At Beefsteak, José Andrés’s new build-your-own-bowl spot in Washington, DC, vegetables are the stars. But they're humble in this lead role: These vegetables aren't intricately prepared using modernist techniques. They’re not charred over an impossibly hot flame. They’re not battered and fried or even sautéed. At Beefsteak (and at home), Andrés champions a vegetable-cooking method that's fallen out of favor: boiling.
“We’ve forgotten how good humble boiled vegetables are,” Andrés says. “I think we need to make boiling sexy again. At my house, you will find a tray of perfectly boiled vegetables 365 days out of the year.” Here, five smart boiling tips from Andrés.
Keep the cooking time short. When boiling something like cauliflower (Andrés’s favorite vegetable at the moment), he recommends cooking for one minute if you want it super-crunchy and grassy or for about eight minutes if you prefer your vegetables softer and sweeter. But that is the limit. After that, you risk the dreaded sulfur smell.
Lightly salt the water. “The water should be flavorful,” Andrés says. But it shouldn't taste like sea water.
Don’t overcrowd the pot. “Don’t fill the pot up entirely with vegetables,” he says. “Use a bigger pot or, if you have to, cook in batches. This is especially important when it comes to green vegetables like kale or asparagus. If it’s too crowded, the heat goes down. The vegetables don’t get softer, but they do lose their color.”
Ease up on the seasoning. “Lately, it seems like everything has to be spicy or packed with umami. What’s the problem with serving cauliflower out of the water with just a touch of salt? We need to be able to enjoy the subtleness of vegetables,” he says. “Sometimes I add nothing but olive oil. Sometimes I add garlic or pimentón or a touch of vinegar.” He also likes to plate the vegetables simply on a bed of mayonnaise. “I love my vegetables with mayonnaise,” he says.
Try boiling something new. Andrés loves to boil any type of vegetable, including romaine lettuce. “I put it in the boiling water for just one second,” he says. “It’s crazy how much it changes.” He uses the blanched lettuce to fill an omelet. “It might sound weird, but everything is weird until you get used to it,” he says. It’s a great way to use lettuce that’s starting to wilt.