As every fan of asparagus knows, a perfectly cooked stalk does a fine job of standing alone or at most with a little unsalted butter and a squirt of lemon. It’s the "perfectly cooked stalk" part that stymies cooks who don’t know how to perform magic, though. The best asparagus is cooked in a special asparagus steamer that sends more steam to the bottom of the stalk and progressively less and less the higher the steam rises, has a transparent top, and a basket to hold the little guys in place.
This may truly sound like magic to the uninitiated, but it’s easier done than said. All the cook needs is an asparagus steamer that is tall enough to hold a bunch of asparagus upright with a hands-breadth or so of extra space. Two things will keep the stalks from flopping around. The first is a mesh basket with a handle that slides into the pot itself, and the second thing to look for is a pot that is considerably narrower than it is tall.
Long before there were asparagus pots, there was asparagus, which will lead the thoughtful cook to ponder what other cooking methods may have existed long ago. Steaming has been a favorite since the dawn of fire and water, but back then, stalks were simply laid horizontally in a deep saucepan and boiled. This resulted in asparagus that was mushy on the top and inedible further down the woody stalk.
The modern asparagus steamer has resolved that issue with a design that blasts each progressively more tender section of stalk with the right amount of steam. This does not mean that all contemporary asparagus pots are the same, however. Serious cooks want an asparagus steamer whose basket slides in and out easily. One that is made from stainless steel is heavy enough to prevent accidental tipping. A transparent lid is a must-have to monitor progress without removing the top.
Asparagus is not only stuffed with fiber and wonderful flavor, but it can become the centerpiece of a meal even without the traditionally very rich and highly fattening hollandaise sauce. Perfectly steamed asparagus with just the slightest scent of creamy, sweet butter, a squirt of lemon or lime, and a few pine nuts or sesame seeds that have been roasted just enough to begin to turn from bland to brown creates a meal fit for a king, a queen, and a house full of princes and princesses.