When you hear words like blanching and shocking, you might think they are cooking methods reserved for professionals.  Or possibly, some sort of medieval torture techniques.  Either way, both words do sound pretty intimidating.  Fear not, let’s take a closer look at some of these cooking terms, have some fun, and improve your overall culinary IQ.

Blanching is a cooking method where fruit or vegetables are briefly immersed in boiling water. It not only cleanses contaminants from the surface, but also brightens colors and helps maintain flavor and nutritional value. Generally, followed by shocking which rapidly cools the food in an ice bath.

Blanching is not only beneficial in cooking, but can also be used for food preservation before freezing, drying or canning.  It can also soften food and loosen skin to make peeling easier, like tomatoes, for example.  So basically, if you want your vegetables to be crisp, refreshing and popping with personality, then you should consider adding blanching and shocking practices to your repertoire.  But when are these things done?  How are they done? Why are they done?  Oh, so many questions!  Don’t worry.  We’re getting ready to break down all the basics (and more) to make sure that you’re ready to take on these chef-worthy cooking techniques and step up your game.

Blanching and Shocking – Breaking it Down

We have Blanche, we have water, but no, my friends . . . this isn’t Titanic.  This is cooking, so Welcome Aboard!

Blanching and shocking are two words you are bound to hear on your favorite cooking show, but it’s not just for pros and grandmothers.  If you’re unfamiliar with the terminology, then chances are you’re not using these techniques at home.  That’s ok, that’s why we’re here.  So let’s get you up to speed and help with a new trick or two.

Blanching vegetables or fruits is essentially dropping them into a pot of boiling water (or steaming). This causes the veggie to start cooking at a rapid pace, which, relieves the overall rawness of the vegetable, among other benefits.  However, to avoid completely cooking the veggie, you will need to shock it.

After just a few minutes (2-3 for many food items), you will shock the vegetables by removing them from the boiling water and putting them directly into an ice bath.  This will immediately halt the cooking process.  Some may also get by with running the veggies under extremely cold water out of the sink or blasting them with cold air if you happen to have Elsa by your side, however, an ice bath tends to work best.

When Blanching and Shocking Work Well

Foods are typically blanched before cooking.  As mentioned above, this can intensify color, flavor and texture while making the fruit or vegetable in question more manageable to work with.  Blanched items are easier to peel, freeze better, are more presentable, and take some of the bite out of raw vegetables.

Most recipes will tell you if blanching is a required step during the food preparation phase.  As a general rule of thumb, blanching requires about 2 minutes of boiling before removal.  Salt water is best for adding a little extra zest.

Most commonly, you will use this classic method to tenderize and beautify hard vegetables like broccoli, carrots or green beans.

Examples:

  • Use blanched vegetables in salads to enhance their presentation and relieve rawness
  • Fresh green beans are blanched to both brighten and soften their crunch
  • Tomatoes and peaches are blanched so they are easier to peel

How to Blanch

  1. Take a head of broccoli and cut into bite size pieces
  2. Add 8 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt to a large saucepan
  3. Bring water to a boil
  4. Add broccoli and cook for 2 minutes after water returns to a boil

If Freezing: Strain from saucepan and place on a paper towel lined plate. Pat dry with additional paper towels and then place into a large freezer bag or rigid container

Otherwise: Immediately proceed to Shocking below

How to Shock

  1. While the broccoli is cooking fill a large bowl with ice cubes and cold water
  2. Strain broccoli from saucepan or use a colander to drain
  3. Plunge directly into ice bath for approximately 2 minutes or until cold to the touch

Pro Tip: To make it easy to remember, we generally shock for around the same amount of time that we blanch

Note: There is debate among home cooks whether or not you should cover vegetables while blanching (in reference to the boiling method).  In our opinion, it makes no difference and there is no scientific evidence that one method is actually better than the other.  We like to use the lid in the UpGood Testing Kitchen because it helps the water boil faster.  We’re all about saving time!

Why You Should Blanch and Shock Your Produce

At this point, you are probably wondering what the reasoning is behind these methods.  Is all of this extra work really necessary?  Let’s quickly summarize the benefits of blanching and shocking:

  • Vegetables are more beautiful.  Yes, that means no more eating dull and mushy green beans that have completely lost their luster.  Both broccoli and beans instantly become brighter and display more of a sexy green sheen.
  • Vegetables are crisp and refreshing.  Some people simply don’t like the taste of raw vegetables, or may find them overpowering.  Blanching can remove bitterness and bite making them more pleasurable to eat.  So, instead of dealing with an overcooked plate of veggies, you can munch on some crisp, crunchy, lightly cooked veggies that really pop!
  • They are more nutritious and last longer.  Blanching can help stop enzymes which cause loss of nutrients as well as other unintended consequences such as loss of color or spoilage.  Especially when it comes to preserving, freezing and storing.  You always want to blanch before freezing in order to preserve your food the best possible way.  Items that aren’t blanched will appear faded and have a “something’s off” texture or flavor.  In order to retain as many nutrients as possible, when you opt to boil or steam, you should stop the cooking process by shocking the vegetables immediately and prevent them from overcooking.
  • Fruit peels can be easily removed. One reason to blanch fruits, such as peaches and apples, is so the skins come off faster.  This can be a huge perk if you’re working with larger quantities and/or making sauces.

If you like vegetables that look great but taste even better, then consider blanching and shocking. It might take a little extra work on your part, but it will be well worth the time and energy.

Our Handy Guide to Blanching Common Fruits and Vegetables

The following vegetables and fruits are definitely no strangers to whirlpools and ice baths.  Inflammation and sore knees be gone!  We have also tossed in the recommended time for blanching so that you get it right the first try.  Without further ado, here’s our chart for some of the more commonly blanched items:

  • Artichoke Hearts – 6 minutes
  • Asparagus – 3 minutes, although thicker stalks may need 4
  • Green Beans – 3 minutes
  • Broccoli – 2 minutes (cut them into 1-inch pieces first, though)
  • Brussels Sprouts – 4 minutes
  • Cauliflower – 3 minutes (cut into 1-inch pieces first)
  • Leafy Greens, such as Spinach – 2 minutes
  • Peas (still in the pod) – 2 minutes
  • Peas (shelled) – 1 minute
  • Squash – 3 minutes
  • Fruits – 30-60 seconds

Pro Tip: Always score the bottoms of tomatoes and peaches with a shallow X across the base.  This will help the fruit separate from the peel during blanching.  Afterward, you’ll find that it’s super easy to peel the skin right off!

Conclusion

Shock and awe isn’t just for the military.  But it will help home cooks prepare better food and awe your guests!  Now, on a final note, we would be remiss if we didn’t address the fact that some nutrients are lost during the boiling or steaming process.  Verdict: Who Cares?  This is a natural part of cooking and unless you want to eat raw vegetables forever, then don’t let it bother you.  Overcooking your food, regardless of method, will cause nutrient loss.  There are more important things to worry about than a few lost nutrients.  Just consider it the Angel’s Share like our distiller friends and move on with your life.  We’re just happy that you’re eating your vegetables.

– Have Fun In The Kitchen