One cookbook says to boil broccoli, another says to steam it. Neither method actually makes broccoli taste better. Over the years, the test kitchen has learned which methods work best with specific vegetables. Here's what you need to know about the most common techniques.
Boiling allows you to season the vegetables as they cook (use 1 tablespoon table salt per 4 quarts water). However, it's easy to overcook vegetables when boiling, and this method washes away flavor. Boiled vegetables need further embellishment, such as a compound butter or vinaigrette. Try with nonporous green vegetables, such as green beans or snap peas.
Steaming washes away less flavor than boiling and leaves vegetables crisper. Doesn't allow for seasoning vegetables and only works with small batches (1 pound or less). Try with porous or delicate vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, and cauliflower.
Sautéing allows for the addition of everything from garlic to herbs but requires constant attention and a nonstick pan. Try with peas and zucchini.
Pan-roasting caramelizes natural sugars in vegetables and promotes browning. Doesn't work if the pan is overloaded, and most recipes rely on tight-fitting lid to capture steam and help cook vegetables through. Try with asparagus and broccoli.
Roasting concentrates flavors by driving off excess moisture and makes vegetables crisp. Requires at least 30 minutes (including time to heat the oven). Try this with asparagus, carrots, cauliflower, green beans, and zucchini.
Broiling browns vegetables quickly and deeply. Broilers require constant attention; keep food at least 4 inches from the heating element to prevent flare-ups.
Try this with asparagus and zucchini.
So which techniques do we prefer? Our favorite indoor cooking methods, such as roasting, pan-roasting, and broiling, actually add flavor to the vegetables.