So for wisdom, I sought out Louise Froese, a dairy and chicken farmer for decades who's got a firm handle on the various mysteries of food preservation. Last week I visited her at her acerage to help her pick beans and learn about the secrets of blanching.
The main reason you would blanch veggies is to prepare them for freezing. The process helps to lock in the flavour, colour and texture of the food (so six months down the road you don't cook up a disappointingly mushy, bland stir fry!).
1. Pick or buy (bulk) fresh vegetables.
|The large garden at the Froese's acerage|
|This variety is a bush bean called 'Royal Burgandy'. They grow purple, so are really easy to spot and pick, then they turn green when cooked.|
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil on the stove. Add vegetables (if there is a wide variety of sizes, you'll want to seperate them into like sizes) and boil for the specified time. Over and under boiling will produce an inferior product. If your water doesn't return to a boil in a minute, then you are adding too many veggies. Also, some sources suggest that if you are blanching root crops like potatoes or carrots, add them to the water when its cold and bring pot and veggies to a boil together, however I've yet to experiment with this.
4. If you have a pot suited with a basket, then this is a great blanching pot. I did not, so after the allotted time, I scooped the beans out quickly into a strainer next to the stove top.
5. The vegetables need to be cooled as soon as they are removed from the hot water. Place them first in a sink full of cold water. Then, transfer them to water with ice. Cool the veggies for as long as you heated them.
|I used a whole bag of ice from the freezer that I can simply refreeze for next time.|
6. Spread out veggies to dry completely before freezing.
|If you freeze the veggies before they are completely dry, you will have a block of iced veggies in your freezer. Then you will either have to thaw the entire bag's portion or stab yourself with a knife while trying to chip off chunks.|
7. Place dry, blanched vegetables in freezer bags in your preferred portion size.
|Sorry for the bad picture. But I've packed the beans four cups per bag, added a paper towel to soak up any liquid, and 'vaccuum packed' them (put a straw in the bag and as you zip, suck out the air).|
The blanching process took me about two hours and garnered me about 24 cups (7 bags) worth of organic frozen beans. It's not bad value for my time, though it doesn't take into account all the growing and picking time! The multiple steps is finicky and still a little intimidating to me, but crisp, nutrient rich stir fry- here I come!
For more on the science of blanching, check out this Free Culinary School podcast.