Watch the Water, Time, and Sauce

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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Dulling of the greens can be minimized by keeping cooking times short, between five and seven minutes, and protecting chlorophyll from acid conditions. Stir-frying and microwaving can be very quick, but they expose chlorophyll fully to the cells’ own acids. Ordinary boiling in copious water has the advantage of diluting the cells’ acids. Most city tap water is kept slightly alkaline to minimize pipe corrosion, and slightly alkaline water is ideal for preserving chlorophyll’s color. Check the pH of your water: if it’s acid, its pH below 7, then experiment with adding small amounts of baking soda (start with a small pinch per gallon/4 liters) to adjust it to neutral or slightly alkaline. Once the vegetables are cooked, either serve them immediately or plunge them briefly in ice water so that they don’t continue to cook and get dull. Don’t dress the vegetables with acidic ingredients like lemon juice until the last minute, and consider protecting them first with a thin layer of oil (as in a vinaigrette) or butter.