Canned vegetables are a cooking staples for many recipes, but should you drain or rinse them before you add them to dishes?
Open, pour, heat—or is it open, drain, pour, heat? This is the million-dollar question when it comes to using canned vegetables.
A staple pantry item in most homes, canning foods dates back to the early 1800s and remains one of the best preservation methods of fresh ingredients. And while some fine-dining chefs may poo-poo the use of canned vegetables in their kitchens, the truth is they will always deserve a seat at the dinner table.
“As a kid growing up in the American South, canned foods were a very important component in dishes,” says celebrity chef Art Smith, who has several restaurants in the South, including Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ at Disney Springs in Orlando. “We had beautiful vegetable gardens, but many canned foods were still used. What is a delicious corn pudding without cream corn and whole kernel corn, washed to help with the salt reduction?”
In fact, in Chef Smith’s restaurants across the country, every hummingbird cake relies on canned pineapple, and every hummus has canned chickpeas.
“The American family had a sense of survival, and canned foods kept that philosophy alive,” says Smith. “I believe the love of canned foods is not only about affordability, but just as much about taste and nostalgia.”
When Should You Drain Canned Vegetables?
The short answer is: more often than not.
“When using canned vegetables, you typically will want to and should drain the vegetables from their brine before using them,” says Chef Matt Bolus of The 404 Kitchen in Nashville. “The canning liquid is made of salt and preservatives. Introducing those ingredients—particularly in unknown amounts—to your recipe will throw off all your other seasonings and could very easily water your recipe down.”
Chef Smith agrees: “Rinsing the vegetables helps to reduce the sodium and makes it easier to balance the salt in a dish.”
Indeed, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that draining and rinsing canned vegetables can reduce the sodium content by 5 to 10 percent.
When Not To Drain Canned Vegetables
For some applications however, Bolus finds the liquid to be very useful. “For instance, the liquid in canned beans, say kidney or black beans, could help thicken the consistency of the final dish which can be a great thing,” he says. “And the liquid in canned tomatoes could help thin out a thicker pot of chili as well as add a touch more acid to the dish helping bring out more flavors and balance.”
And if you aren’t worried about your sodium intake and are just heating up the vegetables on their own as a side dish (not to be incorporated as an ingredient in a larger dish), then rinsing might not matter much either.
How To Drain Canned Vegetables
Simply open up the can, and use the lid to block the contents while draining out the liquid (or you can use a sieve or colander if you prefer and don’t mind an extra dish to wash). There’s no need to rinse them after draining, however, because as Bolus says, the residual liquid left will not be enough to affect your recipe.
“Some canned vegetables become fragile in the canning process from both the ingredients in the brine liquid as well as from the high heat required to can them,” says Bolus. “If you get too aggressive with them when rinsing, you risk them just being torn to pieces.” French green beans are a good example of an ingredient that should be drained delicately.
Can You Use the Drained Liquid for Anything?
The liquid of one canned vegetable in particular can be used for other purposes. “The liquid from canned chickpeas can be saved and whipped into a vegan meringue-style topping,” says Bolus. It’s a well-known secret in vegan baking that chickpea water, or aquafaba, is an excellent stand-in for egg whites.
Beyond that, most canned vegetable liquid won’t be useful, so you can drain it right into your sink.
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Read the original article on Southern Living.