Simmering: A Technique for Cooking Flavorful Vegetables

There are probably two main ways we all learned how to cook vegetables with liquid: boiling and steaming. But both of these techniques have disadvantages. Boiling vegetables in a lot of water often yields overcooked, mushy results that many of us remember (and hate) from our childhoods. And steaming all too often lets the flavor and moisture escape into the air rather than keeping it in the vegetables.

Lately, I have been simmering vegetables in an attempt to retain moisture and flavor without cooking the vegetables to death, and I’ve loved the results. Simmering is a hybrid of boiling and steaming that takes advantage of the best aspects of both.

Simmering involves cooking vegetables in a smaller amount of liquid than boiling them, and at a lower temperature, enough to keep a gentle simmer going. The pot is covered, trapping the steam and cooking the vegetables in less time so that their vibrant colors are retained.

Liquids other than water can be used to add more flavor. My favorites have been chicken stock, apple cider and orange juice. Flavorings can also be added to the liquid, such as soy sauce, herbs or garlic. Once the vegetables are cooked, if you like, raise the heat, uncover the pan and reduce the cooking liquid to a sauce to retain every bit of flavor.

Here are the basic steps for simmering vegetables:

  1. Cut the vegetables into smallish pieces, if necessary, such as cubes.
  2. Add the vegetables to the pot with enough liquid just to cover them halfway.
  3. Add a pat of butter or a small amount of olive oil, salt and other seasonings as desired.
  4. Bring the liquid to a boil.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot and simmer until the vegetables are just tender (see below for suggested cooking times).
  6. If desired, uncover the pot, raise the heat and let the liquid reduce for a sauce.
  7. Serve as is or with the cooking liquid, or toss with a vinaigrette, flavored butter or a little lemon juice and fresh herbs.

Not all vegetables lend themselves to this cooking method, but many do. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Simmer less than 5 minutes: asparagus, bok choy, corn (off the cob), green beans
  • Simmer 5-10 minutes: artichoke hearts, broccoli florets, brussels sprouts, carrots (baby or cut into rounds)
  • Simmer 10-15 minutes: cabbage, summer squash, baby zucchini
  • Simmer 15-30 minutes: new potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, winter squash

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One thought on “Simmering: A Technique for Cooking Flavorful Vegetables

  1. […] Green beans: simmer […]

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