asparagus with homemade bread crumbs, crispy pancetta, Parmesan cheese, chopped toasted nuts, or fresh herbs such as basil and mint to kick up the flavor even more.You can also make Romesco Sauce or a tangy vinaigrette (such as the one in the recipe below) to drizzle over the spears.
Get the Recipe: Grilled Asparagus with Caper Vinaigrette
How to Roast Asparagus
Crispy oven-roasted asparagus is intensely flavorful—and simply divine. The secret to making them perfectly blistered and crisp on the outside is using a higher oven temperature (between 400 and 450 degrees should do the trick). Arrange in a single on a baking sheet, as the asparagus crisp more easily when they have plenty of space between each other. The roasting time depends on the thickness of the spears, but it typically takes about 10 to 15 minutes. The roasted asparagus recipe below makes a mouthwatering side to pork tenderloin, salmon, or whole chicken.
Get the Recipe: Roasted Asparagus and Baby Artichokes
How to Broil Asparagus
Blister asparagus underneath the broiler to quickly impart a smoky, charred flavor. Prep asparagus for broiling as you would for roasting, tossing them with a good-quality olive oil, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
Broiling is one of the easiest and speediest ways to cook fresh asparagus, but it’s also one of the hottest—so be extra careful when handling them. Put this cooking method to the test in the recipe below, which beautifully showcases broiled asparagus alongside soft-boiled eggs and arugula.
Get the Recipe: Arugula, Egg, and Charred Asparagus Salad
How to Stir Fry Asparagus
For a change of pace, break out the wok pan and try stir frying your asparagus. Stir frying is a speedy, high-heat cooking method where ingredients are stirred constantly in a wok. Because stir fried veggies cook so quickly, they’re able to keep their vibrant color and crisp texture. For stir frying asparagus, buy thinner spears and slice them into smaller pieces to make them easier to cook.
Cast-iron is a good choice for wok pans, but carbon steel is the best. It heats quickly, evenly, and is naturally non-stick. To learn a basic stir-frying technique, read this helpful guide, then try your hand by making our stir fry recipe.
Get the Recipe: Pork and Asparagus Stir Fry
How to Sauté Asparagus
Sautéeing boosts the flavor of your asparagus like roasting, but it’s a much speedier cooking method. Before you heat up your skillet, cut the asparagus into smaller pieces—you’ll find that it’s much easier to saute this way.
Use a skillet that you can safely heat until just smoking, such as a cast-iron skillet or stainless steel skillet (do not use non-stick). The key is to sauté the asparagus quickly at a high temperature so that they char a little on the outside. We prefer skinnier asparagus spears for sauteing, as larger ones don’t sear as well.
Get the Recipe: Pan-Charred Asparagus
How to Pickle Asparagus
If you can pickle cucumbers, beets, and onions, then why can’t you pickle fresh asparagus? This simple preserving technique is a clever way to enjoy in-season asparagus far beyond spring. Pickled asparagus is addictively tangy and crunchy, and it packs a plethora of tasty uses. Munch on pickled asparagus as a snack, add it to salads and sandwiches, or make your favorite bloody mary recipe and garnish it with a pickled asparagus spear (trust us on this one).
To learn how to pickle asparagus, try the recipe below—we’ve also incorporated pickled ramps for the ultimate expression of spring.
Get the Recipe: Pickled Ramps and Asparagus
How to Steam Asparagus
Steaming fresh asparagus is similar to blanching it, but instead of submerging the spears completely in boiling water, you’re cooking them with the steam that rises upwards. This gentle, moist-heat cooking method gives the asparagus a vibrant color and a crisp-tender texture. You’ll need an adjustable steamer basket, which can fit inside a variety of different-sized stock pots. Steamed asparagus looks stunning on crudité platters (don’t forget the dip—we love this Creamy Ranch-Style Dip) or in salads alongside other spring veggies.
Get the Recipe: Asparagus with Dill Vinaigrette
What About White Asparagus?
We’d be remiss if we forgot to mention green asparagus's more delicate cousin—white asparagus. It’s the same as green asparagus, but the stalks are covered with soil as they grow to prevent exposure to the sun. Without sunshine, the asparagus can’t produce the chlorophyll that makes them turn green. White asparagus is tougher to spot, but if you can snag a bundle you’ll find they pack a milder flavor and softer texture than green asparagus. White asparagus is especially delicious boiled, steamed, or sauteed.