These very simple techniques are not taught more often in a 50-minute context because the blanched or parboiled product is generally not ready for service by the end of class. But, says Chef Weiner, they’re important to teach for their contributions to cooking. Here, he explains how to best teach the procedures, with applications that can fit perfectly into 50 minutes.
By Adam Weiner, CFSE
Over the last four years I have written a number of articles on how to teach different cooking principles in a 50-minute-classroom setting. These articles have included:
- “Braising,”September 2010
- “Teaching Baking in 50 Minutes,”July/August 2011
- “Sauté,” January 2012
- “Teaching Steaming,” March 2013
- “Teaching Grilling,” April 2013
It is now time to address one of the easiest cooking principles to teach in 50 minutes: blanching and the related technique of parboiling.
By definition, blanching and parboiling are each just a quick process:
Blanch:To plunge food (usually fruits and vegetables) into boiling water briefly, then into cold water to stop the cooking process. Blanching is used to firm the flesh, to loosen skins (as with peaches and tomatoes) and to heighten and set color and flavor...
Parboil:To partially cook food by boiling it briefly in water. This timesaving technique is used in particular for dense foods such as carrots. If parboiled, they can be added at the last minute with quick-cooking ingredients (such as bean sprouts and celery) in preparations such as stir fry dishes.
[from Food Lover’s Companion, Third Edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst]
Let’s face it. The definitions actually tell students how to perform the technique:
- Bring water to a boil. (Note: Most of the time the water should be salted.)
- While the water is boiling, prepare the ingredients to be blanched or parboiled.
Before beginning to blanch or parboil, have everything you need ready to quickly stop the cooking process after removing the food from the boiling water. (The biggest mistake committed by students in blanching/parboiling is the failure to get ready to stop the cooking process until after the product comes out of the pot. While they fumble around with colanders, cold water and ice baths, the carry over-heat keeps cooking the product.) The three most common ways to stop the cooking process are:
- Place the items in a container of cold water.
- Hold the food in a strainer or colander and run it under cold water. This is probably the least-effective technique because the water is not hitting all of the product at once. Thus, the cooking process continues for a large part of the product.
Place the product in an ice bath. An ice bath is a mixture of roughly 50% ice and 50% cool water. There are two ways to place the product in an ice bath. The first is the most common and the most problematic. This technique involves scooping the product out of the boiling water and placing it directly in an ice bath. The problem with this technique is that it is difficult to get the product out without also scooping up a lot of ice. The second, which is my preference, is to put the food into a strainer or colander and submerse the strainer/colander into the bath of ice water. Although you need a larger ice bath to do this, you do not have the problem of ice comingling with the product. If you do not have a commercial ice maker accessible, you may have to make ice for several days ahead of time to have enough for your students.
Remove the product from the ice bath, cold water or from under the running water and, if applicable for the next stage of cooking, drain the product.
I think that blanching/parboiling is not taught more often in a 50-minute context because the blanched or parboiled product is generally not ready for service. When you bake a cookie, you eat the cookie. When you sauté mushrooms, you eat the mushrooms. When you blanch or parboil a carrot, you generally don’t just eat the carrot. So, here are a few suggestions of what you can do with blanched or parboiled foods:
- Create a vegetable salad. In one class you could teach blanching, making a salad and salad dressing. Too ambitious for one day? Prep all the vegetables and make the dressing on Day One. Blanch and make the salad on Day Two.
- Peel tomatoes.
- Make a crudité.
- Teach the students how vegetables can be made so much more attractive by blanching. Use broccoli as an example.
- Make a stir-fry.
- Make a pasta and toss with blanched vegetables and a little olive oil to show the students how to make a quick, easy and inexpensive meal. (Okay, for the health conscious you can use whole-grain pasta.)
- Make a Chinese chicken or tofu salad.
- Peel peaches and then slice and serve on top of cottage cheese (old school) or yogurt.
- Peel tomatoes, blanch peppers and make a salsa or pico de gallo.
As you can see, blanching and parboiling is quick, easy and can be used with relatively inexpensive ingredients.
Next month: how to order product for your class without ripping your hair out.
Chef Adam Weiner, CFSE, teaches a 20-week Introduction to Cooking program for JobTrain on the San Francisco Peninsula, and is a frequent presenter at CAFÉ events throughout the nation.