Why This Recipe Works
- High heat sears the asparagus, giving it a woodsy, charred flavor while keeping the centers crisp-tender.
Whenever I grab a bunch of fresh asparagus, I'm almost always tempted to blanch it, a method that preserves and heightens the asparagus's sweetness and intense green flavor...unless I'm cooking outdoors, in which case I'm likely to toss the spears on a grill. There's a downside to those habits, because it means I almost always forget one of the best techniques for asparagus: sautéing it.
Cooking the asparagus in a hot skillet with just a little oil gives it a deep, woodsy, roasted flavor, with a slight smoky char. There's not much to doing it, as long as you keep your pan smoking-hot and move the stalks around frequently enough that they sear and char in spots without burning. It's best to cook the asparagus in batches small enough to ensure all the stalks are in contact with the pan at once; otherwise, they're prone to steaming, not browning. This is a great time to pull out a heavy-duty cast iron, carbon steel, or thick-gauge stainless steel skillet—lots of heat retention to keep things cooking.
I love to do this with whole spears of asparagus. You could cut them up, which would make tossing and stirring easier, but there's a beauty and charm to those long, slender stalks, blistered and browned. With a pair of tongs, it's not too much trouble to push the asparagus around and, perhaps more importantly, rotate them so that all sides spend some quality time with that searing-hot metal. Warning, though: If you do this right, it will get smoky in your kitchen.
It's worth keeping in mind that if your asparagus has very thick stalks, you may need to lower the heat during cooking, particularly if you notice that they're very well browned but still raw in the center.
I find that some stalks inevitably finish sooner than others, so I just pluck them out one by one with tongs as they're ready. You want them seared on the outside and tender within, but not totally limp—fresh spring asparagus is best cooked this way when it still has some bite left in it.
For this recipe, I made a caraway-yogurt sauce to drizzle over the asparagus, which I did by coarsely grinding some caraway seeds, then quickly cooking them with thyme in a bit of olive oil to bloom their flavors. I used the same pan the asparagus had just come out of, simply wiping it clean between uses.
Then I stirred the caraway-thyme oil into the yogurt, adding just a little lemon zest for a bright, citrusy aroma, and spooned it on top.
Blanching and grilling can wait—it's time to take pan-roasted asparagus for a spin instead.
How to Buy and Prep Asparagus
Easy to make with a deep, woodsy flavor that's hard to beat.
2 tablespoons (30ml) vegetable oil, divided
1 pound (450g) asparagus, woody ends trimmed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large cast iron, carbon steel, or stainless steel skillet, heat 1 tablespoon (15ml) vegetable oil over high heat until shimmering. Add half of asparagus and cook, tossing, stirring, and rotating the spears frequently, until browned all over, charred lightly in spots, and crisp-tender within, about 10 minutes; lower heat if necessary to prevent burning. Using tongs, transfer each spear as it's done to a plate and keep warm. Repeat with remaining vegetable oil and asparagus. Season with salt and pepper.
Arrange asparagus on a serving plate and drizzle with sauce, such as this Caraway Yogurt Sauce or Tarragon and Lemon Aioli.
10-inch cast iron skillet or 10-inch carbon steel skillet or 10-inch stainless steel skillet, tongs
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 7g||9%|
|Saturated Fat 1g||3%|
|Total Carbohydrate 5g||2%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||8%|
|Total Sugars 1g|
|Vitamin C 9mg||43%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|