We’re getting another ten inches of snow this weekend, however, it is technically almost spring. And if you have even the slightest bit of luck, you might start to feel the weather warm up in the next couple of weeks (or months. But I’m optimistic, so just roll with it).
The markets will become flooded with sweet baby peas, green beans, baby broccoli florets, and of course, the Easter favorite and spring go-to of all households, asparagus spears.
Many people pride themselves on their marinades and dry rubs, their rich or perfectly balanced sauces, and they are, of course, all wonderful, I’m sure. However there is one common cooking method that is sadly overlooked, often underestimated and unfortunately executed with little attention to detail and lackluster flare. You’ve probably blanched and shocked vegetables in the past and not given it much thought, but it’s almost spring and we need to talk technique. These vegetables should be given the respect they deserve.
Nobody puts spring green vegetables in the corner and I’m here to help.
Blanching and shocking is a simple, effective and delicious way to prepare these spring favorites. However, it must be done properly or not at all, in my opinion. If it’s not done properly you will be left with a quaggy, gray, disgusting, mush-like dish that someone said was once a vegetable and probably would benefit from a can of condensed soup poured on top of it. Oh, yes, I did just say that.
This is not ok, people!
No main dish can make up for the fact that your vegetables are terrible (says the vegetarian).
Yes, I might be biased, but I feel it’s time we pay more attention to our vegetable dishes especially when they’ve just come back from the dead of the frozen winter ground for our consumption. Fresh green beans and asparagus spears have a deliciously bitter-sweet and earthy flavor that should be enhanced, not smothered. Smothering is so November through January. Macaroni and cheese and sweet potato chili are now nearly a thing of our past.
It’s time to think about sweet pea soups that barely need cooking and lemon scented crispy green beans or grilled broccoli spears dusted with parmesan and sea salt. These vegetables don’t need much help, they’re pretty much perfect the way they are with just a little help.
So here are some tips on how to perfectly blanch spring green vegetables.
1. Salt the water! If the water tastes like nothing, then your vegetables will taste (yup, you guessed it) like nothing. The water should be as salty as the ocean. The salt will be washed away in the ice bath so don’t under season your boiling water. It is important.
2. Add some flavor. I add garlic cloves or some lemon slices and allow them to soften up in the simmering water before I add the vegetables. This infuses a gentle hint of flavor into the green vegetables without overpowering their natural and authentic flavor.
3. Bring your water to a rapid rolling boil before adding the vegetables. Adding the vegetables at any point in time before this, will not suffice.
4. Stay there! This particular category of vegetables can cook in less than thirty seconds, depending on the size and thickness of them. Stay there and watch them turn bright spring green. Remove them from the water with a large spider or colander and drop them directly into the ice bath.
5. How to tell when they’re done?
a) For small vegetables like peas and green beans: They will turn a very vivid shade of green. At this point, remove one and taste it. Are they too crunchy? Probably not, because they take about thirty seconds to cook. So, unless it’s only been ten seconds, remove and shock.
b) If the vegetables are larger like asparagus or broccoli spears, stick a knife into the center of the vegetables when they change to bright green. If the knife clings to the vegetable without budging, wait another minute. If the knife slides easily through the vegetables, then get them out of that water as soon as possible because they’re almost overcooked.
6. The vegetables will continue to cook until you shock them. This is why I prefer to get them out of the boiling water when they’re still bright and crisp. I can drain them and wait a minute and then shock them and they’re still perfect. Overdone is not reversible, so it’s better to err on the side of caution with this method.
7. Keep the vegetables in the ice water bath long enough for them to cool completely. If they’re not cooled completely, they’re still cooking and will therefore become mushy soon after.
8. The ice water shock bath should be equal parts ice and water and leave enough room in the bowl for the vegetables. You don’t want things overflowing.
9. If you plan to cook them with a sauce after blanching and shocking ( either in a baking dish or a stir fry, etc. ), then reduce the cooking time a bit. They will finish cooking once combined with the sauce of your choosing.
10. Taste. This tip goes for every recipe and method in cooking. Taste the water, taste the product at every stage of cooking so you know what direction you’re headed in with the dish. An untasted dish of any kind, is most likely going to need a lot of help once you finally take that first bite. You don’t want that bite to be had by everyone at the table. That’s when people start grabbing the ketchup. It’s not because they love ketchup. It’s because you didn’t taste.
If these tips are followed you will be enjoying brightly colored, tender but crisp earthy fresh spring greens. You’ll taste a nuance of the ocean and the brightness of lemons. It should taste like spring.
Garlic Infused, Perfectly Blanched Asparagus with Orange Ginger Glaze
Serves 4 (with rice or noodles) as an entree. Serves 6 as an appetizer or side dish.
NOTE: Please taste the salted water to make sure it is thoroughly flavored. This recipe is for standard 1/2 inch asparagus spears. If using baby asparagus, reduce cooking time by half (about one and a half minutes into the boiling water). This recipe works with any green vegetable if you’re not a fan of asparagus.
Garlic-Infused and Perfectly-Blanched Asparagus
- 5 cloves of garlic, whole and peeled
- 2 pounds asparagus, trimmed
- Fill a large metal bowl half way with equal parts ice and water. Set aside, near the stovetop.
- In a large saucepan with a fitted lid, fill three quarters of the way with salted water. Cover and place over high heat until it starts to simmer. Taste the blanching water to make sure it is thoroughly salted and add more if needed.
- Add garlic to the pot and allow to cook for about three minutes, or until garlic is fragrant and soft.
- When water boils rapidly, add asparagus to the water and allow to cook for three or four minutes, or until tender but crisp.
- Using a large spider, strainer or colander, remove asparagus and garlic from the boiling water and transfer to the ice water bath. Stir until the asparagus is warm and the ice melts slightly.
Orange Ginger Glaze
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon orange zest (+ more for garnish/color, optional)
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about the amount of juice from one large naval orange)
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root
- 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- a dash or two of sriracha (optional)
- 2 pounds prepared vegetables*
*1 recipe for prepared “Garlic Infused, Perfectly Blanched Asparagus” (above)
In a large nonstick saucepan over high heat, add all ingredients. Toss until hot and covered evenly. Note: you may add a bit of water if needed to help coat the asparagus evenly. You may double the ingredients if you prefer a more saucy dish. Remove whole garlic cloves before serving.
Serve with rice or noodles, garnish with zest