Asparagus has been a delicious symbol of spring since at least as far back as the Greeks, who called it asparagos — literally, “to spring up.” Most grocers sell asparagus in a range of sizes, from thin and willowy to thick and stocky. Whatever the size, look for stalks that are firm and smooth from top to bottom, with tight, un-feathery tips. Also, because asparagus is quite perishable, check that the grocer stored it properly — stem down in ice or a bit of water.
At home, arrange the stalks standing on their bottoms in a glass jar filled with 1/2-inch of water, or in a zip-close plastic bag with damp paper towel wrapped around the bottoms of the stems. And try to eat the asparagus within a day or two, when it’s still at its peak of freshness.
To prep asparagus: If the stem is more than 1⁄3 inch thick, it must be peeled. Doing so ensures the spear will cook evenly. If you don’t peel it, you’ll overcook the tip before the stem becomes tender. Another reason to lose the peel on a thick stalk is that it’s tough.
There are several delicious ways to cook asparagus.
You can briefly boil or steam the spears, then top them with butter or vinaigrette. It also can be grilled, broiled or roasted at high heat, all of which amplify its natural sugars.
In this recipe, I’ve moved asparagus from the side to the center of the plate in the form of a one-pot Asian main course. Have all the ingredients prepped and lined up on the counter before you start because everything goes into the pan very quickly. The cooking time is scarcely 10 minutes.
You begin by pan-searing the raw spears in a hot pan to get a little color on them, adding shiitake mushrooms and shrimp, then flavoring it all with ginger, garlic, chili slices and oyster sauce. Serve it with a side of brown rice or your favorite whole grain and you’re good to go.
Pan-Seared Asparagus With Shrimp, Shiitakes and Chilies
Serves 4. Recipe is by Sara Moulton.
41 lb. (about 1 bunch) asparagus, tough ends discarded
3 tbls. vegetable oil, divided
5 ozs. shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps cut into quarters (or sixths if caps are large)
1 lb. large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tsps. minced garlic
2 tsps. minced fresh ginger
1 small red or green chili, such as a jalapeno or serrano, seeds and ribs discarded if desired, thinly sliced
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tbls. oyster sauce
1 tbl. cornstarch
Cooked brown rice, to serve
41. If asparagus stalks are very thick, use a vegetable peeler to shave off the thick skins starting just below the tip and down to the bottom. Cut the stalks into angled 1/2-inch pieces.
2. In a large skillet over high, heat 1 tablespoon of oil. When oil is almost smoking, add all of the asparagus and a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to medium-high and saute the asparagus, stirring, until it is crisp, tender and golden at some of the edges, 4-5 minutes. Transfer the asparagus to a bowl and set aside.
3. Return skillet to heat and add another tablespoon of oil, the shiitakes and a pinch of salt. Reduce heat to medium and saute mushrooms, stirring, until they are barely tender and golden around some of the edges, about 3 minutes. Transfer the shiitakes to the bowl with the asparagus.
4. Return skillet to heat and add remaining oil and the shrimp. Saute the shrimp, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and chili and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
5. In a bowl, whisk together the broth, oyster sauce and cornstarch. Add the mixture to the skillet, whisking, and bring to a boil. Return the asparagus and the mushrooms to the skillet and simmer for 1 minute. To serve, spoon a mound of rice onto each of 4 plates, then top with a quarter of the asparagus and shrimp mixture.
Nutrition information per serving: 270 calories (110 calories from fat = 41 percent of total calories); 12 grams fat (1 gram saturated; 0 grams trans fats); 170 milligrams cholesterol; 14 grams carbohydrate (3 grams fiber; 4 grams sugar); 27 grams protein; 500 milligrams sodium.