Frozen broccoli, which is blanched and then flash frozen, can actually be nutritionally superior to broccoli that has been stored and shipped for days or even weeks, like the broccoli in the produce departments of most supermarkets. Steaming frozen broccoli gives you an additional leg up when it comes to nutrition because, unlike boiling, the steaming process doesn't leach precious vitamins and minerals. In addition to preserving nutritional value, the process of steaming frozen broccoli also gives you an appealing vegetable that you'll feel good about eating and serving, as long as you don't overcook it.
Steam frozen broccoli on low heat for five to eight minutes.
How to Steam Frozen Broccoli
The trick to steaming frozen broccoli is to cook it until it's fully done, but no longer. There's a fine line between just right and overcooked, and you'll increase your odds of success if you pay close attention.
Use a perforated double-layer steamer pot or a folding vegetable steamer basket. You can also use a metal strainer balanced over a pot of boiling water but if you take this route you'll need to adjust the cooking time because it will take longer due to the steam and heat that escapes out the sides when the lid of your pot doesn't fit snugly. Put enough water in the pot to keep it from boiling out but not so much that the frozen broccoli is sitting in the steaming water. An inch or two of water is usually plenty.
Arrange the frozen broccoli in the steamer and bring the water to a boil. Lower the heat and cook, covered, until the broccoli is a deep, rich green. If your pot has a glass lid, you can monitor the cooking process closely without losing steam by uncovering the pan. It'll probably take five to eight minutes for it to cook just right, depending on the level of heat you're using, but pay close attention because you're more likely to get it right by watching and making a good judgment call than by setting a timer.
Frozen Broccoli Recipes
Your frozen broccoli package will probably have some recipes for using the versatile vegetable, and these recipes will give you specific instructions for cooking it from the package out of the freezer. However, you can also substitute frozen broccoli for fresh in most recipes, although the cooking time and procedure changes. A recipe that calls for frozen broccoli will usually include steps for cooking it from its raw state. If you've steamed your frozen broccoli and you're going to add it to the same dish, you'll add it to the dish later in the process because the broccoli is already fully cooked – you don't want it to overcook and get limp and soggy.
Once you get the feel for the cooking time of frozen broccoli, you could even add it to a recipe without steaming it ahead of time. You can do this with stews or stir-fries if the recipe has five to eight minutes of cooking time remaining. Simply add the frozen broccoli to the dish and let it cook along with the other ingredients until it's tender, but not mushy.
Frozen Vegetable Cooking
Steaming is the best way to cook frozen vegetables, but it is hardly the only method that works. However, some steam is useful, and even necessary, for frozen vegetables such as greens that come frozen together in a block as opposed to frozen vegetables such as corn or peas that stay separate even after they've been frozen, unless they've been defrosted and refrozen.
You can add a chunk of frozen spinach to a recipe if you're cooking your dish on low heat, preferably with a cover. If you cook it on low heat, the spinach itself will have enough moisture to create some steam. Cook until the spinach starts to soften and then break it apart and let it cook fully.
- Tommy's Superfoods: How to Steam Frozen Vegetables
- Eating Well: Fresh vs. Frozen Vegetables: Are We Giving Up Nutrition for Convenience?
- The Globe and Mail: What Is the Best Way to Cook Vegetables to Maximize Their Nutritional Value?
- The Guardian: Are Frozen Fruit and Vegetables as Good for You as Fresh?
Devra Gartenstein is a self-taught professional cook who has authored two cookbooks: "The Accidental Vegan", and "Local Bounty: Seasonal Vegan Recipes". She founded Patty Pan Cooperative, Seattle's oldest farmers market concession, and teaches regular cooking classes.