How to Make the Most of Your Precious Wild Asparagus
Forget that snap-where-it-bends nonsense. Forget it right now! If you snap off all of your hard-earned foraged asparagus where it bends, you will waste a shameful amount of what the land has given you.
Let me state right from the start that I think that people who prefer thin asparagus are bonkers. I have no problem saying this, even though some of the people I love most in the world feel this way. I will forgive my 7 y.o. niece, who favors all things petite. Actually, I feel lucky that she best loves the wee skinny feral asparagus. This is the perfect arrangement. She can have all the scrawny stalks, while I keep all of the succulent fat spears for myself. You see how I am? Who could blame me? The skin is usually the toughest part of asparagus, so gordo pieces have a smaller proportion of the tough stuff, and more tender 'gus heart to love.
Let me amend my previous statement. If you insist upon eating the thin wild asparagus yourself, and don't have a grateful niece, as I do, to enjoy the skinny minnies, then bend and snap to your heart's content. That's a fine way to determine the most tender part of the plant. But for all other feral asparagus, medium to fat, take a different approach in the name of frugality.
First, make friends with your vegetable peeler. I know, it's a pain in the backside to peel asparagus. I promise, the results are worth it. I once saw Jacques Pepin peel his way through a pound of asparagus with the speed and grace of a sprinter. I bet his peeler was made by NASA or something. I'm slower and clumsier, but I still feel it is worth the effort.
Lay your spear of asparagus flat on a cutting board, holding the tip with your non-dominant hand. Use your peeler to take off strips of skin from the midway toward the soil-end downward, turning as you go along. You will remove the stringy green skin and be left with the tender creamy-white core of asparagus. Peeled in this manner, you may not even need to discard a single piece of asparagus. Let your knife help you determine what will be too tough to eat. Did you have to apply pressure to cut through your spear of asparagus? If so, it may be too woody to eat. Keep pressing up the stem until you find the spot where your knife will easily slip though. Once peeled, you may be surprised by how little asparagus goes to waste.
Another method for making moderately-tough asparagus easier to eat is to slice the spears into thinner pieces along a bias cut. You know how you always slice meat against the grain so that it isn't fibrous and tough? There is a similar philosophy at work here. You are trying to shorten the length of tough fibers by the way your cut the asparagus spear. By cutting asparagus into long diagonal pieces, you are minimizing the length of fibers, while maximizing the size of your slices. If you were to simply cut perpendicular to the grain, you'd end up with a bunch of tiny asparagus coins, which are harder to eat.
Now, what to do with all of those asparagus peelings? You do what every frugal person and restaurant kitchen has done throughout time, make asparagus stock. Tough asparagus skin may not be fun to eat, but it is still full of flavor. Throw those scraps into a pot with some cold water, bring them to a boil, and let them simmer for at least 20 minutes before straining out the solids and using the resulting asparagus-infused water to make something yummy. How about soup? Or risotto?
And what about those few tough ends that you were forced to cut off? Considering chopping them as finely as possible, cooking them in a thickened cream sauce, and serving them over toast, as my Gran would have done - creamed asparagus on toast. Sounds fancy, doesn't it? I can't find a recipe online that doesn't call for you to snap off and discard the tough ends to make creamed asparagus. But I know for certain this is precisely the dish my Gran made to utilize the tougher portions of asparagus. If you make this dish, just be sure to pronounce it aspar-a-grus, as my beloved grandmother did. There's also this idea for turning all the tough ends into soup, as a restaurant did in this recipe by For Love of the Table.
There! Now, see? You've waited all year to stalk the wild asparagus, just as Euell Gibbons did. Waste not, want not, my friends. Be a generous soul and give your skinny wild asparagus to the goofballs who enjoy them, then maximize your own enjoyment of the fat spears that remain.
So, now you've got all of that asparagus prepared and ready to cook, whatcha gonna make? I could suggest my Wild Asparagus alla Carbonara. You can find even more recipes in Wild Things Round Up - Asparagus, including my recipes for raw shaved asparagus salad, and sesame-crusted asparagus, as well as the recipes of many other wild food-loving contributors.
My favorite way to prepare wild asparagus is this. Throw your prepared sliced asparagus into a pot with just enough water to barely cover the bottom. Cover and bring it to a boil. As soon as the water has evaporated, the asparagus is perfectly cooked, which is when you finish it with a small knob of truffle butter and some salt. Perfection! I know truffle butter sounds ridiculously fancy, and it is. But my local grocery store, which isn't a high-end store but is fancy enough to have an olive bar, sells it in the deli section. It's $7 for a 3 oz. tub, which is crazy expensive. I think the price balances out in consideration of the fact that it lasted through nearly three weeks of eating asparagus every night, and also the fact that I didn't have to shell out any money for the asparagus itself.
Would you like to learn more about harvesting wild (feral) asparagus? Visit these posts. Here's My original post about hunting wild asparagus. More recently, Identifying Year-Old Wild Asparagus Plants - Your Key to Hitting the Asparagus Jackpot. You might also enjoy my buddy Wild Food Girl's post about foraging for asparagus, Asparagus Legend Made Real.
Finally, as we approach the end of the wild asparagus season, remember to leave the last few spears to grow tall and ferny, so the plant can complete it's life cycle and return for many years to come.