Pinning down the flavor of asparagus isn’t easy, even for a culinary pro like Charles Hunter III. “Some say it tastes like a concentrated broccoli, some say earthy, and others say sweeter than broccoli with a hint of lemon,” says the Nashville personal chef and the writer behind The Salted Table blog. “I’m going to cop out and say that asparagus is delicious and tastes like…asparagus.” Growing up in Oak Ridge in East Tennessee, Hunter developed a love for cooking during afternoons trailing his mother and grandmother around the kitchen. But fresh asparagus wasn’t a taste of his childhood.
“We ate asparagus from a can,” he says. “I would sauté it in butter and season it with Lawry’s seasoning salt and pepper.” It wasn’t until Hunter went to culinary school that he started working with fresh asparagus, and the bright green stalks have since become one of his favorite veggies of the season. At the farmers’ market, look for them bundled and lining tables, and avoid any with limp stalks, frizzled tips, or blemishes. To preserve freshness, trim off the woody ends and store the spears in the refrigerator rubber-banded in a glass jar with the ends in water. Cover them with plastic wrap so they don’t soak up the flavors of anything else in your fridge. They’ll stay snappy for at least a week. And keep in mind that while it looks hardy, asparagus cooks quickly. “It’s the vegetable you cook in the last five or so minutes before everything hits the table,” Hunter says.
The stalks are versatile: They can be pureed into a soup, shaved raw for a salad, or worked into a stir-fry, and if you’re a traditionalist, there’s no shame in slathering them in hollandaise. But for the ultimate quick lunch or side, Hunter likes to toss them with a sweet-and-spicy dressing (see recipe for his go-to seven-minute prep). Each bite is a reminder that spring is in full swing.
The Chef Recommends:
Simple Chile and Honey Asparagus
Yield: 3 or 4 servings
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into halves or thirds
½ Vidalia onion, julienned
3 tbsp. olive oil
¼ tsp. chile flakes
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
Place asparagus, onion, olive oil, and chile flakes in a sauté pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until asparagus begins to brown and onions become tender, about 4 or 5 minutes. Add vinegar, honey, and garlic. Stir for 2 minutes to ensure everything is evenly coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over risotto, creamy grits, or mashed potatoes with a squeeze of lemon.