Though delicious and nutritious, broccoli has a well-earned reputation as being somewhat tricky to keep fresh. Stored improperly, broccoli can go from crisp and refreshing to unappetizing in just a day or two. However, with smart storage techniques, you can keep your broccoli fresh for as long as five to seven days (and if you’re willing to freeze it, much longer). To start making the most of your broccoli and cutting down on waste in your kitchen, see Step 1 below to get started!
Storing Broccoli in the Short Term
Make a broccoli bouquet. One unconventional but surprisingly effective way to keep your broccoli fresh is similar to the way you might keep a selection of flowers in a bouquet bright and lively. Simply put your head of broccoli, stem down, into a bowl with a half inch or so of water at the bottom. The “bushy” part of the broccoli (the head) should point up, out of the bowl. Refrigerate. Storing your broccoli this way should keep it fresh for about five to seven days.
For optimum freshness, cover the broccoli head loosely with a plastic bag containing a few holes so that air can pass through. Change the water daily.
Wrap your broccoli in damp paper towels. Another option for keeping your broccoli fresh mimics the freshening effect of the automatic misters you may have seen in your grocery store’s produce section. Fill a clean, empty spray bottle (one that hasn’t previously been filled with bleach or other caustic cleaning products) with cold water, then gently mist your broccoli’s heads. Loosely wrap the heads with a paper towel so that the towel absorbs some of the moisture. Keep the broccoli in the fridge. It should remain fresh for about three days.
Don’t wrap the broccoli too tightly with the paper towels and don’t keep it in a sealed container. Broccoli needs air flow to stay fresh.
Keep your broccoli in a ventilated bag. If you don’t have the time or patience for the methods above, don’t worry — it’s easy to keep your broccoli reasonably fresh with nothing more than an ordinary plastic bag. Simply seal your broccoli in the bag, then poke numerous holes in the bag near the broccoli’s head to ensure good air flow. Keep the broccoli refrigerated. The broccoli should stay fresh for at least a few days with this method.
Wash homegrown broccoli, but not store-bought broccoli. When it comes to storing broccoli, a little moisture can be a good thing, but excess moisture can be quite bad. Wetness can promote mold growth in as little as a few days, making a perfectly good head of broccoli inedible. For this reason, you’ll want to avoid washing fresh broccoli that you buy from the store, as this has already been washed and dried and thus requires no additional cleaning. However, you will want to wash broccoli that you grow yourself to remove tiny insects and debris from the garden. After washing your homegrown broccoli, be sure to dry it thoroughly to prevent mold.
To wash homegrown broccoli, mix warm (not hot) water and a few teaspoons of white vinegar in a large bowl. Soak the broccoli for about 15 minutes to kill any small bugs and remove any debris that may be hiding in the plant’s tightly-packed florets. Remove, rinse with cool water, and dry thoroughly before refrigerating.
Get your broccoli in the fridge as quick as possible. Regardless of how you choose to store your broccoli, one thing will always be the same — you’ll want to get it into the fridge as soon as you can. Some sources recommend that even fresh store-bought broccoli should make it into the refrigerator within 30 minutes of purchase. The quicker your broccoli gets into the fridge, the less of a chance it will have to begin to lose its firm, crisp texture and the longer it will last before going bad.
Freezing Broccoli for Long Term Storage
Prepare boiling and ice-cold water. The methods discussed above are great for keeping your broccoli fresh in the short term, but if you have so much broccoli that you don’t think you’ll be able to eat it all before it goes bad or you simply don’t plan on eating it right away, consider freezing it. Frozen broccoli can stay good for over a year, so you’ll have plenty of time to incorporate it into your dishes before it goes bad. However, freezing broccoli isn’t as simple as tossing it into the freezer and forgetting about it — first, it has to be prepared in a process called blanching. To start, you’ll want to prepare a large pot of boiling water along with a similarly large pot or bowl of ice water.
Cut the broccoli heads into small pieces. While you’re waiting for your water to boil, take the opportunity to use a knife or a pair of kitchen shears to cut the broccoli heads into small chunks. The head pieces should be no more than an inch or so across on any side, with stems no more than an inch or so long. Dividing the broccoli heads into smaller pieces is important — if you don’t do it, the boiling water may blanch the broccoli unevenly by affecting the outer edges of the broccoli more heavily than the protected inner portion.
You can even use your bare hands to break up the broccoli heads if you need to. Simply grab pieces of the head and pull them off of the main plant so that you are left with a cluster of florets (the “bushy” part) and a short stem. If the florets are more than about an inch and a half across, split the cluster again.
Boil the broccoli pieces for three minutes. When you’ve separated all of your broccoli bits into separate pieces, dump them into your boiling water to blanch them. They don’t need to boil for very long — about three minutes is plenty. Stir periodically to ensure that the broccoli pieces are evenly blanched.
The purpose of blanching is to help preserve the broccoli when it isfrozen. All vegetables contain enzymes and bacteria that can cause the color, texture, and taste of the vegetable to become unappetizing during freezing. Blanching kills the bacteria and disables the enzymes, which means that the broccoli will maintain its original delicious properties better after it’s frozen.
Chill the broccoli pieces for three minutes. As soon as your broccoli pieces have boiled for about three minutes, drain them with a colander or strainer. Then, when the excess hot water has flowed through the colander and poses no danger of burning you, immediately dump them into your ice-cold water. Let them soak in the ice water for about three minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure that all of the pieces come in contact with the cold water. The purpose of the ice water is to immediately cool the broccoli down so that it doesn’t continue cooking. The broccoli is boiled to blanch it, not to cook it — if it’s allowed to keep cooking, the broccoli will eventually become soft and unappetizing. Putting hot broccoli pieces directly in the freezer doesn’t cool the steaming broccoli down as quickly as the direct contact of ice water, so the latter is a better choice for our purposes.
Drain and dry. After the broccoli has soaked in the ice water for about three minutes (it should feel about as cold as the water when you touch it), pour it into a colander or strainer and allow it to briefly rest. As it rests, toss the broccoli occasionally to allow trapped moisture to drain. After a minute or two, pat it with a clean rag or paper towel to remove any excess moisture.
Store in sealed bag in the freezer. Transfer the broccoli pieces into a plastic bag with an airtight seal and label the bag with today’s date. Squeeze the excess air out of the bag, seal it, and toss it in the freezer. At this point, you’re done! Once it freezes, your broccoli should keep for up to a year.
To get the maximum lifetime out of your frozen broccoli, use a low-temperature “deep freezer”, not a zero-frost freezer, as the latter periodically cycles above freezing to melt the ice in the compartment, which can reduce the life of the broccoli.
Specialty vacuum-sealing devices (like the FoodSaver) are great forfreezing vegetables. By removing all of the air from the bag or container that the broccoli is stored in, they can extend its freezer life and keep the broccoli fresher than with ordinary freezing methods. However, these devices can cost upwards of $100.
For many recipes (especially baking recipes), you won’t want to defrost vegetables before cooking, as this can throw off the moisture content of the final dish. However, for recipes that call for defrosted broccoli, all you need to do to do is soak the broccoli in room temperature water for a few minutes to thaw it.
Choosing Fresh Broccoli
Look for deep green florets. If you want to have fresh, crisp, delicious broccoli in your fridge, it’s helpful if you start with the freshest possible vegetables in the first place. Whether you’re picking out your broccoli at the local supermarket or pulling it fresh from your garden, it’s a smart idea to know the signs of a fresh, healthy plant so that you can consistently choose the best broccoli. To start, try examining the small, beady buds making up the head of the broccoli — these are called “florets”. The florets of the best broccoli plants should be a deep, somewhat dark green color.
Look out for yellow florets or patches — this is a sign that yourbroccoli is past its prime and is about to flower, which will make the plant tough and woody.
Look for florets about the size of a match head. Another thing to take into account when you’re picking out your broccoli is the size of the individual florets — are they tiny and almost indistinguishable from each other, or are they large and full? Ideally, you should see some florets that are just smaller than a match head — this is a sign that the broccoli plant is mature, but not over-ripe.
You don’t necessarily have to shy away from broccoli with exclusively small florets. These plants won’t hurt you or taste bad — for instance, most frozen broccoli that you can buy from your grocery store’s frozen foods aisle won’t have large florets.
Feel for a firm, tight head. The texture of a broccoli plant is crucial — nothing’s better than a satisfyingly crisp head of broccoli on a hot summer day, but nothing’s grosser than broccoli that’s become soft or chewy. Don’t be afraid to use your hands when you’re picking out your broccoli. Give each head a gentle squeeze or twist. Ideally, the best heads of broccoli should be quite hard and firm, but not completely unyielding.
For homegrown broccoli, harvest in the morning and immediately cool. When you buy broccoli at the store, it’s already been picked for you, so the way the broccoli is harvested is out of your control. However, when you grow your own broccoli at home, you have total control over how and when the broccoli is harvested, so make the most of these opportunities. Generally, for the best-tasting, freshest broccoli, you’ll want to harvest during the coolest part of the day (usually the morning). Cut the entire broccoli head from the plant at its stem and immediately transfer into the refrigerator to preserve its freshness.
Doing this minimizes the amount of time that your broccoli will have towarm up — the cooler it stays, the better its original taste and texture will be preserved.
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Sources and Citations
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