04-19-08 - 1

There's an oft-perpetuated myth that asparagus will snap naturally where the woody part ends. The suggestion is you hold the asparagus with your fingers and bend it until it snaps and the point where it snaps is where the edible part ends. This is complete and utter nonsense. It's similar to 19th century mentalist / sleight of hand tricks. The secret to deceiving the rube in this case is where on the asparagus you hold it. The reality is that the asparagus will break roughly at the mid point between your two grip locations. If you hold it from the two ends of the stalk, it will break near the middle. Most of the shysters who propagate this myth choose to hold the stalk with one hand at the base and one hand in the middle of the stalk, which makes it break about 1/4 of the way up, and then they claim that's where the woody part ended.

The better way is just to use your eyes. You can see the transition. This is of course what they are doing, using their eyes to decide where to hold it to snap it. Even if you use your eyes I can't really recommend the snap method, because it's very imprecise and you often snap off lots of good tasty bits. Just use a knife.

Once you cut it, you will see the exposed ring at the base. You can now see how thick the skin is there and decide whether you need to bother with peeling the stalk. Generally the actual woody part is very small or not existant at all on store-bought asparagus, and all you need to do is a bit of peeling.

Addendum : while on the subject of asparagus let's talk about size. It's really funny when people proudly brag about what nice thin asparagus they bought as if it's some prize. The truth is that in the supermarket, the thick asparagus is usually best. The love for thin asparagus is a very common sign of the yuppie fake-foodie pretentious douchebag who hasn't really put any study into food at all but acts like they are some authority just because they shop at Whole Foods and watch Rachel Ray.

The myth of thin asparagus is I think just based on foolishness. We could pretend that it's based on the fact that if you grow your own asparagus, the very first shoots will in fact be thin and tender and delicious, but I'm pretty sure that fact has nothing to do with this common erroneus belief. Asparagus is this plant that's mainly underground and sends up flower stalks over and over kind of like a mushroom. You chop off stalks a few times and it sends up more. When farmers grow asparagus, they of course do not chop off the first growth when it's very young - they sell by the pound and they want it to get bigger. So they let the first stalk grow big, then chop it off. This is the best asparagus and it comes in spring and is quite thick. Then they let it grow stalks again and chop it off. Then they do it again. These stalks will be thinner and thinner as the plant is getting out of season. In the fall you get very thin stalks and they are horrible. Of course the real way to judge the quality of your asparagus is to look at it like any other vegetable. Size doesn't matter so much as the color and texture. It should be all green, without any yellow splotches. The skin should be plump and smooth, never wrinkly. If you can touch it, it should be crisp and snap easily, never bendy.

Amusingly, this asparagus error is so common that you will often find the asparagus bin has been picked through and all the crappy thin stuff has been removed, and only the nice plump crisp thick stuff is left. Well, okie doke. To give people some credit, part of the misconception comes from the fact that thick asparagus does need some peeling. That can be done very quickly with a paring knife if you have top skills, or slightly slower with a veggie peeler.

Now if you are one of the many people suffering from bad information and believe that thin asparagus is good, that doesn't make you a horrible person. But if you brag about that fact and act like you know far more than you do, that's bad. There's general disease in our culture that people like to act like experts and take pride in things that they have put absolutely zero effort into; have you studied food, have you read books, have you practiced, have you asked questions? no? then why the fuck are you pretending to know what you're talking about? The real test comes with how you react to correction. Good people are glad to be corrected and welcome the new information, perhaps with skepticism but still with gratitude.

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old rants