How to Cook Broccoli
Learn all the different ways to cook perfect broccoli that will win over even the pickiest eaters.
By Carlos C. Olaechea for Food Network Kitchen
Carlos is a contributing food writer at Food Network.
Broccoli is one of those vegetables that can get a bad rap. It’s often the butt of jokes about picky eaters and features in kids’ anthems about things they will not stand for. However, this hearty vegetable deserves a little more love both in how we talk about it and how we treat it. Many people may not even know that their distaste for broccoli might not even be the vegetable’s fault. As with many members of the brassica family of veggies, the way you cook broccoli can totally transform how this vegetable tastes. Let’s learn how to cook broccoli so that you’ll fall in love with it. And for those who are already fans of the big bushy stalks, get ready to fall even deeper in love them.
How to Choose the Best Broccoli
Broccoli actually has a lot of relatives out there, from the leafy gai lan (Chinese broccoli), which is popular in Chinese cooking, to the intensely bitter rapini (broccoli rabe) common in Italian cuisine. But they aren’t “true” broccoli, even though their English translations might suggest otherwise.
To simplify things, we’re going to stick with the broccoli that’s most commonly available in North American retailers and looks like the image that pops up when you search for a broccoli emoji. While broccoli heads may look like trees, they are actually more like bouquets of tiny flowers. The firm, pale green stalks are the stems, and the bushy parts are clusters of blossoms. They seem much more romantic when you think of them this way, and this info also explains why you hear people referring to broccoli florets.
When buying fresh broccoli, you want to make sure that it's green and matte. Yellowish broccoli has been sitting out for a while. It’s safe to eat, but it’s better to choose one with no signs of yellowing. There should be no soggy or mushy patches on the flowers. It’s also important to look at the stalk. It should be firm and the surface should be taught and not wrinkly. If you scratch it, some juice should come out. You can also check the bottom of the stem where it was cut. You want to avoid broccoli with brown, woody stalks.
How to Store Broccoli
Fresh broccoli will keep in the produce bin of your refrigerator for about a week before it starts turning yellow. As stated above, you can still eat it if it’s yellow, but the flavor might not be as good as when it is fresh and green. Avoid storing broccoli in plastic wrap or bags. Broccoli should breathe a little or it will start to get mushy. You can keep your broccoli fresher longer if you place the stalks in a glass or pitcher of water much like you’d do with flowers.
How to Trim and Prep Broccoli
The beautiful thing about broccoli is that pretty much the whole thing is edible, so with a little knowledge and conscientious prep, nothing goes to waste. Most people focus on the flowers, and with good reason – they have a pleasant texture and absorb sauces like sponges, turning them into little green flavor bombs. Sadly, this means that many home cooks toss out the stalk, which is super flavorful and crunchy.
The stalk is usually covered in a thick, pithy layer. All you have to do is use a vegetable peeler or paring knife to remove some of the tougher outer layer. Keep in mind that this layer of the broccoli stalk gets thinner and more tender the closer you get to the flowers, so you don’t need to shave off the outer layers more than halfway up the stalk.
You can then cut the broccoli from top to bottom to create what are called spears. Alternatively, you can remove the stalk and reserve it to for another dish, making your head of broccoli good for two meals! Once you've removed stem, turn the broccoli upside down to rest on the crown and slice downwards through the florets, rotating as you go.
How to Cook Broccoli
It goes without saying that the way you cook something can completely change its flavor. However, this is especially true with broccoli and many other vegetables in the brassica family. The biggest complaint one might hear about broccoli is that it is bitter. While many fans find that particular feature to be part of broccoli’s charm, there are ways of cooking this vegetable that minimize its bitterness and elevate its sweetness.
How to Boil Broccoli
This is probably one of the most common ways of cooking broccoli, and many people have probably had boiled broccoli more than a few times throughout their lives. Boiling broccoli maintains its clean, pure flavor and is also the healthiest way of preparing it. However, it can also bring out more of its bitter flavors, so it may not be a good option for those who are trying to learn to like this vegetable.
Here’s how to boil broccoli for best results:
- Bring a pot of water to a boil and add a generous pinch of salt. You can always season your broccoli to taste later, but a little salt in the water helps to give it more flavor.
- Meanwhile, prepare your broccoli. You can cut it into one-inch florets or leave the stalks attached for broccoli spears.
- When the water has come to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-high and add your broccoli pieces to the pot.
- Boil for about 5 minutes and test a piece of broccoli to see if it’s cooked enough for you. You can eat broccoli at any level of doneness from raw to baby-food-soft. It’s all up to your personal taste.
- Once the broccoli is cooked to your taste, drain it and serve immediately.
- If you’re planning to serve the broccoli later, dunk it immediately into a bowl of iciest water you can create. This is called shocking and will stop the cooking process, preventing you from having mushy broccoli.
How to Blanch Broccoli
Blanching is done the same way as boiling, but the broccoli is cooked for much less time. This is a great technique if you want crisp broccoli for a salad or appetizer but don’t want it completely raw. It will actually make the broccoli a deeper, more vibrant shade of green, which is great when you want to impress guests. Giving your broccoli a quick hot bath before you roast or sauté it is also a great idea as it can cut down on cooking times.
To blanche broccoli, start as if you were going to boil them, although make sure to keep a bowl of ice water close at hand. This time, you’re only going to boil the broccoli pieces for about 30 seconds to one minute. Then quickly drain and transfer to the ice water, where they can chill out until you’re ready for them.
How to Steam Broccoli
Steamed broccoli retains its bright green color and tender crunch. It's a delicate cooking method that enhances broccoli's flavor without adding any extra oil. This method is fantastic for people who don’t own any specialty equipment - for other ways to steam broccoli, check out our story How to Steam Broccoli.
- Fill your skillet with about 1/2-inch of water and bring the water to a boil. Make sure you don’t use more water, otherwise the broccoli will boil rather than steam, making for soggy results.
- Add your broccoli to the skillet and cover it with a lid.
- Cook until the broccoli reaches your desired level of tenderness, about 3 to 5 minutes. Test out your broccoli with a fork: the tines should just be able to go into the stems of the broccoli, but it shouldn’t be limp or have a brownish hue.
- Drain the broccoli and season with salt and pepper.
How to Sauté Broccoli
Sautéing broccoli is a great way to infuse this vegetable with a lot of flavor while it's cooking. It’s also one of the ways to avoid eating bitter broccoli, if that’s not quite your thing. Starting with blanched broccoli will help cut back on cook times and also prevent you from having charred broccoli that’s still raw inside.
You want to have good, heavy pan or skillet for this. This is a good time whip out your cast iron if you have it.
- Get the pan nice and hot over medium-high heat until you see little whisps of smoke.
- Then add some oil, butter or even bacon fat.
- Immediately add your broccoli along with any other aromatics you like. Garlic and onions add loads of flavor and also enhance this brassica’s sweetness. Once you get a nice toasty brown color on the broccoli, reduce the heat to medium.
- It’s helpful to splash the pan with a liquid from time to time to prevent burning. This can be some water, but wine, bourbon and soy sauce are great add-ons, too.
- Sprinkle in some salt now. You want there to be salt in the pan while the broccoli is cooking. This will make it so much more flavorful.
- Cover the pan and wait about three to five minutes. Check the broccoli at this point to see if it’s cooked to your liking.
- You can finish your broccoli with another sprinkle of salt, some fresh herbs, and a drizzle of oil or pat of butter.
- Serve and enjoy!
How to Roast Broccoli
Roasting broccoli is perhaps the most hands-off approach to cooking this vegetable. It can free up your stove for making other dishes or simply free up your attention to relax for a bit before dinner’s ready. Moreover, roasting brings out broccoli's best flavors. Blanching the broccoli pieces beforehand will cut down on the cooking time.
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Meanwhile, take out a baking dish. You can use a sheet pan lined with foil or parchment for crispier broccoli or a casserole dish if you want juicier spears or florets. The deeper your baking dish, the more moisture remains in the broccoli, so keep that in mind before you start roasting.
- In a bowl, toss your broccoli with a generous drizzle of oil or melted butter. Add a confident sprinkle of salt and any seasonings you like and toss to evenly coat.
- Transfer the broccoli to your baking dish and spread it out in an even layer. Slide it into the oven and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes. Open the oven and give them a little stir and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until they’re as tender as you like them.