Master the art of blanching vegetables

Blanching vegetables is a technique that involves briefly boiling and then plunging vegetables into an ice bath to make them tender-crisp and flavorful. Photo by Justin Sorensen/ NNY Living

Blanched green beans perfect addition to summer quinoa salad

I have a lengthy list of things I have no idea how to do: plaster, operate a circular saw, change the oil in my car, swim the butterfly stroke, speak French, line dance, the list goes on. The list of things that I know how to do well is shorter, and consists of things mostly done in the kitchen.

I know how to blanch, chop, puree, chiffenade and cure; de-vein, coddle, smoke and sauté, all just cool words for cooking. I can also teach people how to cook and, of all things I do best, this is my favorite. There is something wonderful about teaching a person a new skill—it is giving them a gift.

Several years ago, I overheard one of my culinary students at Jefferson Community College say something to another student that has stuck with me ever since. It was the end of the semester and the inexperienced group of first year students had been transformed into a group of skilled and confident young cooks. They had all successfully completed their final exam and amongst the jubilation I heard a young man say, “Isn’t it cool that now we know how to cook real food? We don’t have to live on frozen lasagna and Kraft macaroni and cheese anymore.”

Sharing my culinary skills was a gift of knowledge that helped give these young adults a sense of self-confidence and freedom from the microwave. I have witnessed similar transformations in my cooking classes at The Farm House Kitchen in Sackets Harbor. Students come into class a little nervous and full of self-doubt. I have had a person tell me after class that they had been on the verge of putting their class fee on the table and slipping out the side door unnoticed. Just like the JCC students, Farm House Kitchen students walk a little taller with their new talents at the end of class.

For my first in a series of columns of cooking techniques, I chose blanching. Briefly boiled and then plunged into a bowl filled with water and ice cubes (an ice bath), blanched vegetables are beautiful, bright, healthy, tender-crisp, flavorful and irresistible. And there’s no better time of year than now to make them when farm stands are bursting with gorgeous fresh vegetables.

I like to have a baggie of blanched green beans in the car with me when I do errands, especially if it is around lunchtime when the urge to grab a quick snack at a drive-thru window is highest. Blanched vegetables are wonderful on an hors d’oeuvres tray, in a salad, as a quick snack or in a stir-fry. Try mixing some blanched vegetables into a grain salad such as rice, couscous or quinoa, or combining them with a tender counterpart like cherry tomatoes or a creamy avocado.

Blanching is a basic technique every cook should master. Consider blanching fresh green beans, asparagus, carrots or beets cut into a small dice, a head of broccoli or cauliflower. Here’s how:

Have a large bowl of ice water, a slotted spoon and a plate lined with a cloth or paper towel ready. Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables. Cut them into uniform pieces to ensure even cooking.

Just before blanching, add a couple of tablespoons of salt to the boiling water. Salt helps to maintain color and improve the flavor of vegetables.

Add the vegetables to the pot in small batches so that the water continues to boil. If blanching more than one type of vegetable, blanch each one separately. Blanch lighter colored ones first, as darker colored ones will tinge the water and subsequent vegetables.

After about 30 seconds, test for readiness. Remove one, dip it into the bowl of ice water and taste. Taste every 30 to 60 seconds until the vegetables are cooked to your liking. Most vegetables take two to five minutes. They should still have a little crunch, as this is blanching not boiling.

When the vegetables are done, quickly remove them from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and plunge them into the ice bath to stop the cooking process. This is called “shocking.”

When the vegetables are completely cool, remove them from the ice bath and drain on the towel-lined plate.

Enjoy immediately or save for later.

[For the recipe and instructions for making Boo’s summer quinoa salad using blanched green beans, please subscribe or purchase a copy of NNY Living at your local Big M Supermarket, at the Watertown Daily Times, Carthage Tribune or Lowville Journal offices and the Samaritan Medical Center Gift Shop.]

Boo Wells is chef and owner of the Farm House Kitchen, a catering company and cooking school in Sackets Harbor. Contact her at sacketsfarmhousekitchen@gmail.com or visit www.farmhousekitchen.com.