Everyone loves roasting vegetables, but I’m on a mission to get more people to ditch the 450° dial and bring back the boil. Most people shy away from boiling because they have awful memories of mushy, grody-green broccoli or peas, but that’s only if you overcook them. If you do it right, you end up with tender, brightly-colored vegetables. Add a glossy, sweet buttery glaze, a classic little sauce, and you have pure, simple sophistication.
I’m going to focus on green vegetables here (think asparagus, broccoli, peas, spinach, etc.) because green vegetables are the star of springtime markets, and a simple boil-and-glaze preparation is best with vegetables in their prime. Also, the cooking and cooling technique changes a little when you’re boiling “other-colored” vegetables like carrots, potatoes or beets.
The green comes from chlorophyll, which is actually hiding in the vegetable the whole time; when you apply heat, teeny pockets of cloudy gas burst to reveal the vegetable’s bright hue. With too long a time in heat, though, the chlorophyll breaks down, turning the green into a drab, brownish, even-duller shade than you started with. A pinch of baking soda added to the water will slightly slow the chemical reaction, but it’s even better to boil it and chill it quickly.
Here’s how to boil vegetables beautifully:
1) Get an Ice Bath (or Faucet) at the Ready
First, get a large bowl with ice water ready. You don’t have to use an ice bath—cold running water from the faucet works, too—but the arctic plunge is the fastest way to stop the cooking process and ensure that emerald color stays put. (If you’re cooking something tiny, like peas, put a strainer into the bowl over the ice so that you don’t have to pluck out all the peas amongst the cubes.)
2) Big Pot, Roaring Boil
Boil your vegetables in a big pot, giving them room to tumble so that they cook evenly. Fill a large pot with water leaving 2” from the top, and turn the heat on high. Add 3 or 4 tablespoons of salt for every gallon of water. This might seem like a hefty amount, but salting the water gives you the most even, deep seasoning for your vegetables. Cover the pot and let it come to a vigorous boil.
3) Aim for Barely-Tender
When the water is salted like the sea and bubbling away, add all the vegetables at once. If the boil subsides, stir the pot until it comes back again.
It usually only takes most vegetables a few minutes to cook at a rolling boil. The only way to know if you’ve got them just right is to taste one. Pull a piece from the water, dunk it quickly in the ice bath (so that you don’t burn your mouth) and bite. You should have to use your teeth to get though it, but it shouldn’t make a “snap,” like when you eat a raw carrot stick. Degree of tenderness is up to personal preference, but remember it will cook a bit more during re-heating.
When the vegetables are ready, strain them out and dunk them in the cold water to stop the cooking, and keep them there for a couple minutes. A nice thing about this technique is that it’s a great method when cooking for a big group— you can do half the prep work ahead of time! Dry the chilled vegetables on a paper towel and store in a paper-towel lined, air tight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
And here’s how to glaze them:
This shiny, creamy, sweet and buttery sauce is a smashing outfit, and you can reheat the vegetables in the sauce as you make it.
1) Warm the Stock and Re-heat the Vegetable
In a medium sauté pan, heat 1 pound of cooked vegetables in ¾ cup of chicken or vegetable stock over high heat. Add a heavy pinch of sugar to the stock and have ¾ of a stick of cold, dice-sized butter cubes at the ready.
When the stock is simmering, and turn the heat down to medium. Note: there is no vegetable in the images so that you can really see what the sauce looks like as it forms.
2) Mount in the Butter
Begin adding the butter, 2 cubes at a time, while shaking the pan in smooth strokes to-and-fro or stirring with a spoon. You want the butter to skate through the hot liquid and leave trails throughout the stock before incorporating into the liquid. This is where you have to watch the temperature; if the glaze gets too hot, it’ll break (the melted butter will separate from the stock and you’ll have an oily, loose glaze). Think of it as the stock molecules holding hands with butter molecules, and if the molecules start dancing around too quickly, they won’t be able to hold onto each other.
If you’re having trouble, emulsions are easier to make when you add an already- emulsified-element to the sauce. Try adding a splash of heavy cream to the stock when it starts simmering.
3) Season and Serve
Once all the butter is incorporated, flip around the vegetables to make sure they’re fully slicked with glaze. Lift them from the pan, letting the rest of the glaze drop off, and place on a platter. Season the dish with salt, pepper, lemon zest, fresh herbs, chopped nuts (or whatever else you’ve got lined up) and serve.
Asparagus in Lemon Butter Glaze with Toasted Almonds
This dish is fun and elegant at the same time; the lemon gives it sass, the almonds give it snap, and the sweet, creamy butter glaze is a siren for the taste buds.
1 pound of green asparagus
Salt, as needed
¾ cup chicken or vegetable
1 hefty pinch of sugar
¾ stick butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
½ cup toasted almonds, chopped
Zest from 1 lemon
Cook asparagus and glaze according to technique above. Once you’ve mounted in all the butter, season with lemon zest and chopped almonds and serve.