Absolutely Shocking! How to Blanch and Shock Your Way to Faster Meals
Learn all about dunking in boiling water and ice baths, and the foods that benefit from a little jolt
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Blanching and shocking how-to photos by Brittany Conerly
Blanching and shocking go hand in hand. They’re the practice of scalding foods in hot, hot liquid and then dunking them in an ice bath. Unlike boiling, which aims to fully cook foods, this quick cooking technique (a spa treatment, if you will) is the restaurant and manufacturing secret to faster prep, safer preservation, snappy texture, and brighter green vegetables. At home, you can take a few minutes to blanch and shock a batch of veggies if you need to tame an overwhelming CSA farm share or if you just want to get a jump start on weeknight cooking. This way, you’ll have comestibles that are ready to add to your dishes, to grill, or to simply reheat.
What is blanching?
Plants have gas trapped within their cell walls. When exposed for a short time to boiling water (or sometimes, to steam or oil), some (not all!) walls break down to release that gas and some chlorophyll — the pigment that makes them green. The result makes ‘em brighter in color. Blanching is also a precursor for flash-freezing.
What is shocking?
When it comes to shocking, the ice stops the food from cooking. It’s like halting the aging process! (Eggs also benefit from shocking to prevent an acidic green ring around the yolks; read all about it here.). If you don’t have ice, cold running water works just as well. But be careful not to oversoak vegetables, or they can get soggy and lose flavor as they take on more water.
Ready to give blanching and shocking a try?
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Basic blanching and shocking, step by step
Since vegetables are the most common candidates for the blanch-plus-shock process, we’ll focus on that here, but the concept is the same for fruits and nuts.
Prep your produce. Wash, trim, and cut vegetables into uniform shapes. This way, they’ll cook evenly. Plan to cook in batches, starting with lighter vegetables first and ending with any colorful bits. Purple potatoes, for example, will tinge the water and anything else you put in afterward.
Heat salted water. For each pound of produce, in a large pot with a lid, bring 1 gallon of water and 1 cup kosher salt (or ¾ cup table salt, if that’s what you have) to a boil. This large amount of water ensures that it retains its heat when you add the vegetables. Note that if you’re blanching fruit, omit the salt.
Set out equipment. You’ll need a slotted spoon, colander, frying spider, or tongs ready to drain your quarry.
Create an ice bath. In the sink or on a countertop, fill a large mixing bowl three-quarters of the way with ice and top off with cold water.
Blanch your food. Add the vegetables to the pot of water and bring the water back up to a boil. Cover and cook for the recommended times below. Note: if you live in a high altitude, the cooking process will take up to a minute longer since water’s boiling point is lower.
Shock it. Remove the vegetables from the boiling water, shake off any excess, and lower them into the ice bath.
Drain. Once cooled, drain the vegetables well on a paper towels or a clean tea towel-lined plate before storing. If you’re serving the same day, store each variety of vegetable wrapped in paper towels or clean tea towels and keep at room temperature for an hour or so. Or wrap and refrigerate them up to a couple of days.
Blanching times for foods
Now that you’ve got the basics down, let’s talk some specifics for how to blanch vegetables as well as popular topics like how to blanch tomatoes, how to blanch peaches, how to blanch basil, and how to blanch almonds. The exact amount of time depends on the food and sometimes, how big the pieces are. In each case you’ll follow blanching with shocking in ice water.
Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and winter squash. Cut cauliflower and broccoli into florets. Peel winter squashes like butternut and cut into chunks. These hearty boys can take a blanching bath for up to 3 minutes, until the colors are bright and a paring knife inserted into a piece barely no longer meets resistance.
Potatoes and other vegetables for grilling. A quick blanch + shock before grilling ensures sturdy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, broccoli, and carrots will be cooked to the center before they burn on the grill. Cut them into pieces you can manage on the grill, then blanch 2 to 3 minutes, until the colors are bright and a paring knife inserted into a piece barely no longer meets resistance.
Zucchini, carrots, cabbage, shelled peas, and kale. Cut zucchini, yellow squash, and carrots into slices or long batons. Cut cabbage into wedges. For skinny asparagus and broccoli rabe, if you like, you can bundle 5 or 6 stalks together with kitchen twine; this way, you won’t fish for the pieces, overcook them, or bang up their delicate tops. Blanch these vegetables 1 to 2 minutes, until the colors are bright and a paring knife inserted into a piece barely no longer meets resistance.
Almonds and other nuts. For smoother nut sauces and butters, quickly remove the seed coats of shelled almonds, pistachios, and peanuts with a 1-minute blanch.
Tomatoes and peaches. Cut an X-mark on their bottoms. Blanch 10 to 30 seconds, until the skin peels back. Once cooled, the skins will slip right off.
Apples and pears. Peel and thinly slice. Blanch 10 to 30 seconds, until they become more flexible. The blanched fruit is handy for baking because once cooled, it will cook at the same rate as puff pastry or galette crusts.
Basil and other fresh herbs. Give these a quick blanch (about 15 seconds) to bring out the bright green hue; they’ll keep their color in finishing oils and sauces.
10 ideas to use blanched and shocked foods
Let’s put all we’ve learned into practice. Here’s a basketful of recipes that are further improved with a good ol’ blanch and shock. You can also use your par-cooked babies in salads and vegetarian sushi.
1. Better veggies and dips
Your crudite platter will be more vibrant and less aggressively crunchy if you’ve blanched and shocked the vegetables before serving. Try this to serve with Green Goddess Avocado Dip, bagna cauda, or lemon hummus.
2. A more tender Niçoise salad
Say oui to a crisp-tender, bright Niçoise Salad made with blanched green beans.
3. Mostly make-ahead stir-fry
Beef Stir-Fry for dinner is lightning fast if you blanch your vegetable mise en place the night before.
4. Perfect grilled asparagus
If they're blanched, asparagus spears cook quickly for Grilled Asparagus. (And check out the skewering technique for easy turning.)
5. Just-right carrots for refrigerator pickles
Carrots need to soften up just a little so they’ll be tender yet crisp and soak up the flavors of the spiced brine for Quick Pickled Carrot Spears. There’s no canning or special food preservation needed with this recipe; thanks to the acidic pickling liquid, they should keep fresh in your fridge for 3 to 4 weeks.
6. Jammy egg yolks
After cooking, Japanese Soy Marinated Soft-Boiled Eggs need a shock in ice water to get the yolks just right.
7. One-pot pasta
Not only is this Creamy One-Pot Pasta with Peas and Mint delicious, you only need one pot to make it happen, since you blanch the peas, remove them from the pot, and then cook the pasta.
8. A fresh veg feast
Treat yourself to tender fresh fava (aka broad) beans, blanched and peeled, or to blanched, freshly shelled peas in this Risotto Verde.
9. Homemade marzipan
It’s much cheaper and fresher-tasting to make dessert nut pastes like Marzipan and frangipane, which use blanched almonds, by creating them from scratch.
10. Insta-worthy pastries
Blanch thinly sliced apples so you can shape them without cracking into these beautiful Apple Rose Pastries. Though the recipe suggests microwaving the apples in a batch, blanching gives you greater control over each slice.
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More ways to love your veggies
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