Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hands On - Blanching

If you can boil water you can blanch. Blanching is a useful kitchen procedure - once you get the hang of it you will do it without thinking.  It is essential if you are planning to do any vegetable freezing.  And I expect you will be doing some freezing.  Even the most diligent CSA box cook sometimes needs an eat-it-later strategy.  That is when blanching - and freezing - will come in very handy.

Blanching is the process of immersing food in or steaming food over rapidly boiling water for a brief time.  It is necessary to blanch most vegetables prior to freezing them.  Blanching is also used to loosen the skins of onions or fruits such as peaches or tomatoes so they are easier to peel.  If you want to cook vegetables until they are just crisp tender blanching works just fine.  I often blanch vegetables that I intend to use later in a composed vegetable salad.  The French will blanch vegetables to set their color and then heat them briefly in butter prior to serving.

The reason for blanching prior to freezing is to stop or greatly lessen enzyme activity in vegetables which continues even after harvest.  If the enzyme action is not stopped, the frozen vegetables will lose nutritional value.  Blanching also ensures better flavor, color and texture in frozen vegetables.

To blanch you will need a big covered pot, a wire basket or other tool for immersing or suspending the food, a large bowl, pan or sink to hold ice cold water and some tongs and hot pads.  A scale is nice to have too.  It is best to blanch about one pound of vegetables per one gallon of water.

Wash and cut vegetables to desired size.  Complete necessary preparation, such as snapping the ends off beans or trimming unwanted stems or ribs from greens.

Bring one gallon of water to a full boil.  No need to salt water.  Place one pound of vegetables in a wire basket, colander or steamer and lower into water.  Keep the heat high so the water continues to boil.  (Note - I think it is fine to let the veggies swim around loose - as long as you have a good skimmer or strainer tool which can fish out all the pieces fast when they are done.)

Boiling times vary depending on the type of vegetable and the size of the pieces.  Use a timer. Many classic cookbooks have charts showing these times.  The 1975 edition of the Joy of Cooking has an excellent detailed section all about blanching, including times.  The 1997 edition has just one crummy paragraph - a nice definition but nothing to help you figure out how to actually carry out the process.  This is why I keep some old cook books around.  I don't want some editor in New York who uses her oven to store shoes to make my life harder because she thinks nobody wants to freeze anymore.  Sorry.  And maybe it was a guy who made that decision.  Either way it was a big mistake if you ask me.

Luckily we have resources such as the National Center for Food Preservation in Georgia.  If you need a chart with suggested blanching times, they can help you.

Immediately immerse the vegetables in ice cold water.  Leave in the water for the same time period that they were boiled.  Drain the vegetables well.  Then store in a covered container in the refrigerator if you plan to use them in a few days.  Otherwise pack in a freezer container or bag, label and date and freeze.

I am not going to freeze this lovely batch of broccoli spears.  I am going to refrigerate them for a day and then arrange them with some blanched snow peas, julienned carrots, yellow beans and thinly sliced leftover grilled pork.   Served over a bed of lettuce or rice noodles with some Asian style vinaigrette and a little chopped mint or cilantro and roasted peanuts - that will be a great meal.

p.s.  it WAS a great meal.  Here - a day later - is a picture of the salad.  I put the veggies on top of lettuce and added a little pile of leftover brown rice to each plate, with the meat on top of that.  The meat is in the middle.  It doesn't look all that great but it tasted very good.

Tomorrow:  Focus: Carrots

1 comment:

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