Guide to How to Blanch Vegetables
Knowing how to blanch vegetables is a great way to impress a friend with your cooking skills. Blanching veggies is a tried and true technique of professional and home chefs alike, and boiling vegetables is such an easy addition to a cooking routine there’s no good reason not to try and learn.
Blanching vegetables is an easy cooking technique that most people overlook. If your vegetables taste mushy, flavorless, and lose their color, you’re probably not blanching properly. Professional chefs use blanching to make sure the veggies they serve are crisp, colorful, tender, and delicious. To bring that professional taste and feel to your dinner table’s veggies, you must blanch before you cook or serve greens and veggies.
The basic blanching process is to boil your vegetables for a short amount of time, rapidly chill them in ice cold water, then cook them again slowly to add flavor or to create a dish. Remember — blanching exists to maintain the texture, color, and (most importantly) flavor of the vegetables you serve.
Knowing How to Blanch Vegetables = Knowing How to Boil Water
It may sound dumb, but understanding the proper way to boil water is key to knowing how to blanch vegetables. People think boiling water is just a matter of sticking a pot of water on a burner — but it is a bit more complex than that.
Any time I boil water for cooking, I make sure the water has the salinity of sea water. Some prefer a little less salt — but either way, salting your blanching water is important. The amount of water you boil doesn’t matter (you’ll just be draining the water later anyway) but you have to add salt.
There are also multiple “stages” of boiling water — low boil, rolling boil, high boil, and any number of other regional words for different boiling water temperatures. For blanching veggies, you need to make sure your salted water is boiling as hard and fast as you can get it.
Once your salted water is boiling good and hard, it is time to blanch vegetables.
Trimming Your Veggies
First, figure out what size your veggies need to be. This depends on what kind of veggies you’re serving and how you’re serving them — asparagus will need to be be trimmed much differently than kale or broccoli.
Though many people will trim their veggies ahead of time, you should never trim your vegetables for blanching until you are just moments away from putting them in boiling water. Even if you use plastic knives or other special cutting devices that avoid oxidizing veggies, all trimmed veggies will begin to dehydrate and turn brown (“oxidize”) upon being cut. While this does mean you’ll have to trim veggies while your water begins to boil, the result (crispy, un-oxidized blanched veggies) is well worth the added stress of doing two things at once.
Ice Baths and Small Batches
Your water is boiling hard and is plenty salty. You’ve just trimmed your veggies and you think you’re ready to start blanching. There’s still two things to consider.
1. Ice Bath
Fill a medium sized bowl three quarters full of ice. Add just enough cold water so that it barely touches the top of the ice. This is your ice bath, and is as crucial a step in blanching as any other. We’ll get more into the ice bath’s purpose later, but you need to go ahead and prepare it now.
2. Small Batches
You don’t just want to dump your entire stash of trimmed vegetables into the blanching liquid. For one thing, if you do this the water will lose its temperature, stop boiling, and instead of blanching your veggies you’ll just be soaking them uselessly in salty lukewarm water. Another good reason to blanch veggies in small batches is to allow you to perform a taste test. To do this, boil your first small batch of vegetables just to the point that they’re barely “cooked through”. This means the veggies will still feel quite a bit “tender” to your fork or your mouth.
Once you’re ready to test your first batch, go ahead and pull out a single piece of blanched veggie (preferably with a slotted spoon to avoid getting burned), dip that piece into your prepared ice bath briefly, and eat it. Let your mouth tell you if the blanching process is working or not — don’t just depend on a timer.
If your first batch of blanched veggies worked, go ahead and continue blanching in small batches, dumping them in the ice bath when they’re just barely “cooked through”, and pulling them out as soon as the veggies are no longer warm to the touch. If you find your ice is melting and turning the ice bath lukewarm, build another (colder) ice bath.
Reheating Blanched Vegetables
Sometimes blanching a vegetable is all that is needed to prepare it for a meal. Other times, blanching is just the first step to serving a more complex dish. Since blanching involves chilling a “cooked” veggie in an ice bath, properly reheating and serving warm veggies is key to blanching vegetables.
Here’s the good news — you can “reheat” blanched veggies any way you choose. Take your blanched veggies out of the ice bath and let them saute — or brush them in oil and stick them on the grill. Heck, you can even keep boiling your blanched veggies if you wish, just make sure they didn’t cook too much during blanching and they spent enough time in the ice bath to get crispy.
Blanching is an easy step in the cooking process, but because it doesn’t take much time it is also easy to forget to or decide intentionally to skip. When you’ve got pots boiling over on the stove, meat marinating in the fridge, and kids running around your legs screaming, it can be easy to say “Forget it” and skip the blanching step. Blanching is a must when serving vegetables. If properly blanched, the vegetables you serve will be the most delicious part of your meal.
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