While asparagus are one of the first tender veggies to poke their heads out of the ground come spring, they’re not exactly prolific; bulbs can take from 2-3 years to sprout. And their season is sadly fleeting — pencil-thin spears begin to appear at the beginning of April, giving way to fatter, meatier specimens midway through June — but anything older than that is generally woody, tough and flavorless; meaning there’s only a few precious months to get your asparagus fill.
Which is why restaurants are chomping at the bit to be the first to showcase spears; including Gunter Seeger, whose tasting menu includes gently braised planks of mild and silky white asparagus (grown under soil or sand to keep its hue), to a crosshatch of grilled, green stalks wrapped with black truffles. Jared Sippel also showcases the white variety (paired with scallops, kumquats and upland cress) at his Northern Italy-meets-Southern France Italianne, while green beauties (scuttled straight from the greenmarket, of course) are molded into Sformato custard at Union Square Café, along with spring garlic and lemon-infused breadcrumbs.
Charles Masson’s Majorelle keeps it classic with sprightly Asperges Vertes Vinaigrette, while the “swanky vegan” Modern Love Brooklyn proffers grilled spears smothered with cherry tomato-tarragon salsa and a clever, gluten-free cashew hollandaise. And while seafood’s the thing at Gloria (a pescatarian eatery from a Le Bernardin alum), it’s not at the expense of produce; look for Red Snapper with asparagus in a rich red wine bearnaise.
When working with asparagus yourself, it’s imperative to purchase it soon after it’s been harvested. Which makes farmers markets and gourmet groceries your best bet for extra tender specimens. Look for smooth skin, a bright green color, compact heads, and freshly cut ends. And store asparagus as you would flowers, set in a vase of water in the fridge. But don’t leave them there too long, as asparagus loses flavor the longer that it sits.
Whether thin or fat, you’ll need to trim the asparagus before cooking. The fastest and easiest way is to hold the ends and bend the spear until it breaks somewhere in the middle; everything from the middle up will be tender enough to eat easily. For less waste and a more elegant presentation of fatter spears, try peeling the asparagus stems.
Asparagus can be cooked in an endless number of ways, but generally speaking, thinner spears are better for roasting, grilling, stir-frying, tossing with pasta, or eating raw in salads, while thicker asparagus is traditionally left whole, so its tender, meaty texture can be appreciated. Try them steamed with butter or hollandaise sauce, or blanched and chilled with a vinaigrette or other dressing. Top with a poached egg, layer in a puff pastry tart with punchy goat cheese or nutty gruyere, or bake into a quiche. Wrap in pancetta and drizzle with olive oil for an awesome antipasti or fresh party bite, puree into a bright spring soup, or stick spears inside rolled-up filets of chicken, pork, fish or beef. Or do all of the above — because after a winter of roots and tubers, it’s hard to beat a bounty of delicate, kelly-green asparagus.
641 Hudson St.
19 W 24th St
Union Square Café
101 E 19th St
28 E 63rd St
Modern Love Brooklyn
317 Union Ave
401 West 53rd St