Monday, June 8, 2009

Last-Chance Asparagus

by Birch

Cooking asparagus can be brutally unforgiving, like our cat after a trip to the vet. Asparagus is a vegetable that demands precise timing--a moment too long in a steam bath reduces its delicate flavor and texture to inedible mush. Fortunately warmer weather has brought us outside and back to our barbecue grill, and that is where asparagus is at its best.

There is a nice trick I've always used to prepare asparagus for cooking: The ends, which are too tough to eat, magically snap off at just the right spot where the stem turns tender. Then I coat the spears lightly in a good olive oil to keep them from drying out. When the grill is preheated (we use gas, though charcoal is probably better flavor-wise), I turn the flame down to medium and carefully fan the oiled asparagus across the grill. I try to lay the spears perpendicular to the grate so they won't fall through it. After three or four minutes, I'll give the asparagus a half-turn with a pair of tongs. Another three minutes or so and they will be a deep, dark green dotted with lovely caramelized spots. They are ready to remove. A sprinkle with some flaky Malden salt and a few grinds of black pepper is all that's needed. It's utterly simple and worth the extra time at the grill: There's a sweet, faintly nutty taste that can't be achieved any other way. Fern and Blossom eat them up!