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Asparagus: Make it Perfect


Pick the perfect asparagus spears and pair them with any of your favorite recipes

Asparagus is both elegant and delicious. It can be prepared in hundreds of ways and its flavor always shines through. The best, in our opinion, is the simplest: grilled or steamed and served with a white sauce.

Before you grab up any old stack of asparagus at the grocery store, however, you should try to pick the best of the best to bring home. Look for tight tips that are somewhat dry. The base should be firm and damp, though, and standing upright in ice. Professional chefs prefer to purchase asparagus that is loose, but that probably won't be an option for most of us. The rubber bands can bruise the stalks, but is the most common type of packaging.

Once asparagus is picked, it is assigned a grade according to size. Small and standard sizes are what consumers are most accustomed to although a jumbo size is available, but not as popular. In fact, there is some argument as to which is best: slender stalks or the larger "standard" size. That mainly depends on the dish.

Asparagus has been known to give shoppers sticker shock. That's because most of it is still hand-picked and shipped immediately for ultimate peak performance. If you decide to pay a premium price, make sure you're getting it in the best shape.

Asparagus should be cooked as soon as it is brought home. It will keep for a short time if placed in water and then wrapped with paper towels and plastic. Younger shoots are more tender and have a sweeter taste, but may turn bitter if not consumed right away. Peel thick stalks and remove the woody base - it will make a natural break where the tough portion gives way to the more edible stalk.

The canned variety that is precut is well worth keeping on hand for the flavor, but don't expect much in the way of texture. Use canned asparagus for soups and for casseroles. You can also make asparagus sauces that will be tasty when drizzled over chicken or other foods. If possible, run the canned asparagus through a food processor - you may have to remove a few "woody" strips.

Asparagus, with its unique flavor, is easy to prepare. In addition, it is loaded with vitamins A and C, with a side benefit of extra phosphorus and potassium. Now, it's time to work up some recipes!

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