Blanching is a cooking process which is intended to enhance the color, flavor, and texture of vegetables. Blanched vegetables are quickly cooked in boiling water or steamed before being shocked by a plunge into a cold bath which arrests the cooking process. After blanching, vegetables can be served on crudité platters, frozen, or used in food preparation. There are a number of reasons for a cook to blanch vegetables, and it is an easy skill to learn.
When foods need to be peeled, blanching makes the process much easier. Tomatoes, almonds, fava beans, and other foods can be blanched to loosen their peels. The blanching may also enhance the flavor of the food, and it will help the food keep its color as it is cooked. The blanched and peeled foods can be used immediately, or preserved in a freezer. In the case of vegetables and fruits treated with pesticides, blanching is an excellent way to remove the peel without transferring the chemicals to the edible part of the fruit.
Before freezing food, blanching is highly recommended. Blanching will neutralize bacteria and enzymes in the food which could cause it to go bad. In addition, blanching will ensure that the food stays crisp, flavorful, and colorful in the freezer, instead of allowing it to gray out. Typically, a small amount of salt is added to the blanching water in this case, as it promotes preservation.
For food preparation, blanching is very useful. Cooks who are making a stir fry or a similar dish which involves using foods which have different cooking times can blanch the foods so that they stay crisp and tasty. By turning blanching into parbroiling, a cook can also reduce the amount of time a food needs to be cooked. In busy restaurants, blanching is used in the setup of a cook's station, to ensure that he or she has attractive looking food ready to hand throughout the evening.
Blanched foods can also be eaten out of hand. The vegetables on crudité platters are often blanched because blanching keeps them crispy and fresh throughout the evening. For things like broccoli and carrots which can be eaten raw as well as cooked, blanching takes the raw edge off the food while leaving it crisp in texture.
In order to blanch food, all you need is a pot of boiling water, an ice bath, and a slotted spoon or removable steaming tray. Dunk the vegetables you are blanching in the water until they are barely cooked, and then plunge them quickly into the ice bath or run cold water over them. Allow the vegetables to drain, and use as desired.