I always preferred sautéing or roasting asparagus until I started growing it in my garden. I don’t know if it was the proximity of garden to grill that provided a push in this direction, but from the first time I grilled asparagus, it has been my favorite way to cook it. I love the method here in particular because you can prepare everything several hours ahead of time so that it’s ready to toss on the grill once it’s hot. (Note that on a day when the grill isn’t lit, you can go back to my old ways and sauté the asparagus in canola oil in a wide pan over high heat or roast it in a 425°F oven.)
If you don’t grow your own, truly fresh asparagus can be hard to find. Choose asparagus bunches that are standing upright with their stems in water. The base of the stems should not be shriveled or dry. The tips should be stiff and tight, with no moist or mushy sections. Be sure to clean asparagus thoroughly. The shoots grow straight up out of the ground, and lots of dirt can hide in the tight leaves at the top of each spear.
2 bunches pencil asparagus (about 2 pounds/107 grams), washed and dried (see note)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
½ teaspoon chile flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Minced zest and juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup minced shallots
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon minced serrano chile
Prepare a hot grill. Place a grill basket on the grill to heat.
Trim the asparagus so that the spears are 4 to 6 inches long. Place the asparagus in a bowl.
Heat a small pot over medium heat. Add the canola oil, and when it starts to shimmer, add the mustard seeds. Cook, stirring and shaking the pan, until the mustard seeds pop, 1 to 2 minutes.
Pour the mustard seeds and oil over the asparagus. Add the chile flakes and season with salt and pepper. Pour over 1½ tablespoons of the olive oil and toss until well coated. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1½ tablespoons olive oil with the lemon zest and juice, shallots, ginger, and chile. Set aside. (Everything can be done up until this point up to 2 hours in advance and set aside at room temperature.)
Place the asparagus in the hot grill basket and cook, shaking the basket occasionally, until crisp-tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
Transfer the asparagus to a serving dish. Pour the lemon–olive oil mixture over it and mix well. Serve.
Asparagus needs thorough rinsing to get rid of all the sand that can hide in its tight leaves and tips. To wash it well, place the asparagus tips down in a cylindrical container, such as a wine bucket or a thermos. Fill the container with cold water and let stand for 20 minutes, periodically shaking the asparagus to get the dirt out. Remove the asparagus from the water and shake dry.