If you grow broccoli in your backyard garden or you want to buy it up while it's in season or on sale, you need a way to retain its freshness before it goes bad. Freezing is the best way to preserve broccoli, retaining its color, flavor, texture, and nutritional value. The process requires a few simple steps, including soaking, trimming, blanching, chilling, flash freezing, and storing in the freezer.
Giving the broccoli florets and stems a quick blanching in boiling water before freezing ensures that they will retain a good texture when you get around to cooking with them. The single-layer initial freeze prevents the broccoli pieces from clumping together, which is ideal when you only need a cup of it for a recipe.
Clean and Cut Into Florets
Before the vegetable can be prepped for any use, it needs to be cleaned. Soak the whole broccoli in cold water for a few minutes to get rid of any dirt or garden bugs. Drain well.
It is not ideal to freeze an entire head of broccoli; for best quality and ease of use after freezing, it should be cut into florets with the stem removed (but not discarded). Begin by cutting off the thick stem, and setting it aside. Use a paring knife to separate the florets into pieces no more than 1 1/2-inches thick.
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Prepare the Broccoli Stems
Broccoli stems are arguably even more delicious than the florets but often are discarded. If you leave the thick skins on the stems they take longer to cook than the florets and can be a bit fibrous to eat. The solution is to peel them with a vegetable peeler, removing the tough outer skin. First, cut off the tough bottom half-inch or so of the stems and compost or discard them. Then peel the rest of the stem and chop into 1/2-inch thick pieces.
While you are preparing the broccoli, have a pot of water coming to a boil on the stove and get a big bowl of ice water ready.
Blanch the Broccoli
Once you have separated the broccoli into florets and peeled and chopped the stems, drop the broccoli pieces into the pot of rapidly boiling water. Let them cook for 2 minutes. Alternatively, steam the broccoli for 2 minutes in a vegetable steamer rather than boiling it. Drain the broccoli in a colander.
Chill the Broccoli
It is important that you immediately transfer the blanched broccoli to the bowl of ice water. This stops the residual heat from continuing to cook the vegetable. Leave the broccoli in the ice water for 3 minutes. Then transfer the broccoli to a colander and leave it to drain well for a few minutes.
Once the broccoli is drained, it is ready for the initial flash freeze. Spread the blanched and chilled broccoli in a single layer on a baking sheet. Freeze for 1 to 2 hours.
Transfer to Containers and Freeze
Transfer the frozen broccoli pieces to freezer bags or containers and label them with the date. Frozen broccoli will keep for one year. It is still safe to eat after that, but its quality will decline.
Using Frozen Broccoli
Whether or not you need to thaw the broccoli before use depends on the recipe. It is not necessary to thaw frozen broccoli before cooking if the dish is warm and can benefit from some moisture, like in casseroles, soups, stews, and pasta dishes. If the broccoli is going to be eaten (almost) raw, or if the dish would become soggy from excess moisture (like pizza topping), it should be cooked beforehand. Just to be sure to subtract the two minutes the broccoli was blanched from the cooking time when you cook your frozen broccoli.
Roasting is one dish that can be made with frozen broccoli. Simply toss the florets with olive oil and salt and cook in a very hot oven until crispy. Keep in mind the broccoli won't be as firm as raw and will become tender quicker.