An asparagus steamer is a very tall, narrow, cylinder-shaped, stainless-steel pot with a tall, narrow insert (or basket) that may be a mesh cage or more of a wired cage. It is specially designed to steam stalks of asparagus, whose tips are more fragile than their bases.
Asparagus steamer design
The pot of an asparagus steamer will be about 22 to 25 cm tall (9 to 10 inches), and about 12 cm wide (around 5 inches). It will hold a single large bundle of asparagus standing upright.
The pot will have a lid, either solid metal, or glass. The glass is meant to be see-through, but it can often be fogged over by condensation and steam. Consequently, some of the glass lids now have vents in them to prevent this from happening.
The pot’s insert will have a handle for easy lifting out.
Some models come with a wire cage (as opposed to a mesh cage) let you empty the pot in the sink, then hook the cage onto a handle of the pot to let the cage rest there suspended for a minute or two while the stalks drain.
If you have an induction stove, you’ll want to check that the model you are looking at will be compatible. Verify also that it is dishwasher safe, if that is important to you.
Many “4th burner” pots come with similar tall basket inserts and might be used for steaming asparagus as well if tall enough.
Using an asparagus steamer
To use an asparagus steamer, you fill the pot about ⅓ to ½ full with water. You bring the water to a boil, and stand your prepared asparagus (washed, etc.) in it upright, tip ends up. This ensures that the tougher ends of the stalks are in water, where they get boiled, and the more tender tips are out of the water, where they just get steamed. You may need to trim your asparagus stalk bottoms further if they are too tall for the pot with the cover on. Leave, however, more stalk on than you would normally when not using a steamer like this.
In this regard, it could be said that the term “steamer” is a misnomer, because only part of the asparagus is steamed, while the other part is boiled.
Let simmer about 7 minutes. Then, remove the asparagus, and with kitchen scissors snip a further 2 to 3 cm (about an inch) off their bottoms. You can use the snipped-off stalk bits for soups.