There are various ways to reference broccoli and different ways to present the vegetable. Broccoli spears have numerous benefits for chefs in the kitchen, as they are easier to cook and look more elegant on a dinner plate!
What is a spear of broccoli? A spear of broccoli is a longways slice of the stalk and head. The stalk is the “trunk” of the broccoli, the thick, pale part. The head is the top, with the dark green froth that crowns the vegetable. To make broccoli spears, you have to slice the length of the vegetable and include both parts.
Why Do We Make Broccoli Spears?
There are a few reasons that you might want to make broccoli spears, rather than cutting the broccoli across the top of the stem and just having the floret. Many people are keen to make use of the stem, and broccoli spears are a great alternative to using it in stir fries, cutting it up for vegetable stock, or plunging it into a soup.
The first is that the spears will cook quickly and evenly, because they are roughly the same thickness for their full length. Speedy cooking is always desirable, and can help the vegetable to retain more of its nutrients.
The stem of broccoli cooks more slowly than the florets, so if you want to use much of it, it really helps to be able to cook it more quickly. If you try and cook it in large wedges, you’ll find that the top gets over-cooked and goes mushy, or the stem ends up still raw when the top is done.
By taking only a thin section of the stem, you improve the cooking time and it becomes easier to cook the vegetable evenly and enjoy it.
The second reason is that they look pretty! If you’re bored of cutting broccoli into chunks or florets with a bit of stem beneath the crown, spears make a nice change. It also makes it easier to spread a bit of butter on the stem and enjoy it.
If you’re having a fancy dinner, “broccoli spears” just sounds more exciting, and they can look lovely in a dish, gently steaming and glittering with butter and pepper, or even a sauce.
Less Food Waste
Thirdly, you can more easily make use of the stem. Instead of cutting most of it away so that you just leave enough to hold the green crown together, you can use most of the length, just cutting away the woody end.
The stem of broccoli is as nutritious as the rest (sometimes even more so), so there’s really no reason not to eat it – and indeed, many people actually prefer it to the crown! Throwing it away is a waste of money, and also adds to the continuing problem of high food waste levels in most western households.
Easy To Wash
You may find the spears are easier to wash and get clean than the florets. Because they are one long, reasonably flat shape, you can just rinse them, rather than trying to get underneath the floret and work water into the crevices there. This can make dinner prep a bit faster.
If you are a broccoli fan, there are lots of reasons to consider cooking the stems as well by cutting them into spears rather than florets! You might even find your kids like the idea and are more willing to try the broccoli (although no guarantees!).
How to Cut Broccoli Spears
Start by washing your broccoli thoroughly, as you would with any vegetable. Set it on a cutting board and get a sharp knife. First, assess the stem. If the end is woody and unappealing, cut off the bottom inch or so, until you are satisfied with the texture. Discard this part.
Next, cut your broccoli in half lengthwise, so you are cutting from the crown to the stem. This will make the rounded vegetable easier to work with. Set one half to the side, and put the other half in front of you on the board, with the flat edge down so you have a stable cutting surface.
Work from one edge, slicing from the crown to the bottom of the stem. Aim to produce reasonably even spears. The green tops will be thicker, but the stems should be the same thickness. Even spears will cook better as they will all be ready at the same time, and they will also look nicer if you’re going for good presentation.
As you get near to the middle of the halved broccoli, you’ll notice them getting wider. That’s fine; you can simply cut these into halves or even thirds when you’ve finished cutting, so they all end up approximately the same size.
Do the same on the other half of the broccoli, and even up any spears that have ended up too big.
How to Cook Broccoli Spears
You can cook these spears in the same way that you would cook broccoli florets. Many people boil them, but you can also steam them; because they are nice and thin, they should not take too long.
To steam them, simply tip them into a steaming pan and add boiling water to the pan below. Set a lid on top of them, and bring the pan to a low boil. Check every so often to make sure there is still water below.
How long they take will depend on how large the spears are, but it’s easy to check whether they are ready. Simply take a fork and gently stab it into the stem of one of the thickest pieces. If it pierces the stem easily, the spears are cooked. If it’s tough, they need longer.
You can use the same method for boiling them; just put them in the lower pan instead of in the steamer. Many people prefer steamed broccoli and it is thought to retain more nutrients because they haven’t soaked into the water, but you can do whichever you prefer. Steaming does take longer, so allow more time if you are planning to steam your spears.
Broccoli spears are a great way to make use of the broccoli stem instead of wasting it or trying to use it up in another meal. They also look and sound fancy, and contain as many, or possibly more, nutrients than the florets – lots of reasons for these green stems to hit your dinner table!