Perfect pan-fried broccoli

April 28, 2006 at 9:07 am (B plus (3.5 stars, like a lot), Cook's Illustrated, Cruciferous rich, Derek's faves, Monthly menu plan: dinner, Quick weeknight recipe, Vegetable dishes)

I’ve always loved broccoli, but often when I cook it, it turns out either overcooked, undercooked, or unevenly cooked. A recent recipe from Cook’s Illustrated on how to pan-fry broccoli had a number of suggestions, which made my broccoli excellent the vast majority of the time. This is a variant of that recipe. When I was a kid I always wanted to just eat the florets, and left the stems on the plate, but with this recipe the stems are actually the best part! This recipe yields bright green, succulent florets and toasty-brown caramelized stems tasty enough to be eaten with just a little salt and pepper. I think one thing that really helps is adding the salt to water, then using the salted water to steam the broccoli by putting the lid on briefly. It lets the salt penetrate more completely and more evenly through the broccoli, flavoring it more deeply.

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 1 3/4 – 2 pounds broccoli (about 2 medium bunches) florets
  • 1 to 2 Tbs. garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp. table salt (heaping if you like a lot of salt)
  • 1/8 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional, or use 1/4 tsp. for less spicy)
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil


  1. Prep your broccoli and garlic in advance. Cut broccoli into 1 1/2-inch pieces, stems trimmed and cut on bias into 1/4-inch-thick slices or “flowers” about 1 1/2 inches long (about 5 cups florets and 3 cup stems). If your broccoli stalks are especially thick, split them in half lengthwise before slicing. Let your broccoli sit as long as you can before cooking it—ideally at least 40 to 90 minutes, in order to increase the levels of the cancer-fighting sulforaphane. If you can’t cut your broccoli in advance you can sprinkle on a little mustard powder to provide the enzyme that builds sulforaphane.
  2. Mince your garlic and ideally let it stand for about 10 to 15 minutes to develop the maximum amount of garlic flavor (and allicin). If you let your garlic sit for too long then that the garlic flavor will get very strong and possibly even bitter.
  3. Stir water, salt, and pepper together in a small bowl until salt dissolves; set aside.
  4. In a 12-inch stainless steel skillet with a tight-fitting lid, heat oil over medium-high heat until the oil is very hot. Add broccoli stems and cook, without stirring, until browned on bottoms, about 5 minutes. Add florets, red pepper flakes, and garlic to skillet and toss to combine; cook, without stirring, until bottoms of florets just begin to brown, 1 to 2 minutes longer.
  5. Add water mixture and immediately cover skillet; cook until broccoli is bright green but still crisp, about 2 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook until water has evaporated, broccoli stems are tender, and florets are tender-crisp, about 2 minutes more.

My notes:

Rating: B+

We most often eat this broccoli for dinner along with scrambled tofu and either brown rice or quinoa.

I like the broccoli by itself as a side dish, and also mixed with pasta for a tasty lunch or dinner. When mixing the broccoli with pasta, I use 5 ounces dry pasta, undercook it slightly, then throw it in the pan with the broccoli for the last two minutes when the lid is removed. At this point, I remove the pan from the heat, and sometimes add in another tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or some toasted sesame oil mixed with a few teaspoons soy sauce or ume plum vinegar. This makes about 4 two-cup servings.

After a few days in the fridge the broccoli and pasta started to become slightly sulfurous tasting, and ironically somewhat bland. I sautéed up 1 bunch of collard greens in 1 Tbs. olive oil, then threw in 1/4 tsp. salt in 1 Tbs. water, and cooked until bright green, then mixed this with 2 servings of the pasta and broccoli and it was excellent. The collard stems are very slightly bitter and crisp, and the greens add an elusive, almost tangy quality. A delicious combination.

Nutritional info for 1/4 of recipe (not including pasta):

It’s 15% protein, 38% carbs, and 47% fat.

Calories 126
Total Fat 7.4g
Saturated Fat 0.9g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 202mg
Carbohydrate 13.4g
Dietary Fiber 5g
Sugars 3.2g
Protein 5.5g
Vitamin A 26% Vitamin C 280%
Calcium 9% Iron 9%


  1. Fried brocoli | Jaxhomeadvanta said,

    […] Perfect pan-fried broccoli « The captious vegetarianApr 28, 2006 … A recent recipe from Cook’s Illustrated on how to pan-fry broccoli had a number of suggestions, which made my broccoli excellent the vast … […]

  2. Broccoli salad with ginger vinaigrette | The captious vegetarian said,

    […] but I have surprisingly few easy broccoli recipes. My two standbys are sesame broccoli and pan-fried broccoli with garlic, but I’d love a nice easy recipe for broccoli salad. I still remember a delicious salad made […]

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