How to Cook Broccoli Right (Plus Tips & Nutrition Info)
Did you know you can eat more of the broccoli plant than just the fashionable florets? Oh yes. Don't pitch the stalks. Just give the rough woody parts a quick peel with a potato peeler. Then keep on peeling the tender parts of the stalks into raw salads. Or slice the stalks into little coins and stir-fry or roast them in a little oil. And the leaves? Oh yeh, you can eat those, too. For recipe inspiration, explore our collection of Broccoli Recipes, including fresh broccoli and frozen broccoli recipes.
What to Look For When Choosing Fresh Broccoli
Broccoli (Brassica oleracea) is a member of the cabbage family. It comes in a number of varieties, the most common being Calabrese broccoli, with its large flowering heads and sturdy, coarse stalks. Calabrese broccoli is typically what we have in mind when we think "broccoli." Keep an eye out for purple varieties; you can find them sometimes in stores and farmers' markets.
Broccoli is a cool weather crop. So it's freshest from October through April, though it's available fresh year-round. Choose unblemished, dark green tops and firm stalks with no soft spots. The florets should be tightly bunched together, no yellowing at the edges and no budding or mushy spots. The stalks should feel firm and crisp, never limp or wobbly. Check the cut end of the stem, too, and pick broccoli heads that are moist and fresh-looking, not browned where the stem was cut. At most stores, you can also buy packages of pre-cut broccoli florets -- look for the same characteristics to ensure quality.
Broccoli can stay fresh for up to two weeks if you store it unwashed, dry, and tightly wrapped in a plastic bag. Keep in mind broccoli's nutritional value depletes the longer you store it, so you're better off using it as soon as possible.
Another alternative is frozen broccoli -- you can use as much or as little as you like and freezing does a great job of preserving nutrients.
Broccoli and Nutrition
Mom was right. Broccoli really is good for you.
In a one-cup serving, this nutritional powerhouse boasts 200 percent of your recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C, a good dose of Vitamin A, riboflavin, calcium, and fiber -- and contains just 40 calories. It has even been proven to help protect against cataracts, stroke, and many kinds of cancer. In fact, acccording to a researcher at the University of Illinois, sulforaphane, one of broccoli's cancer-fighting compounds, "is one of the most powerful anticarcinogens found in food." How does sulforaphane's anti-cancer property work? "It works by increasing the enzymes in your liver that destroy the cancer-inducing chemicals you ingest in food or encounter in the environment." Incidentally, boiling broccoli was shown to reduce the effectiveness of its cancer-fighting properties. The best way to maximize the anti-cancer properties may be to give it a quick steam -- just 3 or 4 minutes.
How to Cook Broccoli
Perfectly cooked broccoli is an appetizing bright green with a mild, pleasant flavor and a tender but firm texture. To avoid overcooking, uncover once it's done and serve right away. You can also plunge it into an ice bath to stop the cooking -- this will preserve the color, flavor, and nutrients.
Here's a friendly visual to help you avoid overcooking broccoli, which may strip it of some nutrients. It shows what to shoot for. The broccoli cooked to "crisp-tender" still holds its healthy crunch and likely has retained vitamins and other nutrients a bit better than the flabby, overdone version.
How to Steam Broccoli
If you have a pasta cooker with a steaming basket, add about an inch of water to the bottom of the pan and bring the water to a boil. Add cut broccoli florets and peeled, sliced rings of broccoli stalks to the basket and steam, covered, for just 3 to 5 minutes. If you like softer broccoli, let it go for a few minutes more. You can also steam broccoli directly in a skillet: add cut broccoli and about 1/4 inch of water to a skillet and cook covered for about 5 minutes. Steamed broccoli may be one of the healthiest ways to cook broccoli because it's quick and nutrients and vitamins won't be lost in the cooking water, as can be the case with boiled broccoli.
"What a hit with my family. Just the right mixture of garlic and cashews with our favorite side dish, broccoli," says SALSIEPIE. "And, so very easy to make!! If in a pinch, you could probably use frozen broccoli too."
Have a need for speed? Here's how to steam broccoli in the microwave. Simply add small florets of broccoli to a microwave-safe bowl. Sprinkle with a couple tablespoons of water and microwave on high for 5 to 7 minutes or until it reaches your desired doneness.
This 5-star recipe for Linguini with Broccoli and Red Peppers features microwave-steamed broccoli -- the entire meal is ready in 20 minutes!
How to Stir-Fry or Sauté Broccoli
Broccoli takes very well to quick-cooking techniques like sautéing or stir-frying. Heat a little oil in a frying pan or wok over high heat, and add cut broccoli florets and peeled, sliced rings of broccoli stalks, stirring and cooking for just 4 or 5 minutes.
"This is the best broccoli beef recipe," says Joe. "It's simple, but it taste like you bought it from a Chinese restaurant."
Here's another way to saute broccoli. Treat it like fried rice! That's right, it's Broccoli Rice. To make it, you'll pulse raw broccoli florets in a food processor until the broccoli looks like grains of rice. Then saute it in a skillet like fried rice. Broccoli rice is a terrific, low-carb replacement for white rice.
How to Roast Broccoli
Here's how to cook broccoli in the oven. Toss cut broccoli with olive oil and a pinch of salt, and spread the broccoli out in a single layer on a baking dish pre-heated in a 400-degree oven. The broccoli should sizzle when it hits the pan. Roast the broccoli until tender and a little browned at the edges.
"Easy roasted broccoli," says karen. "Easy roasted broccoli. My favorite part is the roasted sliced stem pieces."
Here's how to bake broccoli, take 2: it's called, Flash-Blasted Broccoli. This high-heat method is a terrific technique for coaxing delicious caramelized flavors from your roasted broccoli. It's arguably the best way to cook fresh broccoli in the oven.
How to Grill Broccoli
Cooking broccoli on the grill creates delicious caramelized flavors and it's lightning quick. Cut the broccoli into large chunks so they don't fall through the grates. (Alternately, you can use a grilling basket or lay aluminum foil over the grates.) Grill broccoli over medium-high heat on lightly oiled grates. You might also toss the broccoli florets in a little bit of olive oil -- but watch out for flare ups! Turn the broccoli with tongs, cooking for about 5 to 7 minutes total. The charred grilled flavors will be delicious all on their own, so season your grilled broccoli lightly (maybe just a drizzle of olive oil and a splash of lemon juice). Here's a very simple recipe for Grilled Broccoli that seasons with balsamic vinaigrette.
Bake Broccoli in a Casserole
Adding broccoli to casseroles is a great way to sneak something healthy and green into weeknight meals.
"This moist bread with a sweet corn flavor can be served as a side dish with any meaty entree," says Susie P. "Adding Cheddar cheese helps seal the deal to convert the picky broccoli hater."
Eat Broccoli Raw
Forget the chips. Broccoli's the smart choice for scooping up dips. And uncooked broccoli also adds exciting crunch to raw salads. Pro Tip: To crisp up broccoli florets that have gone a bit limp, soak 'em for a spell in ice-cold water. They'll firm up fast.
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