An Underrated, Exceedingly Delicious Way to Cook Broccoli

March 14, 2018

We've partnered with Miele for a special edition of our Change the Way You Cook series, all about the power of a simple, essential technique: steaming.

Growing up, there weren't many rules when it came to dinner. All three of us kids had to sit down and eat the prescribed meal, but in terms of what that meal consisted of, my busy parents had a bare-bones schematic: some protein, some starch, and something green. That something green was normally asparagus, green beans, spinach, zucchini, or, on lucky nights, broccoli. All had been steamed to the point of no return in the microwave and were free of salt, spice, fat, and flavor. (Let it be known that my mom has been seen munching on undressed, uncut Romaine in times of particular green scarcity.)

So whether it was an act of rebellion or a sign of the times (I was learning to cook when roasting was just becoming the rage), I turned to my oven—not to the microwave—as the avenue to my "something green" as soon as I got a kitchen of my own.

Broccoli steamed to perfection using a steam oven. Photo by Julia Gartland

In the past five years, I've made and eaten a ghastly quantity of roasted broccoli (with Parmesan, lemon, and pine nuts, with garlic and tahini, with nacho toppings). But after so much time over-salting, over-oiling, and over-heating to the point of near incineration, I miss the springy simplicity of steamed broccoli.

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It's sweeter and more purely vegetal than its roasted counterparts, with a structure that merits some chewing. I'll go out on a limb and call steamed broccoli refreshing. Now, my version isn't as austere as my parents': I'm careful not to over-steam—I aim for bright-green and far from mushy—and I love to toss it with an assertive dressing. Because the florets are full and open, rather than shriveled and singed, each one is like a little sponge, ready to absorb anything you drizzle or dip. And without the distraction of any rich caramelization (those are words I never thought I'd write!), steamed broccoli is an ideal vehicle for any sauce that's good enough to drink.

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Top Comment:
“One way I did not see you mention to cook broccoli is... wait for it…deep frying. Honestly it’s really good that way. Dip the florets in a tempura batter and drop into hot grease, like the old Fry Daddy. When it pops to the top a golden brown, remove and let drain on paper towels. The taste is completely unexpected and absolutely delicious. ”
— Paul H.

Let's hear it for steamed broccoli! But raw broccoli, both squeaky and hairy? It'll take me a long while before I'm ever singing its praises.

A few steamed broccoli pointers:

  1. Cut your broccoli into even-sized florets so that all of the pieces cook at the same rate.
  2. For crisp-tender broccoli that still has a firm core, start with 4 to 6 minutes of steaming. For cooked-through florets, the time might be closer to 8 (or even 10) minutes. (If you do overcook the broccoli, you can always turn it into soup or broccoli cooked forever, since you're already halfway there.)
  3. When deciding how to dress your broccoli, it's nice to add some crunch (like toasted nuts or olive oil-fried panko), punch (from capers, anchovies, lemon juice, or vinegar), and sweetness (from raisins or currants or even chopped dates). I like Joshua McFadden's Caper-Raisin Vinaigrette from his book Six Seasons because it achieves all three in one dressing.

Dress to impress:

Are you a roasted or steamed broccoli person? Make your case in the comments below.

We've partnered with Miele to highlight one of our favorite wholesome, fast, and simple cooking techniques: steaming! Ready to make it even faster and easier? Miele's steam ovens can do it all for you with the touch of a button.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Pamela B. July 25, 2023
I am with you! I roast every vegetable under the sun, including kale for chips, but not broccoli. It tastes so much better steamed. I usually make Andrew Weil's broccoli with olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes, but I am going to try this recipe.
Ariel K. May 25, 2019
I just steamed broccoli, and added red pepper flakes. Wow, it's great. Here in Mexico, I get the freshest broccoli that is so sweet and wonderful. I just love it, and eat it all the time.
Paul H. May 24, 2019
I have found that if you steam it in the microwave, you can stop the microwave after just a few minutes and let it steam on its own without getting it so soggy. It will continue to cook but will not become mushy.

One way I did not see you mention to cook broccoli is... wait for it…deep frying. Honestly it’s really good that way. Dip the florets in a tempura batter and drop into hot grease, like the old Fry Daddy. When it pops to the top a golden brown, remove and let drain on paper towels. The taste is completely unexpected and absolutely delicious.
Caralyn H. May 24, 2019
I like broccoli, steamed, stir fried, roasted, in soups, and raw. I do not like feeling I'm eating the whole "tree." There was a cafe I frequented when I worked. They steamed the broccoli, but they steamed the entire branch, just barely cutting off the end. It was way too much for me.
Stephanie R. April 5, 2018
Steamed broccoli drizzled with brown butter is my favorite.
manykittiesmama March 14, 2018
Perfect timing for this recipe. I steamed tonight’s broccoli in my Miele steam oven, while a cherry slab pie was baking in my Miele speed oven, & a chicken was roasting in my Miele 36” Dual Fuel range. Love my Miele appliances!
MMH March 14, 2018
I steam mine in my steamer. My magic moment is 7 min. I serve it like my favorite Greek restaurant - with a drizzle of olive oil & a squirt of lemon.
AntoniaJames March 14, 2018
You can also steam broccoli in a large skillet, no extra equipment needed. Put 1/2 cup water with a big pinch of salt in skillet; turn heat on high; add broccoli and too gently in the salted water in pan. Cover tightly, cook for 2 - 3 minutes, remove lid, and check to see if it's tender; cover and cook for another minute or two if it's not. Serve with tahini sauce, or a quick Momofuku-style blend of fish sauce, brown sugar and lime juice, or pomegranate molasses, mustard and a touch of olive oil (I cook the latter 2 "sauces" in the pan for about 15 seconds, flipping the broccoli over to coat, before serving.) ;o)
AntoniaJames March 14, 2018
That should be "toss gently." ;o)
Greenstuff March 15, 2018
That's my method! It's the perfect use for my generations-old set of Revereware skillets. They're too thin for frying but perfect for skillet-steaming.