When preparing a meal derived from a recipe found elsewhere, there may come steps that you don’t totally understand. We have all been there before and the only way to learn is to do it effectively. One of these terms is blanching.
Some recipes will call for you to blanch an item before moving on to the official cooking process. But to truly understand why we need to blanch something (green beans, in this instance), we need to know what blanching is.
What Is Blanching?
In short, blanching is the technique of preparing food by briefly covering it in a hot liquid. Generally speaking, this is some kind of boiling oil or water. Most of the time, but not always, this is a prelude to further preparing and cooking the food.
The most frequently blanched foods are generally vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Each of these is blanched for a variety of different reasons. It could be to loosen up a skin so that you can peel it, to brighten up the color, or to soften it for cooking later on.
The important thing to note is the time. That “brief” time can differ depending on the time spent blanching. This is measured in seconds, not minutes. In most cases, blanching will range between 30 and 60 seconds in length. But there is another step in the process to be aware of: shocking.
Shocking Your Greens
Typically, when you blanch your greens, there is another step that is taken. This is known as the shocking process. Shocking is where you take the blanched item and plunge it right into an ice water bath. It is meant to stop the cooking process that began when the blanching was initiated.
Shocking gives us the idea that blanching is more for preparation than it is for cooking. Blanching will not cook the food. Even if you blanch your item, it will still be considered a raw piece of food. But be careful when shocking your food. You don’t want it to sit in the ice water for longer than is necessary because the food will take on that water and then become loose and soggy.
Make sure that when you shock your greens, you are doing it so that the greens are no longer warm. Take them out of the ice bath and drain them out. You can then either use them for the next step or store them until you’re ready to use them.
Why Blanch Green Beans and Other Veggies?
So now that we know that blanching can be used to soften and intensify the color of vegetables, we get a better idea of what we may be doing this for. Blanching something such as green beans or asparagus can give it a brighter color and make it a bit softer and easier to eat.
It is a good idea to blanch your vegetables before you introduce them to the freezer. The process of freezing can reduce the color of your vegetables, making them look drab in appearance.
As for the softness, sometimes vegetables can be a bit too crunchy and stiff. If you were going to make a salad involving green beans, you would want to shock them before moving forward. It is also meant to soften those vegetables so that they can be cooked quickly using a high heat. This is most common in a stir-fry or a saute of some sort.
You would want to blanch your vegetables in this instance because of the short cooking times. With raw, hard vegetables such as broccoli or carrots, that quick cooking time may not be enough to soften the vegetables thoroughly.
It also helps to prevent overcooking the vegetables. When you have to cook them longer to get them softer, you run the risk of overcooking the vegetables. By blanching them, you get the vegetables to the right firmness without running the risk of overcooking them.
Blanching also allows food cooked at high-temperature oil to maintain a crisp exterior while getting a complete cook in the middle. Without blanching, they may not be able to cook completely.
What Else Is Blanching for?
So we know that blanching is meant to not only soften the vegetables but to improve the coloring as well. But that isn’t the only thing that you would use blanching for. It is great for loosening up the skin on peaches, tomatoes, and other foods with tougher-to-remove skin. Keep in mind that it’s great for nuts, too, so you could use it for something such as almonds.
Blanching is also essential when it comes to preparing certain stocks such as veal or chicken. The bones have to be blanched prior to the making of the stock to get rid of any impurities that may still be in them.
Lastly, you can use blanching for French fries too. This is because the potatoes should be blanched using medium-heat oil. After they’ve been blanched, they are cooled and then fried again at a much higher temperature.
The process of blanching is to ensure that the fries get a complete cook but also maintain a crisp exterior in the second step. Skipping the blanching step may run the risk of a potentially crispy outside but an interior that is not cooked all the way through.
Blanching Provides a Better Cook
Whether you are planning on using your blanched foods immediately or storing them in the freezer for later use, blanching can really amplify both the cook quality and appearance. Best of all, it is a short process to complete, usually taking 30 to 60 seconds to completely blanch most nuts, vegetables, and fruits.
Don’t let your foods become bland in color or lack the kind of texture and complete cook that makes those foods really pop. Blanching is often a step skipped because many amateur cooks and chefs don’t know what it entails. But it is just a minute of your time that can really make the difference in your next meal.