So, I'm impressed that I have such vast, sweeping influence that lots of you have e-mailed to tell me I inspired you to buy your own vacuum sealer! (click here for the original post. And I just outed myself for re-using pictures, SORRY!!) Why aren't more companies sending me free things!? (just kidding, sort of). A lot of you have e-mailed to ask me what I'm doing with mine, etc. Just for the record, I purchased this model at Costco for $140, which seems like a great all-around model. There are some cheaper, and some more expensive. I would definitely recommend something with a "pulse" mode.
First of all, I'll tell you this: lots and lots of restaurants use vacuum sealers for practically everything. Of course, they have a giant, powerful one which wouldn't fit on even the biggest kitchen counter top and will seal anything, no matter how liquidy. And costs thousands of dollars (like, say, $6000). For the rest of us, we have our own smaller version which can be a little tricky but, I still think, is worth it, especially if you are concerned about where your local food is going to come from in the wintertime. It's so much easier than canning, and I think the results are much better, at least for vegetables. I don't think anyone things canned sweet peas are a good idea, even if Saveur did have them as one of their 100 things this year, a travesty for which I will never forgive them. I think I've figured out the vegetable portion, although I have to admit I haven't yet tested how long to boil my veggies in the bag when I take them out of the freezer. Maybe that's something fun for next week. To thaw or not to thaw? That will be the question.
I am not a professional food putter-asider, just for the record. If you think any of my suggestions are faulty, or would just like some validation or other questions answered, I highly recommend the Pick Your Own website, which I've been relying on for years. They have a treasure-trove of information, which will guide you all the way from the farm to the kitchen, with recipes for canning, jelly-making, and everything else you can imagine. Bookmark them.
Here are my general guidelines for processing vegetables:
- If applicable, trim your vegetables - take the ends of green beans, cut florets from broccoli, etc. If you are doing corn, simply shuck the corn and remove as much silk as possible, but don't cut the kernels from the cobs (it's much easier after a little soak). Save all of your trimmings!!
- Clean your sink really, really well - maybe even apply a weak bleach solution and then wash with hot soapy water. Rinse really well and put a stopper in the sink.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- Here, you can either steam, using a steamer insert (without the veggies touching the water) or blanch (completely immersing the veg into the water). I did both, but found that blanching the sweet corn was much easier than steaming because I could fit 15 ears into a stovetop canner, but only 4 in the steamer insert. However, anything smaller went into the steamer for ease of shocking (see #7)
- While the veggies are steaming, place about 2-3 pounds of ice in the sink and add cold water.
- Blanch for 3 minutes, steam for 4. This was my general guideline: you might want to consult a traditional food preservation book for this, but I like things to be as minimally cooked as possible when they go in the freezer so that I have more control when they come out.
- When your timer goes off, remove the vegetables from the water and plunge into the ice water. This is where a steamer basket comes in handy - if yours has a handle (I use this one, which came with my ALL-Clad set; if you have a multi cooker, this is the perfect time to get it out), you can remove the whole thing and plunge it, veg and all, into the sink. Otherwise, you'll have to strain - which you don't want to do!! This process is called shocking, and it stops the cooking process. I do this a lot when cooking veggies, and it's a process you'll see in almost every restaurant kitchen. You can cook the veggies halfway ahead of time by steaming for a few minutes, then shock them to stock the cooking, and then you can finish them however you'd like for service. A great trick for party planning.
- Do not strain your blanching/steaming water!
- Why? Because, after we save everything, we're going to make vegetable stock. Notice how green it is? It's full of vitamins!
- If you're doing sweet corn, this is the time to cut the kernels from the cob. Cut them off with a sharp knife - if you've only tried this with raw corn, you'll be amazed at how neatly the blanched kernels will fall, all in rows, onto your cutting board. Do not throw those cobs away!!
- Write on your bags with a Sharpie (yet another indispensable kitchen tool - restaurant kitchen or home) - the date, the item, and what else might be in the bag.
- Here, you can go one of two ways: Freeze all together or freeze individually. If you are going to be boiling-in-the-bag to use the entire frozen amount as a side dish, you probably want to freeze everything in one lump, skip step #12 and go to #13. If you want to freeze pounds of green beans in one bag and shake out a few at a time and re-seal, then you should probably freeze the green beans separately, then go to step #12.
- Strain the veggies and arrange them on a parchment-lined (or silpator other silicone-lined) sheet tray in one single layer and place in the freezer. Freeze until hard and then proceed with step #14.
- If you are going to be boiling these bags to serve as side dishes, drain the veggies well and place desired amount into a bag (1/2 cup - 3/4 cup per person, or thereabouts). At this point, you can sprinkle in salt and pepper and even throw a pat of butter in there, as I did with the sweet corn, above).
- If the veggies are individually frozen, place them all in a larger bag.
- Seal. For the freshly blanched veggies, you might want to use a pulse setting if you have it, so that you can stop the vacuuming as soon as liquid begins to rise from the bulk of the veggies. You might even want to use the pulse setting with the frozen veggies, just to be sure they don't break. If you have a super neato sealer which automatically accounts for liquid, well, then you can do whatever you'd like.
- If you are short on time, throw your corn cobs into a bag, your trimmings into another bag (or, I suppose, the same one), and freeze those, too. You can freeze the leftover water in a plastic container or something, too, and then get to it at a later date (although in truth, the next step doesn't take work, only time).
The nice thing about making these little packets is they don't take up a lot of space in the freezer, as boxes would. And, because they make compact and relatively hard packets, they won't freeze over the wire shelving in the freezer, never to be pried loose.
Okay, that's your first tutorial. I hope it helped. Later today, I'm going to talk about what to do with all of that leftover water, trimmings, and corn cobs. I'm sorry to break it up into two segments, but I wanted them to be easily searchable. Happy freezing!
Please feel free to leave your tips!