are the growing shoots of a fern-like plant. Asparagus has
a delicate flavor and diuretic properties.
One distinctive problem
with asparagus is that a constituent chemical of the plant
is metabolized and excreted in the urine, giving it a distinctive,
mildly unpleasant odor.
Apparently not everyone who eats
asparagus produces the odor, but also not everyone is able
to smell the odor once it is produced. Many people prefer
not to eat asparagus because of this effect, as it can put
a damper on an otherwise romantic evening...
There are three different
common 'varieties' of asparagus sold in the markets which
are actually the same plant grown under different
conditions. 'Green' asparagus is left exposed to the air
so that it grows normally. 'White' asparagus is piled high
with straw as it grows so that the shoots remain pale.
flavor is identical, but some people believe that the
white asparagus is more tender and flavorful. Finally, a
'purple' asparagus is occasionally seen, which is again
the same except with purple streaks on the stem.
Almost the whole shoot is
edible, but the prized portion is the tender growing end.
The base of the shoot can be woody and fibrous, and it is
generally discarded about a third of the way up. The
traditional way to prepare asparagus for cooking is to
take hold of a few shoots at a time, holding an end in
each hand, and firmly but gently 'snap' it.
will snap at their natural break point, which should be
where the woody end meets the more tender portion. Another
way to prepare asparagus for cooking is to peel the bottom
end with a knife or a vegetable peeler, working from the
middle towards the end. This will remove the toughest
fibers from the outside although some will remain and will
need to be cut an inch or so from the base of the stems.
In its simplest form, the
shoots are boiled or steamed until tender and served with
a light sauce or melted butter.
Asparagus is very long
and narrow, and it is traditionally cooked in an
'asparagus steamer.' This is a very tall narrow pot with
about an inch of boiling
water in the bottom. The asparagus is tied in a bundle and
stood upright in the steamer for about five minutes so
that the toughest end gets the most cooking and the tips
are just barely steamed.
A modern alternative is to use a
frypan - put boiling water in the pan and slide the
asparagus gently into the water so it can lie sideways
across the pan. Asparagus is cooked when it turns bright
green, which only takes a few minutes regardless of the
Asparagus is very good in
stir-fries, where it is usually cut into lengths of about
an inch and added at the last minute before serving. It
can also be made into asparagus soup, especially the older
and slightly less tender shoots.
If, as is common, the
asparagus is overcooked or allowed to sit too long, cheese
sauce is a good dip to use.
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