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From the market to your plate > Cooking asparagus
From the market to your plate > Cooking asparagus
Christian Willer (1941-2015), anc. chef à La Palme d'Or, Cannes
Christian Willer (1941-2015), anc. chef à La Palme d'Or, Cannes

All about asparagus > Cooking asparagus, revised and revisited with Christian Willer

 It's asparagus season - whether white, purple or green, it is all the same species, "asparagus officinalis" to its friends, with the differences depending on whether it sees the sun or not. All three colours are delicious and though I prefer green, especially for its colour which allows me to create beautiful plates, don't hesitate to serve me white asparagus when you invite me to your house for dinner… I love it as well.


I recommend cooking asparagus al dente, though it's a term I don't much like: it seems to say everything and nothing at the same time. If the vegetable is very fresh, it would be a shame to overcook it. On the other hand, it's heresy to try to apply the same cooking method to asparagus that has been sitting in the fridge for five days and that is becoming dangerously dry. It's like fish cooked pink on the bone: if it's fresh, it's normally pink on the bone. A vegetable that is fresh, still containing all its minerals, should never be overcooked, a precept that is often misinterpreted: "not overcooked" doesn't mean "undercooked!"

Asparagus should be cooked as quickly as possible in simmering water, to avoid breaking the heads. Despite Dumas's recommendation in his Grand dictionnaire de la cuisine, I don't recommend steaming asparagus, but rather cooking it in water in order to be sure that the cellulose it contains is softened.

Cooking whole asparagus
It is best to cook asparagus in a bunch, with the heads at the top, sticking out of the water, since the heads cook more quickly. If your bunch of asparagus contains both thin and medium spears, first cook the larger asparagus and then add the thin ones five minutes later.

Rinse the asparagus, regroup and tie into bunches that you will cook in a large amount of unsalted boiling water - the degree of doneness can be determined by piercing it near the bottom of the stem. I'm not giving any specific cooking times, because they vary according to the asparagus's origin, colour and size.

Cooking asparagus in sections
If you plan to use the asparagus as a garnish, it is best to cook it in separate sections: tips, middle sections and bottom ends, in a way that respects the textures and colour when using green or purple asparagus. Depending on their size, allow

  • One to two minutes cooking time for the heads
  • Two minutes longer for the middle sections
  • And three minutes more for the bottom ends

Some hints
Add a teaspoonful of baking soda to the cooking water for green asparagus to preserve its colour; chill quickly as soon as it is cooked.

It is recommended that white asparagus be cooked in a "blanc," made by dissolving 1 tbsp. of white vinegar and 20 g (3 tbsp.) of flour in a litre of water.


Serve cold asparagus with :

Serve hot asparagus with:

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