You know the rule: Hold a spear of asparagus between your two hands and it will naturally bend in exactly the right spot separating tender top from tough bottom. But is that really true? Wouldn’t asparagus bend in exactly the same way in other places up and down the stalk? We asked a couple of experts.
Alan Schreiber of the Washington Asparagus Commission explained that as soon as asparagus is harvested, it begins to lignify, which means that the interior becomes woody, tough, and fibrous. Schreiber trusts the break. "If you bend it enough to snap where it wants to, you are breaking it off above the fibrous region."
But that doesn't mean it snaps in the best possible place—the exact spot separating woody from tender—says Dan Souza, associate editor at Cook's Illustrated. "You can make it snap anywhere depending on where you hold it and apply the pressure," he says. "It's not a foolproof method if it's that user dependent."
Instead, Souza recommends simply taking one piece of asparagus from your bunch and cutting it where the white part transitions to green. Then take a look at the cross section where you just cut it. "You should see tightly packed, smooth-looking fibers and it should look moist.” If it's not, or you see any air pockets or dry spots, just trim off a little more. Once you have your guide spear, line it up with the rest of the bunch and cut them all together. It'll be a pretty good starting point. Then peek at the cut ends and trim a little more if any of them look like they need it.
And don't think peeling will take the place of snapping either, Schreiber says. Peeling just removes some of the exterior, and does nothing to keep the woody interior off your plate. He says the best bet for wasting the least asparagus is to get the freshest asparagus you can, since it’s had the least time to lignify after harvest.