QUESTION: I’m harvesting a lot of Swiss chard. Can I freeze Swiss chard without blanching? -Cam S.
ANSWER: The reason people usually blanch leafy greens before freezing them is to stop the action of enzymes inside the leaves that can make the greens bitter if they’re frozen without taking the time to blanch them. Blanching also preserves the nutrients inside of chard, keeping the greens just as healthy and fortifying as when they went into the freezer. However, if you don’t mind the loss of some nutrients, it’s possible that your greens won’t turn bitter in the freezer as long as they’re only stored frozen for a short while.
This is a hit or miss scenario that you can’t rely on, though, so if you do choose to freeze Swiss chard without blanching it first, make sure to taste the greens before you prepare and serve them, because they might have become too bitter to be enjoyed. Because of the risk of bitterness and nutrient loss if you don’t blanch, and seeing as how blanching literally takes just a few minutes, it’s really best to blanch before freezing. Here’s how to do it.
For the healthiest greens that retain the most garden-fresh nutrition possible, you should strive to freeze your Swiss chard within six hours of harvesting it. Begin by washing the leaves carefully to remove dirt, insects, and anything else that may have hitched a ride into your kitchen from the garden. Some people like to let their greens soak in the cool water for 10 minutes or longer before they begin cleaning the leaves, but whether or not you take this step is a matter of personal preference.
You can fill a large bowl with cool water, run the faucet over a colander with the chard inside, or use the stopper to plug the basin of your kitchen sink and fill it up with water. Then spend some time cleaning each leaf individually, examining the little crevices of the stem and the crannies in each leaf that can hide gunk to make sure they’re really clean. Do this gently so you don’t bruise or otherwise damage your tasty homegrown chard.
While you’re washing your chard, take the opportunity to separate the leaves from the stems. Just use a knife or kitchen shears to clip the stem away from the leaves. Then chop the leaves however you usually prep them for cooking. This is really up to each individual’s preference and how the chard is likely to be prepared later on.
You can do a rough chop, slice leaves into halves or quarters, or use the chiffonade technique to slice the chard into thin ribbons. For a chiffonade, just stack the greens on top of one another and roll them into a cigar shape, then slice thinly to make pretty, delicate narrow strips that will cook quickly and evenly. As an added bonus, your dinner guests won’t find themselves chasing the last bite or two of chard that’s been sliced in a chiffonade around their plates trying to pile it onto their eating utensil, because the thin ribbons of greens are just as easy to twirl around a fork as spaghetti noodles.
The stems of chard are edible, so you can save them and prepare them, too. However, the thicker stems will take longer to cook than the more delicate leaves—so most people don’t cook them at the same time and prepare them using different methods. That’s why we recommend you remove the stems before freezing the chard, and store the stems in a container separate from the leaves.
If you do plan to blanch your chard before freezing it, your next step will be to bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Use a genuinely large pot like a stockpot, not something medium large-ish like a saucepan, because blanching happens very quickly and relies on plenty of boiling water surrounding the vegetables. Before you add any greens to the water, also prepare a big bowl of water chilled by two or three cups of ice cubes, and set this ice bath aside near where you’ll be working.
Now it’s time to add the chard to the boiling water. If you’re blanching more than four cups of Swiss chard at a time, you’ll need to do this in batches, because attempting to blanch more than four cups of greens at once won’t give you optimal results as the leaves will be overcrowded. You’ll also need to blanch the leaves separately from the stems.
Set a kitchen timer for two minutes—that’s all the time the chard leaves need in the boiling water. When the two minutes are up, use a slotted spoon to remove the chard leaves from the boiling water and transfer them to the ice bath you got ready earlier. Leave the leaves to soak in the ice water for two more minutes, then use a salad spinner, colander, paper towels, or a dish towel to dry the greens before moving on. The stems of the chard need to stay in the boiling water and the ice water bath for three minutes each instead of two. Remember to keep the stems and leaves separate when you remove them from the ice water to dry.
Next, get ready to freeze your greens by separating them into portion-sized batches. You know best what will work for you and your routine. An individual who cooks for themselves may want one-cup servings, while a chef with a big family might want some batches that are three or four cups for those times you need to make a big mess of greens. Squeeze each serving with your hand to remove any extra water and form the portion into a more solid mass.
Lay the servings on a cookie sheet, without touching, and freeze them for an hour or two so they’ll stay together in their portions and won’t stick to one another. Then you can transfer them to your long-term storage container, whether that’s a freezer safe plastic zipper bag or a plastic food storage container. Label the containers with what’s inside and the date—for the best chard, you should thaw and prepare blanched greens within 10 to 12 months. Chard that isn’t blanched before it’s frozen has a much shorter expiration date, topping out at about four weeks.