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How Smart is Your Asparagus?

 How do you trim asparagus?

 The well-known French food scientist, Hervé This, has collected more than 20,000 cooking truisms to test for validity. Many of them, he says, are surely old wives' tales, but he and his students have only managed to test a few dozen, because of the complications of setting up a real, verifiable scientific test for each process.

We have been meaning to ask him if the one about asparagus is on his list? You know the one we mean: if you grab a piece of raw asparagus at the base in one hand and somewhere high on the stalk (below the tip) with the other hand and bend it, does it really know where to snap, so that the fibrous end snaps off and you are left with only the tender part of the stem and tip? We have long thought that credits the asparagus with just a little more intelligence than it may deserve.

Nevertheless, that's how many, many people do it. Whether the asparagus is thick or thin, they snap off the ends, assuming each stalk knows just where to break. If the asparagus is thick or the skin seems thick, they also use a vegetable peeler and peel it from just below the tip to the base.

Julia Child, however, has no apparent use for the intelligent-asparagus theory. She suggests using a knife to trim a half-inch off the stems and then peeling the asparagus from just below the tip to the butt end.

There are so many people who want a bit of crunch to their cooked asparagus these days that the phrase "tender-crisp" has entered our vocabulary. We grew up in the South and want our asparagus "tender-tender," so we are more committed to peeling the asparagus than some other people, even if the asparagus is very thin.

We follow Ms. Child's advice and cut off the ends of the asparagus – several stalks at a time – with a knife on the cutting board. But many people will probably continue to snap off the ends one by one. At least until they hear differently from Monsieur This.

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