March 21, 2021

💧A Better Way To Boil Vegetables

Learn a new boiling technique that gives you quick and delicious vegetables!

While boiling vegetables can be delicious, I get it if you have a little PTSD from them. The thought of a boiled Brussels sprout still makes me nauseous.

But what if I told you there’s a better way? I’ve learned a new technique for boiling vegetables from the folks at Milk Street. It will make you forget about the bland boiled veggies of your childhood.

Here’s the gist. You create an aromatic base, add your veggies, and then pour in your water. But not a lot of water. Not even enough to cover all of your veg. 😲 Did I pique your interest?

Let’s dive into it! 🏊 Actually, let’s not. Because you know it’s gonna be hot. And shallow too. Yeah, since there’s not a lot of water in the pan. And it’s boiling… Get it?!?! Okay moving on.

A Low Liquid Boil

First, things first. This technique works best for vegetables with a little heft. Root vegetables work great! So do denser cruciferous ones like broccoli or cauliflower. Even green beans are delicious this way. 🥦 🥕🥔🍠

Next, let’s talk equipment. You’re going to want a pot here. Not a pan. Something with taller sides and a heavy lid. A dutch oven works great. (I’ll explain why later on.)

This technique has four stages:

  1. Building the Base: Create an aromatic base of flavor with fat, spices, and herbs.
  2. Boiling: Cook the veggies with a low amount of liquid, with the lid on.
  3. Evaporating: Remove the lid, and cook off your liquid.
  4. Finishing: Use the last moment before serving to contrast flavors.

This technique builds on some of the principles I mentioned in last week’s newsletter on when to cover a pot or leave the lid off. Check it out if you haven’t yet!

Building the Base

The key to a flavorful ending is to start with a flavorful beginning. Add a good amount of butter or olive oil to the pan—about 3 tablespoons. Then cook down diced shallots or garlic if you so desire.

Next, add herbs and spices. I like to use whole spices here. They hold up well to heat and add a little texture. But ground spices work well too. And I’d pick a sturdy herb like rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, or cilantro stems. More delicate herbs like basil, parsley, and mint won’t hold up under heat. It’s better to add delicate herbs at the end. 🌿

Cook the herbs and spices directly in the fat for about 30 seconds. The heat and fat will coax more flavor out of them!

Boiling

Let’s talk ratios. For 2lbs (~1kg) of vegetables, use 1 1/4 cups of water for root vegetables. Or if you’re cooking less dense vegetables like broccoli or green beans, drop the water to 1 cup. Again, your vegetables probably won’t be covered by the water. And that’s what we want! Using a small amount of water and cooking it off later keeps all the flavor in our vegetables. You don’t lose any “vegetable essence” to the boiling water.

After you’ve built the aromatic base, add your vegetables, a good pinch of salt, and your water. And bring that sucker to a boil. Once, you see the bubbles, cover the pot.

Covering the pot will do two things. It will keep in the steam—which we need to cook the vegetables fully through. And it makes sure the water won’t evaporate before the vegetables are done cooking. This is why using a dutch oven is important. The heavy lid and tall sides will make it more challenging for evaporation to happen. We want to keep the moisture in!

So how long do you cook them? Probably about 5-7 minutes for less dense vegetables and around 10 minutes for the thicker ones. But here’s the deal. The real way to know is to test them. You want the vegetables to have a slight resistance when you poke them with a fork. But be careful to not let them go too soft. Otherwise, it will turn to mush.

Evaporating

Once they have a slight resistance, remove the lid to finish cooking the veggies and evaporate any leftover water. 💨

It should only take about 5 minutes. The more vigorous the boil, the faster the evaporation will happen. Just make sure to check the doneness of your veggies as you go here.

Pro tip: Listen to your pot as it cooks. Sounds give you wonderful cues when cooking. For example, you can notice if the pot starts to sound dry when that bubbly sound that comes from the boiling becomes a sizzle. Listen for cues!

If your vegetables are done, but you still have liquid in your pan, you can drain the liquid. Be careful tipping a hot, heavy pot over a sink. Or you could remove the veggies from the pan and turn up the heat to reduce the leftover liquid leftover in the pan before adding the veggies back in.

Once most of the water has evaporated, you’ll have this beautiful saucy consistency. And that’s exactly what you’re going for!

Finishing

But hold your horses! 🐎 You’re not done yet. Remember to always finish strong! One to two tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar goes a long way in brightening these vegetables! It beautifully balances the fat and spices we added early on. Plus you can use that acid to deglaze the pan and pick up any fond from the bottom. The fond are those brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. And they are full of flavor! #SaveTheFond.

And lastly, you can always throw in a handful of herbs!

A Technique to Build On

What I love about this technique is that it is an easy one to riff. You don’t need a recipe. Just the chance to practice it a few times. Once you’ve nailed it, you’ll have a technique that you can apply to whatever you have on hand. You can cook broccoli this way with a base of garlic and red pepper flakes and then finish with rice wine vinegar, mint, and sesame. Or potatoes with rosemary and fennel seeds and then lots of lemon juice at the end! Or balance the sweetness of butternut squash with cumin and thyme and then finish it with some chili oil and a dollop of yogurt as your acidic element.

It’s all about thinking about what sounds delicious to you. Take what ingredients you have and create beautiful, contrasting flavors. Your boiled vegetables will be the star of dinner. Never thought you’d say that, right?

Sharing techniques like this is one of my favorite things to do on this newsletter. I know it’s not a recipe that tells you exactly what to do for each step. That’s not my goal. My hope is that with loose guidelines and the reasoning behind each step, you’ll learn how to fish and eat well for a lifetime. 🎣