Thick or Thin Asparagus?

by Elizabeth Skipper | May 5th, 2015 | Ask the Chef

asparagus (400x400)My husband and I have varying opinions on this- is thick or thin asparagus better?  I find the thick to be woody and the thin to be delicate. Is there a culinary reason to choose one over the other, or do we just have different food opinions?

This is another one of those perennial arguments, to which the answer is simple – it just depends on what you like. One is not better than the other; and they each have their particular strengths in the kitchen and on the plate. It’s nice to be able to say you’re both right!

Thin asparagus doesn’t need to be peeled, which is a timesaver. It cooks faster than thicker stalks, although asparagus cooks so fast it doesn’t make much difference. That also means it’s easy to overcook, so you need to keep an eye on it.

Thick asparagus some say must be peeled. That’s what I was taught, but I’ve since come to the conclusion that it depends on how you plan to cook it. If simply steamed or boiled (my preference), peeling will allow the entire stalk to cook in the same amount of time, avoiding the problem of overcooked tips. As a aside, I think there’s a special place in culinary hell for anyone who eats only the tips. What a waste! The stalks are every bit as delicious; in fact, I prefer them.

If, on the other hand, you plan to roast medium to thick asparagus, or roll cut and stir fry it, the peel doesn’t present a problem. That was a welcome revelation to me because peeling does take some time and can slow down dinner prep.

Is there a culinary reason to choose one over the other? Generally, the thinner stalks make a good side dish; and the fat spears are luscious enough to be served as a first course or even a main course, vegetarian or otherwise. The most important thing is select fresh asparagus which has been properly stored. It pains me to see how much of it is improperly displayed, with the butt ends dried out and the tips beginning to open up. Complain to the produce manager about ill treatment of this spring time treat. Despite the wide availability of asparagus year-round, it’s best this time of year and eaten seasonally.

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