Technique: Ice Bath

Doesn't that phrase sound fancy and complicated? Ice bath. 

It's nothing more than a bowl of water with ice cubes. 

It's also a technique that can  take your vegetable cooking skill from novice or capable all the way to expert in no time. Here's why. 

One of the hardest things to do is to get a food, especially a vegetable, cooked to the right temperature. Especially if you're cooking in boiling water. Even if you do get it near-perfect, the residual heat in the vegetable allows it to keep cooking. 

The solution? Ice bath. Especially if a vegetable can be served cold or room temperature. As soon a veg in boiling, salted water gets to perfect doneness, use a mesh strainer, a perforated / slotted spoon or any utensil to dump the vegetables into a bowl of icy water. In a matter of minutes the heat will dissipate and you have perfectly cooked vegetables. 

(Why does spellcheck keep flagging the word doneness? And spellcheck? It wants spell check. I beg to differ.)

Here are some guidelines: 
  • Use a really big bowl of ice water. Who cares, it's just water. And ice.
  • When testing a single piece, skewer it on a fork and dip it into the cold ice water for a few seconds, then taste to see if it's done. 
  • This technique is particularly well suited to cooking green beans (especially thin French haricot verts) and potatoes - as each hold heat easily. 
  • When I mentioned a mesh strainer, I was picturing (and suggesting) the contraption in the picture above. It's often called a spider strainer, because it looks like a spider web. You can buy one at amazon by clicking here. But the shipping will probably cost more than the strainer. The best place to get them is at Asian markets. 
  • If the vegetables you're cooking are not going to be served room temp, you can use the same technique but just stop the cooking a little earlier than totally done.

One of the testaments to the importance of this technique is how heavily Thomas Keller relies on it. He's been considered the best chef in the country for quite a few years now. His book Ad Hoc At Home is supposed to be geared to home cooking. But like him, it's actually quite, well, particular. Just like him. Though I did meet him at a book signing once and he was quite nice, even though it was the end of the evening. 

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