snacky asparagus

You are fully invited to roll your eyes at the simplicity of this recipe. It’s not even a recipe. It’s more like a plating, a way of getting asparagus from market to table that I’ve been hooked on for over a year.

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Here’s what makes it perfect: I love sauteed, roasted, and grilled asparagus, especially when the spears are sizzling hot and have crackly, charred spots, a mix of textures. But each of these methods has a tiny flaw, and that is timing. Roasted and grilled asparagus are amazing piping hot off the flame, but shortly after are a bit soggy. Still good, sure, but it goes further downhill the longer you wait to eat it. Poaching asparagus and popping it in an ice water bath preserves this perfectly-cooked, crisp-tender, bright green moment in time… for days.

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This poached, cooled asparagus waits patiently until you’re ready for it and when you are… you just dump it on a plate. [“Nobody writes recipes quite like the Smitten Kitchen!” said nobody, today at least.] Drizzle it with olive oil, lemon juice, crunchy sea salt, and red pepper flakes (I’m using these) to taste and, if you’re us, you have a small puddle of (gasp!) mayo on the side for dipping, but if you hate mayo, and you’re about to tell me you do, you could also use a lemony or garlicky sour cream or yogurt sauce too, or a lemony tahini dressing, or really any dressing that makes your asparagus sing. What I cannot explain is why this is so inhalable — I often make it and leave it in the late afternoon partly with an eye towards dinner prep, partly so anyone home can have something to graze on, and it just vanishes. Cold, boiled asparagus! Gone in 30 minutes! It’s either wizardry or just objectively good and I’d be fine with either.










6 months ago: Old-School Dinner Rolls
1 year ago: Spring Asparagus Galette
2 years ago: Roast Chicken with Schmaltzy Cabbage
3 years ago: Cannelli Aglio e Olio
4 year ago: Fig Newtons and Cripsy Tofu Pad Thai
5 years ago: Granola Bark
6 years ago: Caramelized Brown Sugar Oranges with Yogurt and Potato Pizza, Even Better
7 years ago: Why You Should Always Toast Your Nuts (Please!) and Obsessively Good Avocado-Cucumber Salad
8 years ago: Dark Chocolate Coconut Macaroons and Baked Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms
9 years ago: Spinach and Smashed Egg Toast and Bee Sting Cake
10 years ago: Over-the-Top Mushroom Quiche and Banana Bread Crepe Cake with Butterscotch
11 years ago: Blackberry and Coconut Macaroon Tart
12 years ago: Baked Kale Chips and Almond Macaroon Torte with Chocolate Frosting
13 years ago: Artichoke-Olive Crostini and Chocolate Caramel Crackers
14 years ago: Spring Panzanella and Lemon Yogurt Anything Cake
15 years ago: Arborio Rice Pudding and Gnocchi with a Grater


snacky asparagus-5

Snacky Asparagus

  • Servings: Serves 2 to 4, perhaps
  • Source: Smitten Kitchen
  • Print

  • 1 pound fresh asparagus, woody ends trimmed or snapped
  • Olive oil
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • Flaky sea salt
  • Red pepper flakes
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons mayo or another dressing

Bring a few inches of salted water to boil and have ready tongs or a spider/slotted spoon and a big bowl of ice water. Boil your asparagus for anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes, depending on thickness. [1 minute for super-skinny pencil asparagus; 3 minutes for thick spears; when in doubt, or when it looks like the ones you see here, I default to 90 seconds.] Scoop the asparagus from the boiling water and drop it directly into the ice water. Leave it there until the asparagus is fully cool, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Drain the asparagus and arrange the spears on a large, absorbent kitchen towel. Roll them up in the towel (like a cinnamon roll), grab the sides of the towel cigar to hold it closed while you shake it vigorously a bunch of times, allowing all of the excess water to wick off. Free the dried asparagus from the towel and you can now chill it in the fridge for 2 days, until you’re ready to eat it, or get it ready for snacking right now.

Arrange the asparagus on a large plate and drizzle generously with olive oil, the juice of the first half of the lemon, flaky sea salt, and pepper flakes. Put the dressing in a tiny bowl off to the side and have the second half of the lemon on the plate if the spears need more. Grab and dip spears to your belly’s content, or until the spears disappear, whichever happens first.

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71 comments on snacky asparagus

  1. Allie

    Just bought asparagus yesterday so is perfect! Especially since I have 2 children currently in 4 pm snack mode. Going to the kitchen right now.

    1. Jeff Harvey

      Raw is a great way to eat it, especially when it is just picked. Shake it upside down to get the dirt off of it, pour water over it upside down and munch, it’s delightful and delicious.

      1. Annie

        I wish more food writers would post things like this! Many years ago, I read how someone served roasted broccoli with brown rice and feta with chia seeds sprinkled on top and olive oil – and that was dinner. It’s been in the rotation since. These simple, delicious dinners and ideas get us through!!

        1. Pat

          a bit off topic, but I make broccoli roasted or steamed, and mix it with rice, brown or white, sliced black olives, feta cheese and a simple olive oil and red wine vinagar dressing

        2. Lisa

          THIS! Please, Deb, never worry about posting “nonrecipe recipes.” Some of us don’t cook as often as we’d like and get stuck when we do. I am not and never have been someone who can just throw together whatever’s in the fridge and make it tasty. Maybe someday, but at 62, I suspect it ain’t happening for me. And then there are the times of hangry brain fog at 6 pm. The other thing I adore about these “simple” recipes is reading other people riffing off of what you’ve done. I love that I’m always learning from you and folks in this community. Keep those Nonrecipes coming!! (side note: you mentioned homemade ranch dressing recently. Still waiting for your take on that one, please.)

      2. Megan Rasila

        Raw is the only way I eat asparagus (my family thinks I’m weird). Just not a fan of it cooked, but I might have to try this!

      1. Stacey

        The Japanese brand of mayonnaise, Kewpie, blows all other mayonnaise out of the water. Not even close.
        I buy it at a Japanese market near me, but have seen it at Costco on occasion. It is also available on Amazon.

        1. Ashley

          Totally, totally agree, and I’ve been a Best Foods/Herman’s devotee since the dawn. I can find it at a Town & County market nearby.

  2. Natasha

    I’ve made this twice now, following the simple video instructions Deb posted to Instagram (no chili flakes to make it more kid-friendly).

    I don’t typically like asparagus, but I am glad I tried again with this method! There is something so much more palatable to me about cold cooked asparagus. My selective six-year-old also devoured this and asked for the leftovers to go in his school lunch.

    We paired ours with a lemony tartar sauce instead of the mayo and it was a wonderful match.

    I would recommend this recipe to anyone at any cooking level, including those don’t like asparagus – yet!

  3. Deanna

    So it seems to me snacky asparagus is basically the starting point for the ultimate spring le grand aioli. I’m thinking steamed artichokes, maybe some cute baby purple potatoes, and cold poached shrimp because the ice bath is already out. And no one can complain it’s crudités for dinner because it’s not… it’s le grand aioli! Branding really matters sometimes

  4. Mom24

    I roast, I’m def going to incorporate the pepper flakes and lemon and use a lemon/garlic/anchovy aioli. Heaven on a plate.

  5. kate

    yes! love favorite dip for asparagus, artichokes and crab is Best Foods mayo (no substitutes, ever. all other brands just taste wrong), a healthy squeeze of lemon and splash of soy sauce – all mixed together. perfection on asparagus!

  6. stephZ

    Have you ever had asparagus mimosa? It’s basically this recipe with addition of capers and hardboiled egg, and maybe a vinaigrette. Just as perfect. I love asparagus.

  7. This looks fabulous. Our local asparagus is alllllllmost here, and I will be making this. I think home cooks need to discuss delicious fruit and veggie prep more – your recipe is the very-wonderful middle ground between basic steamed with salt or elaborate multi-step recipes. Would love more smart methods like this!

  8. Esther M

    This time I used sumac and paprika instead of lemon juice and pepper flakes, and mint-yogurt dip instead of mayo, but I suspect I’m going to be experimenting with different flavor combinations for snacking asparagus for as long as it’s in season, because this method really is just right.

    (I’ve actually been using sumac instead of lemon juice for lots of things that just call for a squeeze of lemon at the end – easier to control how tart it gets, and easier to get a consistent sprinkle instead of accidentally drenching one patch and leaving the rest bland)

  9. Paula

    Our favorite dip for barely cooked asparagus:
    1/2 cup mayo, 2 tsp soy sauce, 3/4 tsp sugar, 1 tsp fresh lemon juice, and 1 tsp wasabi paste

  10. Emily

    This is seriously delicious! I mixed about a 1/4 cup of mayo with the juice of half a lemon and some salt and pepper and it was absolutely fantastic with the asparagus. Worth the splurge for a good finishing oil to drizzle over top of the asparagus – I used California Olive Ranch Arbequina and it was lovely:)

  11. Anna

    Did this convince my 6 year old to eat asparagus? No. I however, am now contentedly snacking on a plate full of perfect asparagus.

  12. Vicki

    Going to try this asap! Looking at the ingredients I couldn’t help but think that you could use my latest dip obsession may + Trader Joes Chili crunch

  13. Alisa Alker

    Wow. My children have never liked asparagus when I have made it in the past. I made this recipe and both ate it without complaining. Thank you!

  14. Claire

    I’m shocked to report that my two kid ate the entire pound while I finished dinner. I often set out cucumbers or carrots around 430 to stave off requests for snacks and/or 100 inquiries into when dinner will be ready… I’m pumped to try this with other blanched veggies like green beans or peas. Also 1tbsp of Mayo with a pound of veggies is just a win for everyone.

  15. Liz W

    This is perfect and simple and essence of spring. Also, fun fact: Hellman’s and Best Foods is the same (great) mayo. Hellman’s on the East Coast, Best Foods on the West Coast. Would love to know the geographic dividing line.

  16. Jessie

    I love this! I’ve been eating blanched asparagus for years but this is the way to do it, with lemon and salt and deliciousness. I like to chop mine into bite-sized pieces and either eat with a fork or add into salads. Thanks Deb!

  17. Wendy

    Game changer! So simple, but never occurred to me before. My family isn’t that into asparagus, so I usually skip it. I bought a bunch the other day and used this method, and now I’ve had two days of delicious, asparagus-y lunches! I also tried it with haricot vert – delicious.

  18. Gnu

    Hello! I can’t wait to try this! Do you have a great way to clean the asparagus–I’ve tried everything to remove the grit and fail nearly every time. So much so, we’ve taken to calling asparagus “dirt sticks”. Delicious dirt sticks, but dirty nonetheless. :) thanks!

    1. deb

      I’ve always cleaned gritty vegetables and lettuce with a plunge in cold water. If that doesn’t loosen it, use your fingers to. Don’t drain it; scoop the vegetables out so they don’t pick up whatever dirt is now at the bottom of the bowl.

  19. Becky

    My daughter (14 mo.) doesn’t like roasted asparagus I think because it gets a little stringy and harder to chew, but she devoured this recipe. The method and snappy bite was a throwback to how I grew up eating it more myself. I’d forgotten how satisfying it could be. I’ll definitely repeat.

  20. BC

    I had to figure out a dinner that I could make ahead and this was the perfect idea for the vegetable. I’ll be using this method again. Mayo is not for me but the lemon and olive oil were just right.

  21. Mary Margaret

    Well well well. I sit here as my three children (5, 4, 2) repeatedly ask for more asparagus and Mayo despite being told they ate it all. This is a keeper! The Mayo makes it for the under 6 set (and the 30-something set).

  22. Magdalen Dobson

    I made this last week and I’m making it again tomorrow. Such a simple idea but it just had the most perfect texture. I always find you have an uncanny way of posting a recipe that’s exactly what I want to eat this week!

  23. Gwen Farwick

    I grow my own and find it ‘snacky’ without cooking at all. Will try this later in the season when my spears might be less tender. I know you live in limited growing space, but I bet this might work on a balcony: a 5 gallon bucket (punch holes for drainage,) add a good planting medium and 3 roots of asparagus – about 2/3 of the depth of the bucket. Let grow without harvesting for 3 seasons and trim back in the fall to prevent over-seasoning pests. If no rain reaches the pot, keep it watered. The season you can reap what you’ve sowed will provide a wonder!

  24. Carswell

    Add some grated garlic and lemon juice to that mayo and it will be sublime with the poached asparagus. It’s one of my go to condiments for asparagus.

  25. PMM

    Had some fresh asparagus from the garden – so perfect timing on the recipe. This was delicious and easy. May be the only way we make asparagus from now on!

  26. Sara

    Deb, I love you. I was skeptical. This is perfection. Also I’ve been making the lentil salad once a week since you posted it….

  27. Carrie

    I served this asparagus recipe at Mother’s Day lunch with a quick side dip made from sour cream (in case anyone else has mayo-averse family like mine), lemon juice, green onion, fresh dill, salt & pepper. It was a hit!

  28. Ingrid

    As long as you have a pot on the stove, you might as well boil a few cloves of garlic until tender and mild (3-5 minutes). Mash them into plain ol’ mayo with a squeeze of lemon and maybe a drizzle of grassy green olive oil, then invite friends over for “cold boiled vegetables with mayonnaise” and see who shows up!

  29. Carie Lyn

    I have been making this since you posted and it is such a yummy, easy, and pretty dish to put out for gatherings when most of the other food is rich and indulgent. But… I can’t seem to get the timing right on cooking the asparagus. I am wondering if I should start timing from when the water starts boiling again after I add the asparagus, or start timing from the moment I add the asparagus even though the water may not be boiling again by the time the timer rings. Or maybe I need a much bigger pot with much more water so the water resumes boiling quicker? Any insight on this very basic question appreciated :)

  30. Kira

    This is one of those recipes that is greater than the sum of its parts! The asparagus stays crisp, and it is amazing eaten with or without the mayonnaise for dipping (but better with!). My husband and I found ourselves just snacking on the asparagus while we prepped the rest of dinner. I’m not going to lie – I kind of always want to have a plate of this ready to go in my fridge!

  31. Heidi H

    Wow. My mom used to make asparagus as a hot dinner side dish like this, but without any salt or dressing. This is amazing. Midwestern shortcut aioli: mix Ranch dressing with a pressed garlic clove. YUM.

  32. Christine Orchard

    Just made this and can’t believe how good it is! Such simple ingredients and so, so good. Can’t stop “snacking “!