This post will give you all the info you need to know how to grill or roast asparagus. Grilled asparagus is one of the easiest side dishes you’ll ever make. It’s also one of the most delicious side dishes you’ll ever make. Happy coincidence, that!
My friend Bernie reminded me recently that not everyone has been cooking as long as I have, and begged me to post some recipes that were basic, but delicious. Grilled or Roasted Asparagus is a go-to recipe for me, especially if we’re having a grilled fish, as you see here. So, in this post, I’m not only going to tell you exactly how to roast or grill asparagus, I’m going to tell you WHY you SHOULD learn this simple cooking technique.
Here’s the key to what makes grilled or roasted veggies delicious: it’s the caramelization. That brown color (some call it caramelization) that you get on the outside of the veggies, is actually what makes it so yummy. It’s called the Maillard effect, and it’s quite literally a chemical reaction. And it’s not just true of asparagus. It’s true with any food.
When you brown meat, for example, you get the yummy brown bits in the bottom of the pan (in the culinary world they call that brown stuff the fond, which means the bottom, in French, because it’s what you find in the BOTTOM of the pan after the Maillard effect has occurred!). Smart cooks use that fond as the base of delicious sauces or pan gravies. What’s happening chemically in whatever you’re browning is that the heat of the stove causes the amino acids in the food to react with certain types of sugars in the food, thus producing new, distinct flavor compounds. And these flavor compounds taste GOOD!
Same thing holds true with applying heat to vegetables (or fruits). Those brown marks you see on a grilled (or roasted) veggie are where heat has created new flavor compounds. And they’re delicious! Grilling or roasting veggies intensifies and sweetens the flavor. So, don’t fear the brown marks: they’re what we’re going for. (Letting that chemical reaction go too far, however = burnt, and none of us wants that.)
So, in my book, almost any veggie’s flavor is improved by roasting, or grilling, because with those methods of cooking you get the Maillard reaction going on, and things taste better. Got it? That’s why people complain about boiled food tasting gray and bland. It often does! The more moisture, the less likelihood of achieving the Maillard reaction, so the fewer new flavor compounds are created. See? It makes so much sense when you understand that! I was a little girl who was raised on nasty canned vegetables. No wonder so many people hate vegetables. Many have never had GOOD vegetables.
Here’s a rule of thumb in regard to roasting veggies. Generally, most veggies are roasted at around 400º-425º. Lightly drizzle the veggies with some olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (and I really prefer the flavor of sea salt, or kosher salt. Sea salt and kosher salt don’t have the metallic ~whang~ taste that table salt has to me.) If your asparagus is thin, it might take 10 minutes. If it’s thick, it could take 20-25 minutes. All ovens are different, and the thickness of asparagus stalks differ. Keep an eye on things, and don’t let it go too dark. The more crowded the pan, the longer it will take, because the stalks will be more likely to steam than to brown. (Remember how moisture prevents the Maillard reaction?) So don’t overcrowd your pan, or your grill pan.
Two Important Notes on Selecting and Preparing Asparagus
- When you buy asparagus, to make sure you’re getting the freshest asparagus, the tips (the top) of the asparagus should be tightly closed. If they look like they’re starting to open up and spread apart, or if they look in any way mushy, don’t buy them. They’re past their prime
- To make sure your asparagus bottoms, (the cut end of the stalk) aren’t tough and unappetizingly woody, bend the stalk until it breaks near the bottom. Let the stem of asparagus tell you how far down you need to cut it to avoid toughness.
You can save those woody ends if you like in a ziplock bag in the freezer, for making a vegetable stock. I keep meaning to do this, but I never have. 😀
If you’d like the recipe for the beautiful Grilled Halibut with Cilantro-Lime butter you see pictured above (and that cilantro-butter is a flavor bomb of delciousness!) you’ll find it here.
Chemistry and food science class is over. Enough with the blah-blah. On with the super simple recipe!
- 1 bunch of asparagus
- 1 T. olive oil
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- To prepare asparagus, break off the tough woody ends.
- Place asparagus in a bowl, and drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle generously with sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
- Preheat oven to 400º.
- Place prepared asparagus stems on a baking sheet.
- Roast for approximately 15 or 20 minutes (up to 25 minutes for thick stalks), keeping an eye on their color, beginning around 10 minutes in. (Also use your sense of smell: your nose will tell you when they are ready, also.)
- Place stems on a long-handled wire grilling rack (this makes it super easy to flip all the stalks at once). Grill 2-3 minutes, per side.