11/02/2011 04:55 pm ET | Updated Aug 31, 2012

How To Trim, Peel And Cook Asparagus

To prepare asparagus, chef Bruce Mattel of The Culinary Institute of America first removes the tough part of the asparagus by holding a spear near the root end and bending it until the spear snaps, leaving the tender top. (He discards the tough stem end.) Once he's done one spear, he lines up all of his asparagus, keeping the tips even, and cuts the rest of the spears at the same point where the original spear snapped. If you have very thick asparagus, he recommends peeling the lower section lightly with a vegetable peeler. (The thicker the spear, the tougher the outer skin.) To cook the spears, he drops them into boiling water for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, then immediately transfers them to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and retain the vibrant green color. To check for doneness, he pinches the spear toward the bottom end: A little bit of give means the spear is done. He cautions against leaving the asparagus in the ice water for too long, since it will absorb the water and lose some of its flavor.

For 60 years, The Culinary Institute of America has been setting the standard for excellence in professional culinary education. In this video series, experienced chefs and educators show you how to tackle essential cooking techniques.

Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Chef Bruce Mattel of the Culinary Institute of America, and I'm going to show you this kitchen basic: how to trim, peel, and cook asparagus.

Asparagus are a great vegetable to eat. The first step in preparing them is to take the tough part off the asparagus. You take one stalk, hold it down toward the root end, and start to bend it, and as you bend it, it'll break. That separates the tender part from the part that's much more fibrous and will be tough after it gets cooked. Now I have one stalk that's at the ideal length; I kind of line up all my other ones, I put the tips all in a line, and then I take my chef's knife and cut them exactly where the first one broke.

Depending on the diameter of the asparagus, you might also want to peel them a little bit - not all the way from the tip down, but the lower part of the asparagus. I have a peeler here, and I like to use a paper towel to peel on, so it's easy to clear this from my cutting board. I hold the asparagus with the tip up in my hand, and I lightly take my peeler and take off a little bit of the outer cellulose, because that also can be a little bit tough.

Now I have water that's rapidly boiling and I'm going to cook these very briefly for about one and a half to two minutes, maximum. Then, because I'm not going to serve them immediately in this case, I'm going to plunge them into ice water, which will stop the cooking process and also help retain that vibrant green color.

To check the asparagus, I'm going to pull one out and I'm just going to press it a little bit on the ends. I get a little bit of give; it feels done. I'm just going to leave it for about twenty more seconds and they're going to be ready. If you don't have fingers like mine, you can use your tongs to take one out, and place it in the ice water for a little bit so that you don't burn your fingers. Now they're perfect! So I'm going to shut off the water and I'll lift the asparagus out and plunge it into the ice water. It's going to cool rather quickly, and I don't want to leave it in the ice water for a long period of time because the asparagus will keep absorbing water and lose some of its flavor in the ice water. So just briefly shock it.

Look at the vibrant green color we got on our asparagus. They're ready to be consumed just like this - or you can cut them up, put them in a pasta dish, use them on a salad, grill them, or just finish them in a sauté pan with a little bit of whole butter, salt, and pepper.