Easy Sautéed Asparagus ♥

Easy Sautéed Asparagus, another quick healthy vegetable ♥ AVeggieVenture.com. Loaded with garlic plus optional anchovies.
How to quickly cook fresh asparagus in a skillet with plenty of garlic – and if you like, a little anchovy! But if you're not into anchovies, no problem: anchovies or not, a quick sauté is a basic, even essential, method for cooking asparagus. This bright-green asparagus is simple but sumptuous, definitely worth the best asparagus you can find but also a reliable way to turn supermarket asparagus into something quite remarkable.

Fresh Vegetables, Fast & Healthy. Not Just Easy, Summer Easy. Little Effort, Big Taste. Weeknight Easy, Weekend Special. Low Carb. Low Fat. Weight Watchers Friendly. Naturally Gluten Free.

My Favorite Weeknight-Friendly Asparagus

Will you allow me to go out on a limb here? These three basic cooking techniques for asparagus belong in every cook's everyday repertoire. During asparagus season, I turn to just these three over and over again. Each method is so simple, well, you really won't need a "recipe" again. They're fast, uncomplicated and healthy. And delicious!

MICROWAVE Hands down, during the week, I rely on the microwave to cook asparagus for dinner, here's How to Microwave Asparagus. For cooking asparagus fast and healthy, the microwave is a miracle machine.

OVEN-ROASTED For roasting, I mostly use this surprising recipe, asparagus roasted with none of the usual oil, just a sprinkle of feta cheese, Roasted Asparagus with Feta. But for a more traditional roasted asparagus, Barely Roasted Asparagus really works.

STOVETOP SKILLET SAUTÉ You're here! This recipe works so well, especially during hot weather when many of us prefer to not use the oven. Sautéeing asparagus is a skill to master and memorize, soon you'll be expanding the technique to mix up future skillets of asparagus with mushrooms, onion, lemon juice and more.

So Let's Talk About Those Anchovies, Okay?

The recipe below calls for anchovies. Should you go for the anchovies? That's up to you, of course. You won't miss them but if you're feeling adventurous, anchovy adds an underlying umami savoriness that's quite wonderful.

. What are anchovies? Anchovies are small fish, cousins to herring and sardines. In the culinary world, when we talk about anchovies, we don't mean fresh fish but fish preserved in a salty brine, packed in salt and oil, then mashed in small quantities for flavor. A teaspoon or so of mashed anchovy is akin to the more familiar splash of vinegar or Worcestershire sauce.

What do anchovies taste like? Well ... if you taste a little bit of anchovy, just to try it, you'll taste heavy salt and a strong fish taste. Appetizing, eh? To my taste, plain anchovies are way too strong! Even the smell of anchovies might be described as "stinky little fishes".

But! When anchovies are used in a dish, they meld with the dish, kind of melting into everything else, creating an underlying almost unidentifiable deliciousness. If you don't know the dish has anchovies, you won't know the dish has anchovies. The most famous use of anchovies? Caesar Salad Dressing.

Where to find anchovies in the grocery store Look for small glass jars or small flat tins of anchovies near the canned fish, tuna, sardines, etc. Brands may be limited but this list of best anchovies from Serious Eats might steer your decision if there are choices.

You might also find squeeze tubes of "anchovy paste," anchovies preserved with vinegar, spices and some times butter. The anchovy taste is way less fishy! It's a good place to start if you're new to anchovies but real foodies stick with plain anchovies.

How to store anchovies Since anchovies are used in small quantities, even a small jar goes a long, long ways. To keep the rest for later, transfer what's left into a small container for storage in the refrigerator. Since the anchovies are preserved, they'll keep for several weeks, even months, just be sure that the oil covers the tiny filets. A tube of anchovy paste will keep in the fridge for several months.

Anchovies are entirely optional in this asparagus. If you don't have any, want a vegan asparagus side dish, or just aren't interested, no problem. No anchovies? No stress.

But if you want to give anchovies a try, this is a great recipe to start with! Way back in 2006, I had this to say about asparagus with anchovies: "I am completely enchanted. The asparagus essence remains firmly intact but at the same time is turned into something entirely different. This is a complete keeper!"

You just might find yourself looking for other recipes calling for anchovy! I went through an anchovy phase during A Veggie Venture's first year. My first-time use of anchovies in an Australian-inspired stew was so successful, I felt emboldened to try the stinky little fishies again in a Warm Pepper Salad, also delicious. That means that A Veggie Venture has several recipes, see Vegetables Taste Better With ... Anchovies.

What Makes Sautéed Asparagus Special?

The combination of asparagus and garlic, wow, what a winner.
Cook it now, cook it fast. If you've got asparagus and garlic, you're 80% done.
It's simple, healthy and delicious, easy to build a meal around or on top of.

How to Cook Asparagus On the Stove

The detailed recipe is written in traditional recipe form below but here are the highlights in three easy steps. You can do this!

PREP FIRST Be sure to have the garlic, anchovies (if using) and asparagus prepped before beginning to cook. That means (1) mincing/chopping/slicing the garlic cloves and (2) mashing the anchovies if using whole anchovies and (3) cleaning, trimming and slicing the asparagus. Once you start to cook, it all moves quickly!

THEN SAUTÉ IN A SKILLET First, just the garlic and red pepper flakes, just for a minute until the garlic becomes aromatic. Then, add the asparagus pieces ( leave the tips aside for now, they're more tender and take less time to cook) and the anchovy plus a splash of water. Cover the skillet, this concentrates the heat, cooking the asparagus so they stay moist and tender. Stir the asparagus every so often, adjusting the heat up or down if they're cooking too slowly or too quickly.

FINISH SAUTÉING Add the asparagus tips and finish cooking, just until the tips are just tender, letting the water cook off. If you've skipped the anchovies, now is the time to season the asparagus with salt and pepper. That's it! Three and done!

You Might Wonder Be Wondering ...

Have another question? Ask away, I'll do my best to answer!

What asparagus to choose here? When you pay attention, you'll see that asparagus grocery-store asparagus comes in three different thicknesses or sizes. To my taste, pencil-thin skinny asparagus is best for eating raw though could be sautéed, it'll just cook more quickly. Medium-thick asparagus are especially good for sautéeing but thick spears of asparagus will also work well here, they'll just take a little longer to cook.

Do you need to use fresh garlic? No but ... When a recipe names "garlic" in the title, well, it's a good cue that now's the time to invest a little extra time in mincing, slicing or grating fresh cloves of garlic.

How to keep that pretty bright green color in asparagus? It's easy, just avoid overcooking the asparagus. The longer the spears cook, the grayer the green. Aim for something tender-crisp and bright green in color.

What about bacon grease or butter instead of olive oil? If that sounds delish to you, it is! If you stockpile the fat leftover from cooking bacon, just use a spoonful of that for cooking the asparagus. Alternatively, cook some bacon first, lift out the cooked bacon, then use the bacon fat left behind in the skillet to sauté the asparagus. Butter is delicious but a little trickier since it has what's called a "lower smoke point" which means it'll burn faster in a hot skillet. To avoid burning or scorching the butter ("browning" the butter is okay, wonderful even), lower the cooking temperature to medium heat or even medium low.

Do you need a special pan to cook asparagus on the stove? No. The most important consideration is to use a skillet that's big enough to hold all the asparagus in no more than a couple of layers, preferably less. A non-stick skillet works especially well. I adore this large non-stick everyday cooking pan from Cuisinart, it comes with a glass lid, very handy for checking cooking progress without lifting the lid. If you have a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, that'd be great too.

How do you save and share favorite recipes? recipes that fit your personal cooking style? a particular recipe your mom or daughter or best friend would just love? If this recipe hits the mark, go ahead, save and share! I'd be honored ...

Easy Sautéed Asparagus, another quick healthy vegetable ♥ AVeggieVenture.com. Loaded with garlic plus optional anchovies.


Hands-on time: 10 minutes (plus occasional stirring throughout)
Time to table: 25 minutes
Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons minced or grated or slivered or thin-sliced garlic
Red pepper flakes to taste
1-1/2 pounds (680g) asparagus (to yield about 1 pound edible asparagus), washed, tips put aside, woody ends broken or cut off, then cut in one-inch lengths
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons mashed anchovy filet or anchovy paste
Salt & pepper to taste (likely unnecessary if using anchovy)

PREP Before beginning to cook, prep the garlic, asparagus and anchovy. First, decide if you want the garlic to "disappear" while cooking (so mince or grate the garlic) or remain visible (so sliver or slice). Second, move to the asparagus and cut off the tips and set aside. Then remove the woody ends of the spears. If the asparagus are thin, just cut off a bit of the ends. If they are "medium" thick or thick, snap off the woody ends at the natural breaking point. (Need more info on that? Asparagus & Woody Ends (Step-by-Step Photos & Video).) If the asparagus skins seem tough and fibrous, you might peel or "stripe" the bottom half of the spears. Finally, cut the asparagus spears into lengths, how long is up to you. If using an anchovy filet, mash it with the flat of a knife.

SAUTÉ Heat the oil until shimmery on MEDIUM HIGH in a skillet large enough to mostly hold the asparagus in a single layer. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook a minute, stirring constantly, you don't want to garlic to scorch.

Add the asparagus lengths (leave the tips out for now), water and anchovy paste and stir gently but thoroughly to disperse the anchovy. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

FINISH SAUTÉING Remove the cover, reduce the heat to MEDIUM, add the asparagus tips. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the asparagus reaches desired level of doneness: my preference is a shade past tender-crisp. Taste and if needed, season with a little salt and pepper.

MAKE-AHEAD Best made and eaten on the spot. That said, I'm never sorry to have leftovers to rewarm or eat cold.

HOW MUCH ASPARAGUS TO BUY This is a case of a pound of asparagus not really turning out a full pound of asparagus. During the prep, up to half the weight can be snapped or peeled off. So if you really want a full pound of edible asparagus, buy a pound and a half.
SIZE This recipe works best with asparagus spears either "medium" thick or the fat spears that are extra good for roasting. Thin spears are best suited for eating raw, you might like this Gorgeous Raw Asparagus Salad.
Note to Vegetarians

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Looking for healthy new ways to cook vegetables? A Veggie Venture is home to hundreds of super-organized quick, easy and healthful vegetable recipes and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables. Join "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg to explore the exciting world of common and not-so-common vegetables, seasonal to staples, savory to sweet, salads to sides, soups to supper, simple to special.

© Copyright Kitchen Parade
2006 & 2021 (repub)

Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. Welcome back! I missed you! Don't forget, we're going to make another of Karina's recipes (although she's gone until mid May) - your choice!

  2. Ahh!! I love anchovies, but never thought to put them on asparagus. I know that has to be delicious.

  3. This sounds absolutely wonderful, Alanna! I love both asparagus and anchovies (yes, I'm one of "those people" who always want them on a pizza!), but have never thought of putting them in the same dish. What did you serve this with?

  4. This time it's me bookmarking! This sounds really good!

  5. Hi all - what a comeback, yes? with such good asparagus!

    Catherine - NOT forgotten, promise!
    Sher - if you love anchovies, you'll love this!
    Tania - yay, another anchovy lover though can't say I am but I'm loving them IN things ... maybe some day! I'd had a big lunch so a serving was basically 'supper' but I'd recommend them alongside grilled meat, or even atop a buttery pasta. The anchovies make the asparagus taste/feel more substantial than typical.
    Ilva - if you bookmark it, it's got to be good!

  6. I've been wanting to try anchovies, and this sounds like a great way to do it.

    Found you from "Seriously Good". Great site!

  7. What a wonderful sounding dish. I'm definitely going to try this one out.

    Thanks for sharing

  8. AnonymousMay 09, 2006

    What a great blog, i try to make i recipe from here
    thanks !!!

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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe, whether a current recipe or a long-ago favorite. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. ~ Alanna