Building Blocks

Beauty for the Sake of Deliciousness

Searing green vegetables makes them look awful but taste great.

Green, non-leafy vegetables work the same, for the most part. These include everything from green beans to green onions.

They can be seared, which involves browning an ingredient to augment and intensify its flavors, transforming even astringent compounds into complex sugars. The technique is versatile, it’s convenient, and it works the same for everything from a chicken wing to a green bean.

You wouldn’t think that something like a Brussels sprout has what it takes to produce a sweetly complex flavor. Fortunately, high heat causes a chain reaction that transforms the vegetable’s abundant starches and astringent compounds into complexly caramelized sugars. It’s nothing short of alchemy, and once you can reproduce this simple technique, you’ll spot it in between the lines of any recipe that calls for putting green vegetables into a skillet giving them some color.

The method that I’m about to show you is exactly what they have in mind.

It’s what they should have in mind, at least.

The truth is that practically no recipe-writer is willing to go far enough, deeply enough—to penetrate these vegetables so decisively that a caramelizing chain reaction affects every last potential molecule, the result being a finished product of singular bliss.

They’re probably afraid of what the outcome will look like:

Ladies and gentlemen, this is how it looks to abandon beauty for the sake of deliciousness.

If the point of searing green vegetables is to achieve complexly caramelized sugars—and most recipes that echo this technique are based on traditional dishes that exist to achieve just this result—then the best way to prepare these vegetables is one that gets them as caramel as possible.

Recipe-writers miss the point entirely who have you precook your vegetables in boiling water before giving them a brief little turn in some tepid fat. Most likely, they’re following the example set by Monsieur le Chef.

Many of us turn to him for guidance, admittedly. The problem is that the Chef is bound by appearances. That’s what his clientele pay him for, in any case.

No one is paying home cooks to arrange things on a plate with tweezers, however. Something else is at work that explains the reluctance of recipe-writers in particular to basically disfigure something in pursuit of perfection, achieving a deliciousness that is hard to believe even as you taste it.

It’s the fear of forbidden pleasure, I guess, that inhibits them at the brink of ecstasy.

You can liberate yourself, at least. And the next time that you happen to be looking for inspiration, if you stumble across something like Martha Stewart’s “Game Changing” green beans with garlic and lemon, then you can skip her misguided instructions and go straight to the flavor-tweak. We’ll be liberating her, too.

It isn’t exactly the sexual revolution, but these days you take what you can get.

    How to Sear Green Vegetables

What follows is a concise workflow. It serves as a teaching aid and a reminder, so that you can quickly see at a glance exactly what you need to do. Practice it a few times, and you’ll never again need a recipe to tell you how to sear green vegetables. Afterwards, they’ll be ready for whatever preparation you (or a recipe) have in mind.

Everything you actually need to know is in my articles on ///searing/// and ///prepping green vegetables///.

I’ve split thing up like this so that I tell you what need to know without having to cram it all into a single set of instructions.

I can also restate that basic principle in a concise workflow.

That way, we can separate process from background. I can provide you with a concise order of operations that you can refer to at a glance whenever you wish, without having to wade through dense paragraphs of instruction (which I would feel compelled to reduce for the sake of brevity, leaving you with less information).

It’s also necessary for you to see that cooking is a matter of applying general principles to specific tasks. In this case, searing works the same way for everything, be it a green bean or a chicken wing. But each ingredient has its own simple peculiarities that you should keep in mind.

When you get in the habit of seeing your cooking by the individual building blocks, then you’ll be able to arrange them as you see fit, to arrange your cooking according to your own routines and priorities rather than those of a recipe-writer.

You’re going to:

Prep the vegetables, which involves washing, peeling, slicing and dicing them. It’s all in my article on ///how to prep green vegetables///.

Sear your ingredients,which is perfectly quick and simple as long as you spend fifteen minutes or so to discover the right temperature to do it at. It’s all in my article on ///searing///.

The thing to keep in mind with green vegetables is that they brown very quickly. They are exceedingly light and delicate ingredients.

Just keep an eye on the pan, and turn things as necessary. There is no need to rush, since the proper temperature will give you enough leeway to ensure that nothing burns.

The whole process is in this video, from start to finish:

    The Workflow

  1. Set out a wide dish of some kind, and line it with paper towels.
  1. Dry your ingredients.
  1. Pre-heat your pan.
  1. Pour in the oil.
  1. Gently place your ingredients into the pan, taking care to neither allow ingredients to touch nor to leave overly large gaps among them.
  1. Turn each item as needed.
  1. Remove them as they finish to the paper towels (which will absorb excess oil).
  1. Pour the hot oil into a heat-proof container, and (using your tongs) gently slide it to the back of the stove.

And that’s it.

Guided by Whim, Not Recipe
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