Press-Republican

FYI...

April 6, 2013

Asparagus and the grill, a match made for spring

WASHINGTON — My asparagus convalescence - from a childhood spent eating the mushy, canned stuff - began late in my adolescence, when my mother boiled fresh spears, then napped them with homemade hollandaise.

The healing was not complete until years later, when I tasted grilled asparagus. Charred, tender yet crisp, it captured a flavor that, if I were in charge of the vegetable's PR, I might call Springtime's Essence. Its delicacy was deepened by a turn over the fire, giving its natural winsomeness a kind of side-dish gravitas.

To my mind, everything about spring is epitomized by asparagus. As is frequently the case with converts, I have become a bit militant on the subject. To me, if you don't care for grilled asparagus, then you don't like grilling and you don't like asparagus.

The two were made for each other. Boiling, steaming, roasting - none of those methods complement the vegetable's flavor like a wood or charcoal flame. This is the time of year when asparagus is at its best, and there is no better way of cooking it than putting the green spears on the grill and charring them. It's a taste of spring that foreshadows summer.

One question that attends the grilling of asparagus is the same one that bedevils other forms of asparagus cooking: Thick or thin, which is better?

For a long time, I simply chose whatever was at the store. Then I read that a skinny stalk packed more asparagus punch than a fat one, with a texture that is generally less woody. So I selected only the most anorexic spears I could find.

In due time, consuming the baseball-bat-size things served at steak restaurants upended my skinny-asparagus fetish. If those could be as good as they were (and usually they weren't even grilled), maybe everything I thought I knew was wrong.

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