How to Blanch Vegetables—the Best Way to Preserve Their Color, Texture, and Flavor

This classic French cooking technique is quick, easy, and transformative.

<p>Oksana Chaun / Getty Images</p>

Oksana Chaun / Getty Images

For spring and summer vegetables that taste like the best versions of themselves, any professional chef will tell you that the preferred method of preparation is the simple but effective technique of blanching. Blanching is quick and easy, and it's definitely something you should be using in your kitchen. Learn why you should be blanching, how to blanch, mistakes to avoid, and find out some of our favorite ways to use blanched vegetables.

Meet Our Expert

Albert Nguyen, chef-instructor of culinary arts at the Institute of Culinary Education.

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What Is Blanching?

Blanching is a method of cooking that involves briefly dropping ingredients (usually vegetables) in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Afterward, the blanched vegetables are lifted from the boiling water and transferred to a bowl of ice water, a technique called "shocking." Shocking the vegetables stops the cooking process and, as a result, preserves the brightened colors of the ingredients.

"Blanching is one of my favorite ways to cook a vegetable just because it is both easy and keeps the vegetable tasting like itself," says Albert Nguyen, chef-instructor of Culinary Arts at the Institute of Culinary Education. It makes it especially easy to whip up a side of vegetables, he adds.

The Benefits of Blanching Vegetables

Beautiful bright color is not the only upside to blanching, it's a technique with many benefits:

Quick: Most vegetables only require a few minutes of blanching before being plunged into cold water, saving you time spent at the stove or oven during warmer months.

Useful: On a hot summer afternoon, blanching can be all the cooking you’re looking to do for one meal, but other times, blanching is a step along the way to making casseroles or other more involved dishes. Blanch vegetables to par-cook them to save time and stay organized during holidays or dinner parties.

Economical: Blanching, like steaming, is a cooking method that needs nothing more than salt and water. Without requiring excess oils, seasonings, or even parchment paper, blanching can be done anywhere with access to water—and a heat source, of course!

Healthy: Along the same lines, blanching foods adds no extra fats, making it a healthier alternative to pan frying or roasting.

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What You Need

Another convenient aspect of blanching is that you likely have all the tools you need to do it perfectly:

  • Large pot for blanching

  • Small strainer, tongs, or a spider

  • Large bowl for shocking

  • Clean tea towel or paper towels

How to Blanch Vegetables

  1. Prepare a pot of boiling, salted water: Use a larger pot than you think you need, and fill it with as much water as possible. Be sure to salt the water.

  2. Cut each vegetable into equally sized pieces. Also, blanch each vegetable type separately because they require differing amounts of time.

  3. Add the vegetable to the boiling water and cook. Trust your senses. Use your own eyes and taste buds, rather than a timer, to determine when a vegetable is done. (But to get a basic sense of timing, see below.)

  4. Drain: Use a strainer to remove the vegetable from the boiling water.

  5. Shock the vegetables: Although an ice bath is most commonly suggested and a common method used in restaurants with industrial ice makers, running the drained vegetables under cool tap water yields the same results.

  6. Drain and dry: Use a salad spinner, a clean tea towel, or both to dry the vegetables well. This is necessary to prevent them from becoming soggy and will enhance their future flavor. Also, dressings and sauces will adhere better to vegetables that are completely dry.

Timing Guidelines

As you blanch vegetables more often, you'll know when they are sufficiently cooked. Vegetables are living organisms that are naturally diverse and are different from week to week at the grocery store. It’s best not to rely completely on past experiences: the asparagus you cooked last week might have been thinner than this week's, so the cooking times will vary even among the same vegetable. Below are some general guidelines.

  • Leafy greens: 20-30 seconds

  • Snap peas or green beans: 1-2 minutes

  • Asparagus (medium): 2-3 minutes

  • Brassicas: 3 minutes

Related: How to Sauté Everything Like a Professional Chef

The Vegetables Best for Blanching

Think of any vegetable you can enjoy raw and anything that can stand up to water, and chances are it's good for blanching.

  • Asparagus

  • Brassicas such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts

  • Green beans

  • Snow peas, snap peas, and green peas

  • Blanching leafy greens is a common step before blending them into a sauce, pesto, or even salad dressing.

  • Blanching herbs helps preserve their bright color and even mellow some grassiness when incorporating them into recipes.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Blanching is pretty straightforward, but there are a few missteps one could make along the way. Avoid the following:

Overcrowding the pot: It’s best to blanch vegetables in small batches to prevent overcrowding the pot. Overcrowding can result in uneven cooking and poor blanching.

Not using enough water: Insufficient water can lead to uneven blanching and may cause vegetables to cook unevenly. “The vegetables, once placed in the water, should not drop the temperature of the water too low,” says Nguyen. “The water should be able to maintain a strong boil even after the vegetables are placed in.”

Forgetting to salt the water: Adding salt to the blanching water helps to enhance flavor and preserve the color of the vegetables. Avoid adding too much salt, however, especially if these vegetables are going to be a component of a dish later on. The benefits of seasoning your water not only make vegetables taste better but also extend their shelf life. "If blanched properly with lots of salt, then drained and properly dried before storing in the fridge, these vegetables can have a slightly longer shelf life due to the added salt," says Nguyen, who says vegetables prepared this way can last in your refrigerator for up to five days.

Not blanching for the correct time: Different vegetables require different blanching times, so be sure to cook each vegetable separately to maintain control of their doneness. Overblanching can lead to loss of flavor and texture, while underblanching may not adequately preserve the vegetables.

Not shocking the vegetables: Transfering the vegetables to an ice-water bath to stop the cooking process immediately after they have been blanched is essential. Skipping this step can result in overcooking and loss of color and texture.

Reusing the blanching water: Avoid reusing the blanching water for multiple batches of vegetables. It might feel unnecessary to change out the water, but it can contain impurities and acids that will impact the quality of the blanched vegetables.

Leaving vegetables in ice for too long: While it's important to shock the vegetables to stop the cooking process, leaving them in the ice bath for too long can lead to waterlogging and loss of flavor. Remove vegetables from the ice bath once they are completely cooled, and dry them.

Related: The Right Way to Wash Every Type of Vegetable, According to Food Safety Experts

How to Use Blanched Vegetables

Blanched vegetables are refreshing, crisp, and full of flavor, and they have many applications. "They are a blank slate that can be the base of a dish and/or be incorporated easily into a dish," says Nguyen. He recommends blanching vegetables as part of your meal prep.

  • Toss blanched vegetables in a vinaigrette for a salad

  • Sprinkle them on a flatbread or pizza

  • Stuff them in a pita, wrap, or sandwich

  • Blend them into a chilled soup

  • Use them as crudités with a dip or on a charcuterie board

Having a selection of blanched vegetables at the ready in your fridge will make you feel more inspired to lean into vegetarian dishes and more healthy, plant-based cooking. 

Read the original article on Martha Stewart.