Julia Child's Tip For Tender Asparagus Every Time

When prepared with a little extra care, it's often the simplest of foods that are the most memorable and delicious. No one knew this like the late, great Julia Child, who taught America how to master not just intricate French culinary creations but make the most basic of dishes a work of art, too. Adored for her larger-than-life character and infectious joy and energy in the kitchen, her boisterous voice still plays through many home cooks' heads, instructing on everything from how to boil a lobster to how to make luscious scrambled eggs or properly prepare stalks of asparagus. 

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Having trained at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, Child coached Americans on what she learned about French cooking in her signature accessible, down-to-earth style. She was one of the first women with a televised cooking show and author of her renowned classic, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Child touted the "French way" of preparing many dishes, including simple spears of asparagus. Chef and cookbook author Sarah Moulton, who worked alongside the author, TV personality, and chef in the 1970s, told MassLive that Child insisted the best way to prep the veg, especially if the stalks were thicker, was to peel away the tough exterior, then bundle and cook to ensure a supple, tender bite each time. In an episode of "The French Chef" titled "Asparagus From Tip to Butt," Child noted that if your asparagus are in good condition, "the butt just needs a little shaving."

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Removing the tough outer layer with a peeler is key

A good stalk of asparagus with a squeeze of lemon juice and salt is one of life's simple joys — perfect as a side or atop pasta (when done right, at least). There's nothing worse, though, than chewing into a woody, stringy stalk as tough as leather. From late winter to spring, when the vegetable is in its peak season, bouquets of the stalks arrive at grocery stores and farmers' markets, and many shoppers gravitate toward the thinner ones. Somewhere along the way, the wisdom became that these more delicate, wispy stalks yield a more tender texture, whereas girthier asparagus is seen as tough or woody. The truth is not so black and white – and assuming thin equals best is a common mistake when handling asparagus. "Get the fattest asparagus you can," Julia Child advised on "The French Chef."

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With the thicker stalks comes more of the veggie to enjoy, and the more substantial they are, the better suited to withstand the cooking process without falling flat and limp. With Child's approach, there's no risk of tough asparagus. She preached peeling stalks thicker than ⅓ inch in diameter in order to remove the outermost layer, which reveals the more tender interior while simultaneously evening the cooking time, according to Sarah Moulton. Then, they're ready to be quickly boiled, steamed, or grilled, and eventually relished down to the last delicate, springy bite. Child enjoyed hers with sauce Maltaise (an orange-scented hollandaise).

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