For saucy spears, take a gentle approach

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

Local asparagus season is in full swing in York County. I wish I could say the same about my crop.

The asparagus patch in my garden, alas, is faltering again this year. So far, I’ve picked about 10 precious spears. Fortunately, I can get my fill of this spring treat from local farmers markets.

Many people like to grill asparagus, but with fresh tender ones, I prefer a gentler approach. Thick or thin, when I steam them, I can keep them bright green and succulent. While asparagus spears are perfect just the way they are, a tarragon butter sauce sends them to a new level.

Tarragon is a perennial herb that is not well known in the United States. In France, though, it is cherished. Along with parsley, chervil and chives, it is one of the components of the “fines herbes” blend. Because it is highly aromatic, it has the ability to elevate any dish. The French call it the king of herbs.

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Although available dried, tarragon is almost always used fresh. The drying process removes most of the subtle characteristics that makes it so appealing. Because it is a perennial, coming back every year, it makes sense to make it part of your herb garden. When looking for a plant, be sure to buy French tarragon rather than the bitter Russian variety, which is not used in cooking.

Fresh asparagus spears need little preparation. Look for spears that are bright green and have compact, tightly closed tips. Tarragon, along with butter, shallots and lemon, will add a bright accent to this special spring treat.

It’s asparagus season in York County. If you aren’t growing your own, stop by a farmers market to get fresh, tender spears for steaming.

Asparagus With Tarragon Butter Sauce

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small shallot, finely minced
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh tarragon
  • Salt
  • 1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound)

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until they are transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice, tarragon and a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat and cook for about a minute.

Trim the ends of the asparagus. Place a steamer basket in a pot with about an inch of water. Place the asparagus in the basket and cover. Steam for about 5 minutes or until stalks can be pierced easily with a knife. Avoid overcooking.

Remove the asparagus and sprinkle lightly with salt. Pour the tarragon butter sauce over the asparagus, and serve.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at