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It’s Only Mostly Cooked

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Ben asks via twitter,

Hi, Ben,

From a pure technique perspective, the answer to your question is mostly, “Yes.” Blanching is a shorter process than parboiling. However, when you think about why you would parboil something vs blanching it, then there is a world of difference.

The purpose of parboiling is to prepare something for a later stage of cooking. Par-cookingtechnique in general, where cookingtechnique could be baking or roasting or whatever, means that you are partially cooking, roasting, baking, boiling, etc. the food in question. The rest of the cooking will happen though, whether immediately or after a storage period.

Let’s take a beef stew, for example. If you want to have carrots and beef in this stew, then you can’t just dump them in the pot all at the same time and expect the carrots to be cooked through before the beef is so completely overcooked as to make any stew-eater filled with sadness. We discussed this somewhat in Slow Cooking Secrets.

On the other hand, if you make several loaves of bread, but you don’t want to serve them all at once, then you could par-bake most of the loaves and freeze them, so that you merely have to finish the baking process later to have fresh bread. It won’t be as good as if you baked it all at once, but it’s better than most of the sliced bread you’ll get from the bread aisle.

When you’re blanching, though, you aren’t usually trying to even out cooking times. I’ve mentioned before that vegetables are alive when you cook them, which seems kind of gross when I put it like that but it’s really better than the alternatives. There are biological processes going on that can cause you trouble if you don’t stop them, such as fruits that convert their sugars to starches or over-ripen. Blanching stops those processes, but you want to avoid actually cooking the food.

When I said the answer to your question was, ‘mostly, “Yes,”‘ it’s because there’s usually an extra step to blanching, which to is quickly remove the heat from the thing you’re blanching right after you’re done. This process is called “shocking”, and it involves dipping the recently blanched item in water (or ice water) to quickly pull the heat away. Water can hold a lot more heat than air, and it can transfer it faster, so letting something sit in the air causes it to keep warm longer than dipping it in water. I’m confident you’ve experienced this process in many ways over your life. The ice helps a little, but if you’re not doing many, many shocks, it’s usually not necessary. Doesn’t hurt, but isn’t necessary.

The other reason for blanching is usually for greens, and it’s to make them greener. Greens lose some greenness in day-to-day life due to oxygen attaching itself to the outside of the leaf. Blanching will pull that oxygen away and bring out the brightness. Also, if you add some baking soda to the water, the green pigment will be made more vibrant by the alkaline water. Finally, because some of the processes that cause greens to lose their vibrancy when they are mishandled are stopped by the heat, this step will keep your pestos, and similarly roughed-up leaf preparations, a lovely green hue.


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  • Nando707 | 09/28/2013

    Are vegetables really alive when you cook them and eat them? I don't know, but I doubt it based on the following facts:

    Remember three facts:

    1) Everything, and I mean everything - all substances and all matter, in the world -in and on earth and throughout the cosmos - is chemical; that means the have atoms.

    2) All substances have atoms and those atoms are in constant movement at all times and this applies to everything, even those we call solid (like the fender on you car or the concrete in you driveway or the blade of you kitchen knife, or the smallest thing you can see through a microscope). And, one could, with proper instrumentation, detect vibration from atomic movement in any object - dead or alive, including animals and plants.

    3) Once a veggie is picked, it is removed from its life source, the mother plant and her roots which absorb all the necessary nutrients without which the entire plant dies. That doesn't mean the atoms in said substance cease movement.

    So, are all those veggies in the supermarket suffering excruciating pain - are they lying there yelling "Take me and put me out of my misery" or are they saying "You can't kill me, not even if you eat me - I shall never parish, not even if I rot."

    People make choices based on their beliefs whether factual or not. Some folks are vegetarians or vegans while other are not - to each his/her own I say regarding this matter, but a person must draw a line somewhere.

    If you don't eat flesh of animals because you don't like the way animals raised for food are treated and you read some book (Blinded by Science, by Mathew Silverstone; who is not a scientist by any means) that tells you veggies are alive up to and following the point you eat them and, therefore, you go off veggies too, that leaves you two things 1) water which contains good and bad bacteria which will be alive and screaming in pain when you drink the water, and 2)salt plus a few other minerals but only recommended as being edible in very small qualities. I do not recommend the water, salt, and minimal minerals diet - it doesn't contain enough nutritional substances or have enough of the good calories to sustain life, and its GI index number would be "0", and that's also way too low.


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