White and green asparagus are the same vegetable, but growers mound soil over the plant as soon as the spears emerge, a process called blanching, and continue the process until the spears ripen. As a result, white asparagus is more tender and has a more mild flavor than its green sibling. Because white asparagus is milder than green asparagus, it needs special treatment when you cook it.
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Basic Cooking Tips
Although white asparagus has a tender texture inside, the stalks are thick and tougher on the outside than green asparagus, and they have more bitter flavors. Peel the outer skin off completely with a vegetable peeler or paring knife, and cut off 1 to 2 inches from the bottom of the stalk where it appears tough and fibrous, before cooking. Store asparagus in the refrigerator with the stems in water, as you would with flowers, for 1 to 2 days before cooking.
Highlight the Mild Flavor
Simple cooking methods allow you to taste and appreciate the mild flavor of white asparagus. Whatever method you use, cook the asparagus until it is just tender and a sharp knife slips easily into the stem, anywhere from 8 to 15 minutes depending on the thickness of the spears. Traditional cooking methods include:
- simmering in very gently boiling water,
- poaching in water that is just below the boil, and
- steaming in a double boiler or steamer.
A little acidity, fat and salt provide contrast to the quiet flavor of white asparagus. Use other ingredients sparingly and season them lightly so they don't overpower the vegetable:
- Provide saltiness with pieces of crispy bacon or pancetta or a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese.
- Make acidic sauces to pour over the cooked asparagus or for dipping, such as a mild vinaigrette, an herbed aioli or a lemon hollandaise sauce.
- Serve a dollop of plain mayonnaise or a combination of mayonnaise and mild mustard on top of the asparagus with toasted bread crumbs sprinkled over the top.
White asparagus provides an elegant and rich-tasting soup when you cook it with a little white wine for acidity, cream for richness and a splash of lemon juice stirred in just before serving. You can also toss the asparagus in olive oil or flavored walnut or truffle oil and roast it in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven or pan-sear it over high heat in a skillet to char the skin for a flavorful contrast to the tender asparagus flesh; either method takes from 10 to 15 minutes, with occasional stirring.