Cooking Vegetables: Learn To Do It Right



The first rule of cooking vegetables: Just because you have a microwave doesn't mean you should use it.

I recently experienced an excruciating olfactory attack in a dive bar in Manhattan's West Village. Our sexy bartender opened a Gladware container filled with Brussels sprouts that sent several of us careening off our barstools.

A culinary friend of mine inquired as to what she had done to put these tiny cabbage balls in such pain. She claimed that she added a bit of water to the sprouts, then steamed them in the microwave.

I am not sure how long they cooked, but I promise you it was far, far too long.

If she had asked -- which she didn't -- I would have shared a few simple tips for cooking vegetables. If you're interested in cooking, do yourself (and your friends) a favor; read these before opening the microwave door:

Q: How do you know when it's done?

A: An editor of mine once insisted that chewing is for cows, and all vegetables should be cooked to the point that they dissolve when you push them to the roof of your mouth with your tongue.

This is a lie.

Vegetables should be toothsome and have a bit of texture; they are amply cooked when the rawness and crunch is gone.

Q: What's the best way to cook vegetables? How do professional chefs do it?

A: The classic French technique is to blanch and shock your vegetables. Blanching refers to plunging raw vegetables into boiling water and removing them when they're at their most vivid (think bright orange carrots, emerald green beans...).

As soon as the color is lively, and the rawness is gone (this can be anywhere from one to three minutes), shock your vegetables to stop the cooking immediately by submerging them in an ice-water bath.

After they've cooled, you can remove your vegetables from the ice water, and keep them in your refrigerator for up to five days.

Reheat them as you like; perhaps with a little oil and garlic, maybe some rendered bacon, or shallots and butter. All these veggies need is a rewarming, and they're ready to go. Or feel free to eat them cold, as crudite.

Q: What's the fastest way to cook vegetables?

A: Steam them. Place your veggies into a microwave-safe container, and cook them for a few minutes. Like, two. Then look at them.

You'll get the hang of it. Go gently, less is more. Remember, you're looking for vivid color and al dente texture.

Q: What's the tastiest way to cook vegetables?

A: Roasting. Always. Preheat your oven to 425F. Toss those veggies (potatoes, asparagus, string beans, sweet potatoes, cauliflower) with oil, salt, pepper, and an herb you think sounds like fun (thyme, rosemary). Put them in the oven. Cook until al dente.

Denser vegetables take longer (halved baby potatoes will take 30 minutes, asparagus will take 10 to 12 minutes).

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Lardons

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 (3-ounce) chunk of bacon, cut crosswise into 1 inch by 1/4-inch thick lardons

1 (10-ounce) container Brussels sprouts (about 26), trimmed

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 shallot, thinly sliced

1/3 cup low-sodium chicken stock

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Cook bacon in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp. Transfer bacon with a slotted spoon to a small bowl and remove all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat from the skillet.

2. Cut sprouts in half and thinly slice lengthwise. Add butter to the large sauté pan, and shallots. Cook for three minutes, stirring, until shallots are tender. Add shredded sprouts and chicken stock; season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 to minutes; until stock has evaporated, and sprouts are a vivid green color.

3. Taste and adjust for seasoning; return the crispy lardons to the skillet, and toss to mix. Serve alongside your favorite roast meat or seared fish.


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