This time of year, after all the gluttony, many of us are downright craving veggies. I actually chose broccoli over the last lingering piece of pecan pie for lunch. Even my fellow food bloggers, pushers of glorious food porn, are all posting healthy recipes right now. Sassy Radish has gone from fleur de sel caramels to tofu. Smitten Kitchen from biscotti to chickpeas and squash.
What I want to share is a recipe, for sure, but it’s more of a method. Like my post on perfect (indoor) grilled chicken, this is a basic cooking technique that will teach you how to cook broccoli for a variety of uses.
This is not soggy broccoli, needing cheese sauce to mask its gray impotence. (Did anyone even eat broccoli without Velveeta in the 80’s?) This blanching method gives you bright, crisp, vividly green florets with the nutrients intact and less of the bitter tones that become so loud when broccoli is overcooked. I’ve had customers say it’s the only way they like broccoli, even snacking on it straight out of the fridge.
The trick is to blanch the broccoli, very briefly, in properly salted water. Blanching brings out the best in vegetables, amplifying their color and retaining their crispness and a sense of freshness. Blanched florets can then be tossed in a hot pan with any seasonings you want.
I’ve posted two recipes below: one for the basic blanching method and one including a great seasoning combination. I’ve chosen orange rind, garlic, and a hit of freshly cracked coriander seed, which brings an aromatic quality. With citrus in season, you probably have some sort of citrus knocking about – a satsuma, tangerine, or clementine – and you can substitute any of these for the orange peel. I’ve even used thinly sliced kumquats, which were fabulous. You can also just omit the coriander if you haven’t got any handy; the orange peel and garlic are wonderful on their own.
Perfect Blanched Broccoli
Briefly blanched broccoli is gorgeously green and crisp and lacks the unappealing funkiness of overcooked, soggy versions.
1.5 lbs. broccoli, cut into florets, any thick stalks removed
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil. (Use about 1 tbs. kosher salt per gallon of water.)
Drop broccoli into boiling water. Cook for 1.5 to 2 minutes, depending on the size of your florets. Broccoli will turn bright green but not be soft or falling apart.
Drain immediately. Quickly toss with any hot fat (butter, oil), seasonings, salt, and pepper.
Do not let broccoli sit around in the colander or it will continue to cook. If not serving immediately, spread out in a thin layer so it cools quickly or dunk into a bowl of ice water.
Tip: If you want to blanch multiple batches, use a strainer to lift the broccoli from the water rather than dumping the whole pot into a colander. You can keep reusing the blanching water (brought again to a rolling boil) until you’re finished.
Broccoli with Garlic, Orange Zest, and Cracked Coriander
With slivers of fresh garlic, ribbons of orange zest, and aromatic whole coriander seeds, cracked just enough to release their flavor.
1.5 lbs. broccoli florets, blanched as described above
1 Tbs. butter
1 orange, zested into strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. whole coriander seed
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Crack coriander. If you have a mortar and pestle, grind the seeds until they open and separate. Or, you can put the seeds in a plastic sandwich bag and bang them with the bottom of a heavy pot or rolling pin. A coffee grinder can also be used.
Melt butter in a large skillet. Add broccoli to the blanching water. To the butter, add orange zest, garlic, and cracked coriander. Cook over medium heat until aromatic, 1-2 minutes. Do not allow garlic to brown. Drain your broccoli and add to the skillet, tossing to coat. Season with salt and pepper.