It’s finally spring – at least by the calendar, we had snow the other day. Spring brings spring crops. The first of the really nice broccoli has hit the store shelves. At $0.69 a pound for the crowns only, I bought two great big bags to “put up.”
Freezing produce is quite easy. Most produce needs to be blanched or steamed before freezing. This stops the process of ripening, preserves color and, according to Rodale’s Organic Life, “vegetables blanched before freezing retain up to 1300 percent more Vitamin C and other nutrients than vegetables without blanching.” Just look at the before and after pictures of the broccoli I blanched this morning and you will see a very big and beautiful difference! Check a reputable site for blanching times. They vary with the product. My instructions are for the blanching method. See the above-referenced chart for the steaming time.
If organic produce is available I always opt for organic. Broccoli is not on the dirty dozen list, so if you’re watching your food dollars, you could buy traditional. Choose heads that are deeply colored, compact and firm. Look for signs of aging, which includes not being firm and brown spots. Another problem with store produce is going bad from the constant moisture on it to make it look good. Before you bag your broccoli, shake off all the excess moisture and ice chips. You don’t want to pay for water and the moisture will cause the produce to go bad quickly.
Preparing to Blanche
Before you start, take a few moments to clean your stovetop, the counter and scrub the sink well. If the pot you’re using doesn’t get used regularly, give it a quick wash, too.
I keep a bottle of very diluted bleach under the sink. A wipe-down with that or vinegar wouldn’t be out of order, just wait until you’re done washing the broccoli, then sanitize if you’re using the sink as your chilling station. Remember to rinse well. We have to remember that freezing food doesn’t kill bacteria. It just slows or halts it until the food is thawed. So we want to kill the bacteria before it is frozen.
Make sure you have some ice to do a quick chill. Alternately, if you have freezer packs, you could use those, just remember to put them in a ziplock bag as they probably are not sanitary.This is how mine looked after a couple minutes:
The Blanching Water
Fill a pot about 3/4 full of water – filtered if you have it. Add some salt. Again I winged it. About 3 more tablespoons per gallon. Set to boil. My stockpot has a straining insert. That makes it convenient to drain the produce when it’s done. I highly recommend a pot with a strainer. Set this to boil. It will take about the same amount of time to bring this to a full boil as preparing and soaking the broccoli.
Prepare the Soaking Brine
The soaking brine you will need a big bowl – preferably with a strainer that fits into it. Fill that with water and some salt. A search on the Internet and looking at my ancient Ball Preserving book the recommendation is anywhere from 3 tablespoons of salt per gallon of water to 1 cup (my ancient Ball reserving book). I opted for the 3 tablespoons – more or less. I eyeballed it. The salt helps to remove any little critters that are lurking in the heads. It’s not for preserving.
Cut & Soak the Broccoli
I use nearly all the broccoli I purchase. I cut off the dried out bottom and discard that. Any little brown spots I also remove. Then I start slicing the stem up to the florets directly into the brine. I cut them about 1/2 inch thick. No science. As I get to the florets, I can safely cut the stems a little longer as they will take less time to cook. Leave as much stem as you’d like on the florets. You will need to allow the broccoli to soak about 30 minutes. This will soak away any debris and any little critters that have made their homes in the florets.
The Blanching Process
Make sure your water is at a full boil. If you had turned it down awaiting the 30 minute soak time to expire, turn it to high and bring it back to a boil.
Add the broccoli. You don’t want to overcrowd the broccoli. Whatever size pot you have, don’t put in more than halfway in broccoli. Once it’s in there, give it a quick stir and cover. Set timer for three minutes. I say three, not four because taking the time to set the timer, then returning to the pot, getting your hot pads… It all takes a little bit of time. If you set the timer for four minutes it would be too long and the florets would just
If you have a colander inserted into the soaking brine, just lift that and drain before putting the broccoli into the boiling water. I usually have to split the amount of broccoli that fits in my big colander into two blanch cycles.
The Chill Down
Once the broccoli – or anything you are blanching – comes out, you need to stop the cooking with a dunk in icy water. While the broccoli is blanching fill a large container or a cleaned and sanitized sink with ice cold water and some ice cubes. Although you will lose a little of the green tops by putting it directly in the sink, I opt to dump the DRAINED broccoli directly into the sink and not in another colander so they have plenty of room to move around.
Dump the drained broccoli into the ice water.
Once they are in there, give them a couple swirls.This helps to cool them off faster.
I have an inexpensive salad spinner. Once the broccoli is cooled I spin it in the salad spinner to spin out the excess moisture. This helps keep the pieces apart in the freezer. If you are packaging in meal size containers you may omit this step as the water actually will help to protect the produce from freezer burn. I freeze mine in big containers or ziplock bags in order to take out only what I need when I need it so I want them to be drier. If you don’t have a spinner you may use clean tea towels to soak up the moisture.
As I said, I store most my produce in “bulk” in the freezer and take out what I want when I want. That means I need to freeze them before packaging. When the family was home, though, I froze it in “freezer boxes” in a size that was suitable for a family meal.
First, make room in your freezer for the trays of broccoli. Move things around so you aren’t thawing food.
Next, from the spinner, I move the broccoli to silicone lined cookie sheets. Using silicone keeps the broccoli from sticking to the cookie sheets. I haven’t found anything else that works like silicone. It’s also a safe product, unlike many other “non-stick” kitchen products. If you don’t have any, may I recommend these Silicone Mats. I like these because not only are they safe, BPA-free, FDA approved, thick and reinforced but also because they have large and small circles printed on them. They also come with a 100% money-back guarantee that you will be satisfied with them.
As you can see I separated the florets from the stem pieces. I use the stems for cream of broccoli soup. I’m creaming it anyway. I save the florets for side dishes and some for soup. I just add the florets near the end of blending so it is only broken up, not pureed.
My freezer has a “quick-freeze option. I press the button until all three lights come on the freezer is in the “quick-freeze” mode that will last for 3 hours. I use it whenever I’m putting a bunch of things in here to freeze at once or for times like this.
If you used the silicone sheets, pouring the broccoli into ziplock bags or a container is very easy. Just gather up the sides and pour.
Before taking your broccoli back to the freezer, make sure to write the name of the contents on the package along with the date.
The best storage is 0°F in a freezer that is NOT frost-free. The reason is that frost-free freezers on a cyclical basis heat the walls (some also heat shelves) of the freezer to 32°F to allow the frost to melt and drip away. This heating and refreezing causes quality loss and shortens the amount of time you will safely freeze your food. The CDC states that food kept consistently at 0°F will last indefinately. This is not true for food in a frost-free freezer. Choose what suits your needs best and plan to store foods according to that.
Properly frozen broccoli will keep its quality for 8-12 months, although it can be eaten after that.
For More Information
For more preservation methods that are proven and USDA approved, please head over to the National Center for Home Preservation site. They are a trusted source for food safety and preservation guidelines.
Preserving Foods – General Guidelines
The best time to preserve anything – be it freezing, canning, drying, or any other method – is when it’s fresh and especially when it’s organic, local and in season (which usually means it’s also less expensive). The broccoli I bought may have been a really good price and looked beautiful, but it definitely didn’t come from anywhere near where I live which means it wasn’t really fresh. (Even though it’s April 16th, it is 32°F today and snowing. We just came off a weekend of treacherous and deadly weather in our state. The Midwest didn’t get the memo that’s it’s spring, I guess.)
Make plans to “put up” as many organic, local and in season vegetables as you can this summer. It is healthier, rewarding and will save you money.
I hope this little tutorial helps you see how easy it is to freeze broccoli – and will start you on a journey of preserving foods.
I apologize that some of the photos are a little unfocused. Handing a large phone and trying to cook at the same time doesn’t always work well.
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