Being frozen has its benefits

In my defense, when Top Chef cheftestants blanch their vegetables, the producers don't exactly focus on what that means. All I see is a plate of beautifully julienned vegetables.

Over the weekend I spent some time with a few food preservation books, and learned (much to my embarrassment) that blanching refers to the method of preparing -- NOT the method of cutting -- the vegetables. Blanching is scalding produce in boiling water (or a microwave or steamer) for a short (and specific) amount of time, and then rapidly cooling for the same amount of time. It is an essential step if one is going to freeze fresh produce to preserve it.

Produce contains active enzymes to help them grow while they are in the garden. When the produce is harvested, the enzymes continue to be active and work to break down the vegetables. The result is a reduction of nutrients, undesirable change in texture and loss of color and flavor. The heat process from blanching temporarily inactivates these enzymes, and the freezing greatly slows the enzymes down. This is why it is essential that the produce be cooled very quickly after scalding them, for example, by placing them in ice water.

For more information, blanching time charts for vegetables, and how-tos, turn to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, your local Extension (here is Minnesota's), or Preserving Summer's Bounty, edited by Susan McClure.

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