In the past, my preferred method for cooking asparagus was to poach it in a heavy skillet filled with salted water. I liked this method, because I could monitor the asparagus spears as they cooked, plucking out the thinner ones when the were done, leaving the thicker ones to cook a while longer. We seemed to achieve asparagus exactly the way we liked it: just a little al dente, and definitely not mushy.
But since we purchased our iron wok, I’m always on the lookout for ways to use it. It’s just so darned convenient to cook a meal in one pot. And it cleans up very quickly. In the case of asparagus–now definitely in season–I was reminded that we have an old bamboo steamer set, tucked away in the cabinet under the stove, that fits inside the wok. It should work fine with asparagus, I reasoned, and we wouldn’t lose any of the nutrients that otherwise leach into the poaching liquid.
Just pour a couple of inches of water into the wok over high heat and cover the water with the steamer, the asparagus spread out over the bottom. The steamer should have a bamboo lid to hold the steam inside. As the water boils, check the asparagus occasionally. Don’t be afraid to cut off a piece and try it for doneness. They should be ready in just a few minutes.
Asparagus is one of those vegetables I don’t like to mess around with. The flavor is so distinctive and ephemeral. I know some people like to grill their asparagus. But to me, that changes the flavor entirely. It tastes, well, more like a grill. Asparagus wants to be treated more daintily. It’s a prima donna vegetable, not some lug you toss on the coals like a piece of meat.
We like asparagus chilled, with a garlicky lemon mayonnaise for dipping. It’s wonderful with a classic hollandaise sauce, or dressed very simply with a drizzle of melted butter and a squeeze of lemon. Come to think of it, butter, lemon and asparagus all seem meant for each other.
Yet, there are exceptions. Do you remember the recipe from the Silver Palate cookbook that called for asparagus with a blueberry vinaigrette? I must admit, I not only made it, I liked it. (Finding the blueberry vinegar with blueberries wasn’t necessarily easy, but the Silver Palate just happened to sell it.) Vinaigrettes work well with asparagus, especially if you treat the asparagus more like a salad, served at room temperature or with just a slight chill.
Whatever you do, enjoy plenty of asparagus while it’s in season and being harvested locally. Just don’t grill it.