Fresh asparagus is sweeter and more tender, and the quality quickly degrades after harvest. It’s worth seeking them out at a farmers’ market during their short season.
When is asparagus in season?
Asparagus has a relatively short season, from March to June. After it is picked, the sugars decline and the spears turn fibrous and stringy. So the fresher you can find them, the better they will be.
Farmers markets have the freshest supply, usually picked the morning of the market.
- Green – what you commonly see
- White – dirt is mounded up around the plant as it grows, blocking sunlight from reaching the spears. This is what makes them white. Some people love them (especially in France), other’s don’t care for the flavor.
- Purple – these are stunning, however it’s worth knowing that the purple color disappears when they are cooked.
How to pick
Fresher asparagus will have tightly closed buds with stalks that are not woody or fibrous looking at the ends. Also, size has nothing to do with their quality, as confirmed by multiple sources. Serious Eats has some good advice on choosing size based on your cooking method:
- Choose thinner stalks for boiling, snacking or sauteing
- Buy thicker ones for roasting or grilling. The larger stalks have more water content and can stand up to those high heat cooking methods.
How to store
Use asparagus as soon as you can, as they get tougher and more fibrous the longer you store them. Cold temperatures slow down the negative effects of storage, so be sure to put them in the fridge.
Some people have reported good results from storing them in a glass with a small amount of water (like you’d store flowers). Some suggest to then cover it with a plastic bag to keep in the moisture. An alternative method is to wrap the bottoms in a damp paper towel and store in an open plastic bag in the crisper drawer.
How long will it last?
Best eaten right away as flavor deteriorates over time and they get woody, but they can last up to 4 days when properly stored.
Don’t snap spears
It used to be common advice to bend asparagus spears until the ends snap off. The idea was that they will naturally break where the woodiness ends.
However, that doesn’t quite work in practice. It turns out they break where we put the most pressure. This causes an unnecessary waste of food and money. Oregon Live has a full article about it, encouraging you to not snap those spears.
It’s better to simply cut the ends off with a knife (it’s faster too) to get rid of the fibrous and dried-out ends.
Why some asparagus is woody & what to do about it
Asparagus gets woody, or sometimes described as stringy, the longer it is stored. This happens in two places: at the cut end, and throughout the inside of the spear.
When the spears are cut for harvest, they try to heal themselves, and this causes woodiness at the end of the stem. This isn’t a huge problem since you can just cut the ends off.
The more difficult problem is when it gets stringy throughout the entire spear. This happens because the spears continuously convert their sugars into a substance (call lignin) that causes woodiness. The longer asparagus is stored, the more sugars they convert. Cooking doesn’t make them less stringy.
The best solution is to buy the freshest asparagus you can find and use it right away. That isn’t always practical, but refrigeration slows down this sugar-to-woodiness conversion. This means you should not only buy the most recently cut asparagus, but ones that have been kept cold as well. Then once you get home, keep it cold in the fridge.
- Preparing Asparagus – The Botanist in the Kitchen
- Wound-lignifying Asparagus – Oxford Academic Journal
Should I buy organic?
Organic is always a good choice, however, it isn’t necessary for asparagus. Tests for pesticide show that conventionally grown asparagus has very little pesticide per serving, so low that it’s almost indistinguishable from organic sources.
Each recipe below only uses ingredients that are in season at the same time as asparagus, or ingredients that have a year-round season. Since their season overlaps with the beginning or end of other fruits and vegetables, the recipes are grouped into early season, late season, or anytime they are available.
…For anytime asparagus is in season
Asparagus and mushroom pasta – recipe by Salt & Lavender
Caesar salad with grilled asparagus and quail eggs – recipe by Cooking LSL
Garlic Parmesan roasted asparagus by Belle of the Kitchen
Charred asparagus cream pasta with blackened lemon chicken by Half Baked Harvest
Asparagus tart – recipe by The Petite Cook
Asparagus and pea soup – recipe by Harriet Emily
Shaved asparagus, radish and quinoa salad with lemon-dijon poppy seed dressing – recipe by Vanilla And Bean
While radishes can be harvested year round in California (and ship well across the country), spring brings us wonderful watermelon radishes (slightly more mild than regular radishes with striking hot-pink flesh).
…For the very end of the season (around June)
Asparagus shakshuka – by Recipes from a Pantry
Bell peppers come into season in early summer, right around when asparagus season is ending. So this is a perfect use for the very last asparagus you can find.