The Best Cooking Methods For Tender-Crisp Vegetables

When it comes to vegetables, there is truly nothing worse than soggy broccoli and mushy carrots. When you bite into a raw carrot, you get that satisfying snap, and the flavor is also bright and sweet; but a carrot that is cooked until mushy is truly sad and upsetting. The truth is that when veggies are cooked to death, their texture becomes unpleasant and, per Healthline, they lose a lot of their health benefits. So how exactly do we achieve the perfect mix of — tender enough to eat, but still crunchy enough to enjoy? Answer: the tender-crisp. 

According to The Kitchn, the term "tender-crisp" began appearing in recipe books during the latter part of the 20th century, and it was a way of describing a vegetable that was cooked until it became tender but not so far gone that you feel you're eating baby food. So what does it mean to cook vegetables tender-crisp, and what are the best methods for doing so?

Blanching and Steaming

One of the best ways to give your veggies a pleasant, al dente texture is to blanch or steam them. According to The Kitchn, you know a veggie is tender-crisp if it's cooked, but still retains its snap and brilliant color. Figuring out the line between still raw and cooked through can be tricky, but this can be achieved by using these two methods. For blanching, the vegetables should be dropped into a pot of boiling water for just a few minutes before they are shocked in an ice water bath to keep them from overcooking. You can easily test the "bite" of your veggies by dropping individual pieces in the ice bath while boiling. 

Steaming is a bit more complex. According to Epicurious, different types of veggies should be steamed for different durations. In the case of delicate veggies like spinach, you might only steam them for a couple minutes, while root vegetables like carrots and turnips could be steamed for upwards of 15 minutes. If you're looking for a tender-crisp texture, be sure to keep a close eye on your veggies.

Acheiving tender-crisp veggies by sautéing

If you like a little bit of a char on your tender-crisp veggies, Better Homes & Gardens recommends sautéing. Just like steaming, more tender ingredients like mushrooms only need to sauté for a few minutes while heartier veg like carrots take longer. BH&G recommends cutting veggies into similar-sized pieces before sautéing to ensure they cook evenly. If you're preparing vegetables for a stir-fry or similar dish, you can opt to cut them into bite-sized pieces. 

In order to achieve a perfect texture, don't add the vegetables until the oil is hot, and try cooking them in small batches, so they have room to touch the heat surface evenly. Too many veggies heaped on the pan will cause the water from the veggies on bottom to steam those on top, which is not an effective sauté. Also, if you are cooking a variety of vegetables together, start by adding the heartier veggies first to give them a bit of a head start on the cooking process, followed by the more delicate veggies (per BH&G). This way everything will cook evenly and come out tender-crisp.