Of course, you can go into any shop at any time of the year and see asparagus on the shelves, but if you want homegrown and more flavour – stick to the season.
Seasonality varies depending on where you are – in some parts of Europe, depending on climatic conditions in your real provenance area, asparagus has a very short season. In the UK, the phrase is related to specific times of the year, the season-opening of which is St. Georges’s Day (April 23rd) and the closure is ‘when the solstice has gone, then so has the asparagus’ – honestly. So 2lst June folks – my sense of humour makes me imagine lots of bunches of asparagus, marching army-style down the road and then jumping off a cliff to their death!| Seems a bit like mumbo-jumbo to me, but it is right, more or less.
In mainland Europe however, seasons can be longer, lasting over 3 months as opposed to our eight weeks in the UK. The US (as usual) can obtain asparagus most times of the year. It may be from somewhere 2,000 miles away from your home town, but it’s still American!
Considering that asparagus started its long journey a thousand years ago, trotting its way from China across to Egypt and the Middle East, followed by the Mediterranean and finally Northern Europe in the early 16th Century, it sure has some stamina!
How many types of asparagus are there?
Essentially there are 3, green, white and purple. However, within those are some sub-species with varying names depending on where you are. Green is the common one, purple a little less so, and white is the prized ‘difficult to get hold of’ variety. When I lived in the South of France, people clamoured and queued when the word was out that there would be white asparagus at market that day, the start of the season! Fortunately, as chef at a very busy restaurant, the beaten up farmers truck would arrive, loaded to the gunnels, for me to pick the best of the bunches at 5am!
I’ve never tried asparagus, what does it taste like?
Words I have heard are ‘grassy’ and ‘earthy’. Well, I would rather chow down on asparagus than my back lawn..it would be good to know what our readers think of the taste.
Try this Asparagus bisque recipe here!
How do I choose my asparagus?
This is an FAQ. Personally, I would always opt for farmers markets or farms themselves if they sell it direct to the public, or let you loose on cutting your own (I have known farmers stick to you like glue as you try to cut, wielding a machete-style sharp implement – I think they would use it on you if you cut it wrongly!)
Whichever way you go, take time to check out your asparagus. Firstly, check out for bugs as it’s a sure sign if there are bugs when you buy, then the bunches partied with bugs whilst growing. That’s a no-no. Make sure the stems are firm but flexible, and the colour is a vibrant green (unless you are buying white of course!). The buds should be intact as well. When you get home, wash the produce again, flick off any excess water and store in a plastic bag in the fridge. Don’t use a ziplock, or anything airtight, as the asparagus will deteriorate far faster.
Can I freeze asparagus?
Indeed you can, and most people don’t really realise that. Freezing is simple – you can blanch and freeze or just use the same method that you use for storing in the fridge. It works. If you buy your asparagus with a rubber band for bunching, take off the band before freezing.
I don’t cook a lot with asparagus, any new ideas?
As a chef, we always found something new to add to our menu. You can’t really make an asparagus trifle or a birthday cake, but you can serve it with a flavoursome sweetish sauce, something like Roasted Asparagus with Ginger, Honey and Soy dressing – it’s delicious and a great mix of cuisines – I guess you could call it Pan-Asian.
You can make muffins or similar with parmesan and crispy bacon, obviously not sweet but a leaning towards ‘cakey’ fillings. Or you could make scones with chopped asparagus and marinated strawberries, which really are fabulous. Another idea which a friend introduced me to is Honey Fig and Asparagus tart with a creamy egg filling, which again is pretty yummy. Create your own ideas, you never know you may end up with an award-winning recipe!
But most of the Michelin-starred boys and girls are keeping it simple this year (if Michelin food is ever simple), sticking to a lot of grilled asparagus but making the speciality the actual sauce or the way it is served. Some are even fermenting it and serving with spiced vinegar, or making infusions of oil and thyme (had that one, its delicious). But my favourite of all is Fran Agudo from Tickets in Barcelona. He cooks white asparagus inside a salty meringue in the oven, then tops with Laurentia and sea grapes. Sounds complicated? – never say never until you try!
Dare I say – don’t forget delicious asparagus soup, a huge favourite of Queen Victoria when she held state banquets and of course, everyone at Simply Souperlicious!