Although the season is very short, British asparagus is well worth the wait for its unbeatable flavour and freshness. We show you how to cook asparagus to perfection in our simple and delicious recipes, from asparagus soup to asparagus risotto.
Asparagus is best when grown and picked fresh. Regardless of whether you’re buying thin 'sprue' asparagus or extra-large 'jumbo' spears, always choose stems that are firm and lush, rather than dry and wrinkly. Avoid any stems that are discoloured, scarred or turning slimy at the tips. If you're using whole spears, then make sure the buds are tightly furled. If you're making soup, though, you could also use the cheaper, loose-tipped spears you sometimes find on market stalls.
The less time it takes to get asparagus from the field to the plate, the better it will taste because the sugars in the plant start to turn to starch once it's picked. British-grown asparagus takes about 24 hours to get from plant to supermarket shelf, but it's worth checking the sell-by dates and visiting PYO farms for the freshest specimens you can find. Asparagus from outside the UK will spend longer in transport.
Despite what you may have read or heard, it's not necessary to buy an asparagus steamer, nor to bind the asparagus into a bundle and cook it upright in a pan. For the best results, wash the stems thoroughly in a sink full of cold water. Then trim the stalks and, if the lower part of the stem seems tough when sliced and eaten raw, lightly peel the bottom third of the stem. Drop loose spears into a pan of boiling water and cook until just tender. The cooking time varies according to the thickness of the stems, but ranges between 3-5 minutes. Once it's cooked, drain and pat dry on kitchen paper. If you're serving it cold, you'll get the best flavour if, rather than cooling under the cold tap, you spread the hot asparagus out to cool on some kitchen paper.
Fresh, tender asparagus can be served raw: use a vegetable peeler to cut thin shavings into a salad and dressing it with a lemon vinaigrette, or serve it whole with aioli for dipping. White asparagus is particularly good raw.