Vibrant green, spotty brown, crisp-tender—these are the qualities of a perfectly cooked spear of asparagus, right?
Wrong. The grassy, snappy specimens that result from grilling, roasting, and sautéing have long been upheld as the paragon of asparagus, but if you ask me, the vegetable isn’t at its very best until it has cooked to the point of losing its verdant hue and—yes!—its crispness. I’m talking about braised asparagus: After a stint simmering in liquid, asparagus’s crisp bite gives way to silkiness; the fresh vegetal flavor evolves into more-complex sweet nuttiness; and the braising liquid can travel into the spears, seasoning them inside and out. What it lacks in color it more than makes up for with big flavor and craveable, delicate texture.
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The Best Asparagus for Braising
When it comes to braising, bigger is better. Look for hearty spears of asparagus that can hold up to this longer cooking method—their stringy fibers will also be less dense than in thinner spears, creating a nicer bite.
1. Peel off the asparagus’s firm, waxy skin.
Removing the skin helps the braising liquid travel deep into the core of the vegetable, seasoning the spears inside and out.
Science: Use Botany to Braise Better
To maximize infusion of the braising liquid, we peel off the asparagus’s tough outer skin—this skin is covered with an impermeable waxy cuticle that protects the spears from water loss from within and attack by insects and microorganisms as they grow. When the skin is removed, the braising liquid is able to penetrate the asparagus, seasoning it throughout. A cross section of peeled and unpeeled spears braised in blue-dyed water shows how much deeper the cooking liquid travels.
2. Add the asparagus in an even layer to a simmering bath of water, extra-virgin olive oil, table salt, and chicken broth.
These ingredients delicately season the asparagus and allow the vegetable’s sweet nuttiness to take the spotlight.
3. Cook 8-10 minutes.
Cook until the liquid has reduced to a glaze and the asparagus can be easily pierced with a paring knife.
Ready to overcook your way to your new favorite asparagus? Get the full recipe below.