In recent years I've heard a lot of "classically trained" (read: Francophile) chefs joke about how cooks these days disguise a supposed lack of knowledge of "proper" vegetable cooking technique by intentionally burning every piece of produce they get their hands on and calling it "charred" on a menu. The appropriate response to this argument? "D'accord, boomer."
I have nothing but love and respect for a silky glaçage coating on a carrot, or a perfectly sautéed mushroom. But when it comes to cooking tender-crisp vegetables like asparagus, snap peas, broccoli, or cabbage, I am a big fan of judicious charring.
Charring vegetables still involves plenty of care and technique; we're not blow-torching veggies until they are reduced to ash, but there are times we do employ controlled kitchen pyrotechnics to recreate the smoky flavor of wok hei at home. Whether you're cooking outdoors on a grill or indoors on your stovetop, "properly" charred vegetables cook really quickly, hold onto their crisp texture, and pick up just the right amount of pleasant bitterness to complement their natural sweetness.
In the video above, I've outlined the process for dry-charring asparagus, one of my favorite ways of cooking a vegetable side to accompany a pan-seared steak, chop, or chicken breast. What's so great about it? Well, for starters, it's cooked in the same carbon steel or cast iron pan used to cook the protein of your choice (so there's less cleanup afterwards), and it comes together in the time it takes for said protein to rest. This method is faster and also generally uses less fat than sautéing or glazing, as the ingredients are cooked through conduction (direct contact between the hot pan and asparagus) rather than convection (which involves the transfer of heat between two solid bodies through the medium of liquid or gas). I'm certainly not opposed to cooking with fat, but I do like to keep stove splatter to a minimum whenever possible these days.
Along with speed, ease of use, and minimal post-cooking cleanup, this dry-charring method produces the tender-crisp texture that works so well with asparagus, snap peas, green beans, and many other vegetables. Try this technique out, and pair some dry-charred asparagus with a steak and maybe a chimichurri or an immersion blender miso béarnaise that'll really make those Escoffier stans upset.
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