Cooking vegetables always used to frustrate me (read, “throw down the spoon and stomp away”) because they would always somehow – no matter how closely I watched them – turn mushy and brown, especially if it was going to be a few minutes between cooking and serving (getting everyone around the table can take you right up till the Apocolypse, all the while leaving your veggies to wilt even further). Enter the revolutionary (to me) technique of blanching veggies. The ice bath shocks the vegetables and stops them cooking RIGHT THEN, so they stay crisp and green (as long as you don’t overcook them in the pot). I also like to saute my vegetables, but blanching has saved many a meal from my flying wooden spoon.
If you’re serving veggies with dip or a cold salad, blanching the vegetables will bring out their vibrant colors and take the edge off the raw flavor and texture. If you’re serving them as a hot side dish, vegetables can be blanched hours ahead of time and then reheat before serving.
Have ready: a slotted spoon, a bowl of ice water to shock the vegetables after blanching, and a large plate lined with a paper towel.
Cut your vegetables to equal sized pieces so they cook at the same rate.
Bring a large amount of water to boil. Just before blanching, add a few tablespoons of salt to the water to fix the color and add flavor to your veggies.
Blanch each type of vegetable separately. Blanch the lightest vegetables first (ie, cauliflower) and the darkest last (ie, brocolli). Green veggies will turn the water green and so any veggies blanched after them will take on a greenish tinge.
Most vegetables take between 2 – 5 minutes to cook. After a minute or two, dip one into the ice bath and taste it to see how far along the cooking has come. Keep tasting every minute until the vegetables are cooked as much as you like them.
For a salad or “raw” veggie platter, cook until al dente–no longer raw, but still crisp. Use a slotted spoon to remove the vegetables, shock them quickly in the ice water to stop the cooking, and spread them out on a plate lined with paper towels to dry.
For a hot side-dish, cook until tender but not mushy. If serving right away, strain and transfer the vegetables directly to the serving platter without shocking. If preparing ahead of time, shock them in the ice water and set them aside. Before serving, saute them quickly in butter and herbs to reheat.
To avoid brown vegetables, leave the pot uncovered during cooking and don’t add any acid (like lemon juice) to the cooking water. Also, only blanch fibrous vegetables like carrots and string beans; watery veggies like peppers will just break down into mush.