If you're looking for a quick and easy vegetable to make for dinner, steamed asparagus is a great choice. Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables.
It has such a delicious, distinct flavor. It's also one of the few foods that it's considered polite to eat with your hands, and for some reason I get a kick out of that!
There are lots of different delicious ways to prepare asparagus: roasted, sautéed, boiled... Each method has its own advantages. Steamed asparagus is nice because it keeps a lot of its nutrients, and keeps the pure, fresh asparagus taste. And it's really easy to cook it just as tender as you like it.
The first step towards making delicious steamed asparagus is knowing how to choose a nice bunch. Here are a few things to look for when you're selecting some asparagus.
Young and tender! The older asparagus gets, the woodier it gets, and it loses a lot of its appeal. Look for firm, fresh asparagus with closed, compact tips. The stem shouldn't be limp and the tip shouldn't be soggy.
Thick or thin? If you go to the store, you'll notice that sometimes they have very thick asparagus spears, and other times they're pencil thin. Which are better? The truth is, neither really is.
Thicker doesn't mean older! How thick asparagus gets depends on the plant, not on how long it grows, so you can have very young and tender spears that are quite thick.
Thicker spears can be a bit more tender, but different dishes will be better with different sizes of asparagus. It's more of a texture and personal preference thing.
For example, I like to make ham-wrapped asparagus with thin spears, wrapping 5 or 6 spears in a thin slice of ham. I find a lot of little spears gives a better texture.
In the end, the type of asparagus you should choose depends a lot on your personal preference. As long as they're firm and fresh and not too old, you're in for a delicious treat!
Before making steamed asparagus and eating it, it's a good idea to wash the asparagus. It helps get rid of any dirt and chemicals that might still be on it. There are a few ways to do it:
Gently rub the asparagus under lukewarm water to get all the dirt off. If you have fresh, young asparagus, the tip won't be too fragile, but you still want to be careful.
Place the asparagus in a bowl of lukewarm water and rub the spears gently. You want to get the dirt off without damaging the spears. Don't leave the spears in there too long or they can get waterlogged!
Lukewarm water is usually best to wash vegetables. It's better at getting off dirt and chemicals than cold water.
Once the asparagus is washed, you can trim it. Or you can do it the other way around, but I prefer to wash before I trim. That way, I can use the parts I trim off for vegetable stock.
So why do you need to trim asparagus? Well, the base can be tough and woody, and it's really not that enjoyable to eat. Very fibrous. So when you trim asparagus, you just remove the old, woody part, and keep the delicious tender part, for even better steamed asparagus!
There are two ways to do it.
You can cut an inch or so off the base of each spear, using a sharp knife.
You can snap off the ends by hand. With one hand, hold the asparagus spear by its middle. With the other hand, bend the base until it snaps off.
I prefer the second method. The asparagus will naturally break off where it stops being woody and tough, so you're removing pretty much the exact amount you need from each spear. It tends to take off more than just cutting though, so it can seem more wasteful, unless you plan on using the trimmed bits for a stock.
If you like, you can also peel the base off of thicker asparagus spears, if they're especially woody. It helps you get to the more tender inside. It can also make the asparagus more evenly thick, so that it cooks more evenly.
The longer you keep asparagus, the tougher it gets, because the sugars in it turn into starch. So if you've had asparagus in the fridge for a while, you can expect to trim off quite a bit more than if you just bought the asparagus.
You can use the bits you trimmed or peeled off for vegetable stock. You can save them in the freezer and boil them with a bunch of other vegetables, or you can boil them right away in some water, and save the cooking water.
If your asparagus isn't so fresh anymore and is kind of limp, snapping off the ends won't work so well. If that's the case, you can just cut them off with a knife. It's always best to use fresh asparagus though, but sometimes we just don't use up our vegetables when we thought we would!
And that's all there is to the preparation. It takes about 3 minutes to do, and then you're ready to make steamed asparagus.
There are a few different ways of making steamed asparagus. Which one you pick will depend on a few different things, like what equipment you have available and how thick your asparagus is. In this section, we'll go over three different ways of steaming asparagus, plus some extra tips.
When I think of steaming vegetables, this is what I have in mind. All you need for steamed asparagus is a plain old steamer, or a pot of water and a steaming basket (a heat-resistant basket that'll hold the asparagus but let steam through). It's the traditional way, and it works great.
I'll go over how to do it with a pot of water and a steaming basket. If you have a steamer, it's basically the same thing except you don't have to worry about the water level and things like that.
Here's how to do it.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. You don't need much water, only an inch or two at the bottom of the pot. You just need enough to create steam, and enough that it won't completely boil off while you steam the vegetables.
Place the asparagus in a steaming basket. Place the basket over the water.
Be sure that the asparagus isn't actually immersed in the water. You want the steam to cook the asparagus, not the hot water – that would be boiling!
Cover the asparagus, and let it steam until it's cooked to your liking. It'll take 5 to 15 minutes, depending on how thick the asparagus is and how tender you like it.
You can leave a little vent for steam to escape. It can help the asparagus keep its bright green color. Trapping the steam inside can sometimes cause the asparagus to turn olive green.
Test a piece every so often to check if it's done. You can poke it with a fork, or just have a little bite (I prefer to taste – I'm usually pretty hungry when I cook!)
Keep an eye on the water level. If it gets low, add a bit more water so the pot doesn't run dry.
Serve the steamed asparagus, and enjoy!
And that's how to make steamed asparagus in a steaming basket. What could be easier?
This method is kind of special, and very specific to asparagus.
The thing about asparagus is that the tips tend to cook faster than the base. This happens for two reasons. First of all, they're just more tender and need less cooking time. But the tips are often thinner than the base – and thinner vegetables need less cooking time.
What this means is that the tips can get overdone by the time the base is cooked. For me, it's not much of a problem because I prefer my vegetables more tender than not. But if you like them a bit crisp, and you have thick asparagus, this method might give you steamed asparagus that you'll enjoy quite a bit more.
They do sell some pots specifically made to steam asparagus upright, but all you really need is a tall, narrow pot.
Here's how you do it:
Tie the asparagus into little bundles with kitchen twine. You don't want them so big that the asparagus is tightly packed, but you do want the bundle to be able to stand upright.
For thin spears, you may need 8 or 10 spears per bundle. Thick spears might only need 4 or 5 per bundle to stand upright.
Bring an inch or so of water to a boil in a tall, narrow pot.
You can add some flavoring to the water, especially if the base of the asparagus will be immersed. Try garlic, lemon wedges, salt, or any herbs you like.
Place the asparagus bundles in the water, upright, tips up.
If you have a little basket or grate that'll keep the asparagus out of the water, you can go ahead and use it. But if you don't, it's not a big deal – most of the asparagus will be out of the water so it'll still be steamed, not boiled.
Let the asparagus steam until it's done. Depending on the size of the spears and how tender you like it, it'll take 5 to 15 minutes.
Serve the steamed asparagus, and enjoy!
And that's how to get nice, evenly cooked asparagus. It's a bit more work to tie up the bundles, but it's really not that hard.
You can also use the microwave to steam asparagus. It's just as easy as the other methods.
Here's how you do it.
Place the asparagus in a microwave-safe dish with a bit of water at the bottom.
The dish should be able to hold all the asparagus, laid down flat, in one or two layers.
You should be able to cover the dish in plastic wrap without the plastic touching the asparagus.
Cover the dish with microwave-safe plastic wrap, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on high. Add another 30s at a time, until the asparagus is done to your liking.
Leave a little vent in the plastic cover for steam to escape. Otherwise, the heat will cause the plastic wrap to get sucked downwards towards your asparagus and it'll be a pain to remove.
Carefully remove the plastic wrap. It's hot, and so is the steam trapped inside!
Serve the steamed asparagus, and enjoy!
Microwaving isn't really my favorite way to cook. It just doesn't feel like steaming, since the microwave doesn't just boil the water, it cooks the asparagus, too. And it doesn't cook things as evenly as on the stove-top or oven, and I find it can be a bit off. Some people also think that microwaving can be bad for you, but as far as I know that hasn't really be proven.
But that's just a personal preference. If you like microwaved steamed asparagus, it's definitely a quick and easy way to do it, and it takes the least amount of clean up of all. And it doesn't take up any counter space or stove-top space, which can be a real benefit!
No matter which method you picked to steam asparagus, there are a few extra tricks you can use to make your steamed asparagus extra delicious.
Sprinkle the asparagus with a bit of salt, or drizzle it with some butter, lemon juice or a good olive oil for some extra flavor. Coarse salt is especially nice because it'll add a bit of crunch.
Sauté some garlic or shallots in a bit of butter, then toss the asparagus in the mixture. It'll add a lot of flavor!
If you're not serving the asparagus as soon as it's cooked, dunk it in cold or ice water. It stops the cooking process, and keeps the asparagus perfectly done. It also helps the steamed asparagus keep its bright green color.
You can use the asparagus cold, in a salad. It's delicious that way. Or you can reheat it by quickly sautéing it – with butter and garlic for an extra delicious treat!
How much asparagus is in a serving? It depends on the size of the asparagus. For big, thick asparagus, you might only need 3 to 5 spears per person. With thinner spears, you might need 5 to 10. Just use your best judgment. After all, you know best if you like lots of vegetables!
And that's how to steam asparagus. It really is a delicious treat... a treat that's good for you, too! Steaming doesn't add as many complex flavors as sautéing or roasting does, but asparagus is so good it doesn't even need anything extra.