Steamed broccoli, what could be simpler, right? Well that's the thing about simple stuff, the tricks are in the details. So now there are step-by-step photos with all my broccoli-steaming insider tips, including my Top Three Tricks to perfectly steamed broccoli.
Trick #1: Trim Aggressively!
Trick #2: Layer the Broccoli
Trick #3: Finish Off Heat
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
A cutting board
A sharp knife
A vegetable peeler
A collapsible steaming basket
Well, except, yes, you'll need some broccoli. At the grocery store, look for broccoli heads with thick stalks, you're going to love those "trunks"! Also check the tiny "florets" for tightness and nice green color, those heads are freshest. At the farmers market, broccoli may look a little leggy but even so, you know it's fresher than what's available elsewhere.
Broccoli Stalk – At the bottom is the stalk. This is the base of the plant, what comes out of the ground surrounded by large broccoli leaves. (FYI since the broccoli that's pictured came from the supermarket, nearly all but the smallest leaves have already been removed.)
Broccoli Trunks or Broccoli Stems – Multiple thick trunks/stems are attached to the stalk. The trunks often have tiny leaves.
Broccoli Bark – The stalks and trunks are covered with a tough outer layer called "bark".
Broccoli Head or Broccoli Crown – Each trunk/stem has a head, this is the top-most part of the broccoli, the green part. It's actually the broccoli plant's flower! Some supermarkets cut off the stalks (they don't know what they're missing!) to sell broccoli crowns, that's just the stems and the heads.
Broccoli Florets – Cut the head into smaller pieces, these are called florets.
Broccoli Buds and Broccoli Flowers – Look closely and you'll see that a head of broccoli is actually a whole gardenful of buds! As the broccoli plant matures, the buds will blossom into tiny yellow broccoli flowers! Broccoli flowers are edible but by the time the broccoli plant flowers, it's not as tender as it was before flowering so if you only buy broccoli at the grocery store, you may never see the flowers. As a guideline, the looser the buds and the more yellow-cast the head, the more bitter and tough the broccoli will be.
We'll work on one stalk of broccoli at a time. Get out your knife and a vegetable peeler because the first thing we'll do is aggressively trim the broccoli. It's looking a little gnarly, right? We're gonna fix that, make it all very nice and tidy and good to eat!
And just so you know, "trimming aggressively" works with broccoli, no matter how you're going to cook it. Yes, it takes a little time but it's not hard. Do it once or twice and soon it'll come as second nature.
The first cut is quick and easy, just trimming off the rough edge at the bottom of the stalk.
But before moving on, take a closer look. You can easily see the "Broccoli Bark" – that's the outer medium-green ring and the tough part of the stalk. Take note of the color of the interior of the stalk, a very pale, almost-white flesh that's moist and crunchy. Remember the color, that's what we'll want to get to.
Tilt the stalk on its side and use a vegetable peeler or a knife to cut off any leaves that remain on the stalk – also any rough knobs where leaves have already been removed.
No need to be precise at this stage, it just makes it easier later to deal with the stalk once the leaves are gone.
The point here is to separate the more tender and fast-cooking head and florets from the slower-cooking stalk. Get right up in there, cutting the stalk away from the top of the broccoli.
Now you want to cut off the tough and inedible bark, the outer edge of the stalk. You can use a knife but it tends to take off more than you want. That's why I use a vegetable peeler. But see the white flesh inside? That's what you're aiming to expose, it can take a pass or two or three to get there.
ASIDE: Who else has noticed that vegetable peelers have gone all high-end? You can pay $20 or $30 for one. Crazy! Worst of all? The expensive ones don't work that great and have to be hand washed. As one of the five-year old twins would say, That's cray-zee, Mz Alanna! My favorite vegetable peeler is the old-fashioned metal one on the right. They are increasingly hard to find but worth watching for because they cost $2 or less and can go in the dishwasher.
After the stalk is peeled, cut it into bite-size pieces. But before you do, taste a bite first! Isn't the white part of the stalk just so pretty and tender?
Heads up: These might not make it to the steamer, once you get started!
Note, too, the section in the back left of the photo, this is a piece of broccoli taken from the very top of the stalk, the area where it's hard to tell where the stalk ends and the stems begin. We're just about ready to tackle these too!
By all rights, you want to peel these broccoli pieces too. But that would be oh-so-tedious. If the piece is tall enough, it pays to do a swipe or two or three all around with the vegetable peeler, just the flat and open areas, none of the crevasses, just quick-quick.
But the good news is, the bark on the stems/trunks isn't quite as tough and fibrous as it is further down on the stalk. So this means that you can just ...
Now cut the head into florets, those are the "all green" parts right on top. What size florets, you ask? Well that depends on how you plan to use the broccoli after it's cooked. For even cooking, though, just make sure that the sizes are roughly similar, one to the next.
BIG FLORETS (two or three stems) are great for drama on a dinner plate.
SMALL FLORETS (just one small stem) are good for salads and frittatas.
METAL COLLAPSIBLE STEAMING BASKET, my favorite. It's inexpensive and folds up for easy storage. What I like best though is that it doesn't tip with the weight of the food and it's easier to drop into and pull out of the cook pot.
SILICONE STEAMING BASKET I also have a silicone steaming basket won't scratch a non-stick Dutch oven. But is a little loosey-goosey to hold something as heavy and unwieldy as a bunch of broccoli.
TRUE STORY Once upon a time, I lived in a hotel for almost two months, waiting on a house to be finished inside. My room had a little kitchenette and I even had people to dinner but really, not much cooking happened there. But I l-i-v-e-d on steamed vegetables steamed in a collapsible basket, drizzled with ranch dressing. In two months? I lost so much weight without even trying that I had to have all the skirts to my business suits altered!
And here's the second trick, one that results in perfect cooking. Because here's the thing.
MORE HEAT The stalks and stems are tougher and thus take longer to cook: this means we want them placed closer to the heat source, the boiling water below the steaming basket.
LESS HEAT The florets (especially the buds) are more tender and take less time to cook: we want them as far from the heat source as possible.
So first. layer the white parts of the stalk and thin slices of the trunks onto the steamer basket.
The second layer is the broccoli florets. But don't just go piling those florets onto the steamer all willy nilly now. For even cooking, arrange the florets stems down, tender buds up.
This one little trick makes such a difference!
Pour about an inch of water into a pot large enough to hold the steaming basket in its collapsed position. (Make sure the pot has a cover too.) You want there to be enough water to build a good head of steam but not so much that the boiling water splashes up into the steaming basket.
Bring the water to a boil, I set the temperature on medium high, it takes about five minutes for the water to boil. (And after you've mastered the broccoli trimming process, you'll probably want to start the water as soon as you start trimming, it'll be ready as soon as you're done!)
Carefully place the steaming basket into the pot. You don't want to burn yourself in the steam but since there's only a bit of water, if you work quickly, it's easy to drop the steaming basket into the boiling water without burning yourself, just hold it by the center stem.
Put the cover on! Let steam for five minutes. Set the timer, really!
After five minutes, turn off the heat.
Carefully lift the steaming basket out of the pot. Again, work quickly and just grab the center stem, you won't get burned.
Drain the water and then ...
Return the steaming basket to the hot pot, put the cover back on and let the broccoli rest for another 5 minutes off heat. This makes ALL the difference!
[ASIDE that pot needs some serious attention! Its home is underneath a gas stovetop and I get the idea that it suffers down there. Yikes ... ]
Here's the payoff, a bowl of steamed broccoli, the stalks creamy and chewy, the buds tender and luscious. Dig in, baby!
With something as every-day simple, of course there are lots of ways to play around. Here are a couple of ideas.
FINISH OFF-HEAT BUT WITHOUT DRAINING THE WATER I admit, this is how I usually finish the broccoli even though I prefer the broccoli when it dries slightly in the hot pot without water below. So I steam the broccoli for five minutes, turn off the heat but leave the cover on for another five minutes. If you have an electric stove, you'll want to physically move the pot off the heating element.
EXACTLY FIVE MINUTES? Again and again, I cook a basketful of broccoli in five minutes plus another five minutes off heat. But your pots, your basket, your stove, may perform slightly differently. I've also only steamed supermarket broccoli. It occurs to me that locally grown broccoli might take less time. Also if the steamer basket is really full, I'll up the time to six minutes. So pay attention the first time to see what the exact timing is in your own environment.
PAR COOKED BROCCOLI "Par" cooked means "partially" cooked, it's not done yet. So if you're par cooking the broccoli to make it quicker to cook later, in a stir fry or omelet or even a salad, say, steam the broccoli for five minutes and then plunge the basket into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, hold for a couple of seconds, then lift the basket out to drain.
~ Lemony Broccoli with Lemon Vinaigrette ~
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~ Pioneer Woman's Broccoli Wild Rice Casserole ~
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from A Veggie Venture
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from Kitchen Parade, my food column