Boiling Vegetables

Boiling may be best with some foods

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By David Hammond

When I was in college, I wrote a food column for the school newspaper entitled "Ask Adele." In this column, which I co-wrote with a friend, we channeled the spirit of Adele Davis and provided eating advice to fellow college students. Our recommendations frequently involved Brewer's Yeast and wheat germ.  We all make mistakes when we're young.

One of Davis' many points for cooking and eating right is that boiling vegetables robs these living things of most of their vitamins and minerals.

So for years we pretty much prepared only steamed vegetables. In many cases, I think that steaming enabled us to eat healthier and tastier food. But now I'm starting to see that there are applications where, for reasons of taste and texture, boiling may be best with some foods.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to be in Germany during spargle season, when white asparagus was everywhere. Some menu boards offered the vegetable with almost every dish.

I ate white asparagus almost every day, and from the first bite I knew: this stuff was not steamed. Boiling softens the vegetable in a way not possible with steaming, and if you boil the vegetable in the right medium, you can add a lot of flavor.

I mentioned this to Susanne Demetrious from the German National Tourist Office, and she confirmed that when she was a girl growing up in Germany, her mother always boiled asparagus with a little butter.

That sounded about right, because each asparagus spear was very juicy and touched with something more than just water.

Last Saturday at the Oak Park Farmer's Market, I did a quick circuit of the market before deciding that Sandhill Organics had the best looking asparagus, plump and long and variegated in coloration, some green, magenta, almost deep purple. Unlike Germany, Oak Park seems not to offer much in the way of white asparagus.

Getting my asparagus home, I used a vegetable peeler to skin each shaft. Many of the white asparagus spears I ate in Germany seemed to have been skinned, and skinning seems even more important with green asparagus, which has a tougher exterior. Skinning may also promote absorption of water and flavorings.


I brought a small quantity of water to a boil in a shallow frying pan and added about a tablespoon of Nordic Creamery butter []. I let the asparagus gently boil for about two minutes and cool for about 20 minutes to firm up a little.

Turned out, this was some of the tastiest asparagus I'd ever made at home. It was moist, and as Brillat-Savarin explains in his seminal Physiology of Taste, without moisture, there is no taste. Boiling adds moisture and helps communicate flavor more effectively.

I may never steam asparagus again.



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