Cooking School – Frozen Vegetables
I have to admit it: frozen vegetables scare me. Those crisp, colourful veggies usually turn to mush in my hands. I even follow the package directions (not something for which I’m known). Place frozen vegetables in a little water, usually 1/4 cup for every cup of vegetables. Simmer until crisp. But when, exactly, is “crispness” achieved? By the time the inner part of the vegetable is done, the outer part has leapt into lifeboats and disappeared into the now murky water in the pot. Oh sure, you can always toss them into soup or a casserole and no one would be the wiser. But, I want my frozen vegetables to aspire to greatness. I want them to look and taste as they would if they had begun this journey as fresh picked produce.
Some packages give sauté, microwave and steaming directions, so I decided to try them all. I tossed a bag of Europe’s Best frozen green beans into a hot, oiled pan, and stir-fried them for about five minutes. I had flavoured the oil with half a garlic clove, then finished the beans with a sprinkling of salt. They released a lot of water as they cooked, which evaporated with the high heat. The final verdict: flavourful, but still a little mushy. Steaming the vegetables in the microwave resulted in uneven cooking. I probably won’t do that again. Though, if truth were told, I’m not a huge fan of the microwave to begin with.
I had so far eased into this challenge. After all, preparing frozen green beans is fairly simple. They’re thin and about the same size. There isn’t too much that can go wrong. So, I stepped it up a notch. I bought a package of Arctic Garden’s blend of Brussels sprouts, baby carrots, cauliflower and slivers of celery and onion. Sautéing them resulted in mashed sprouts, limp carrots, water-logged cauliflower, and we won’t even talk about the celery and onion! But, I’m not one to let a vegetable stare me down. I decided to try steaming them on the stove-top. Once the water had reached a simmer, I placed the vegetables into the steamer basket (at my house, that’s a mesh sieve that has been hooked onto the sides of the pot). Keeping the heat low, the vegetables took longer to cook through than the five minutes suggested on the package – closer to ten minutes actually. But, the slow steaming is what ultimately produced the crunchiest and tastiest frozen vegetables I have ever made.
That’s the secret. Add just a little butter and salt to the vegetables to bring out the flavour, and they’ll be a huge hit.