A vegetable is said to be done when it has reached the desired degree of tenderness. This stage varies from vegetable to vegetable. Some, such as winter squash, eggplant, and braised celery, are considered properly cooked when they are quite soft. Most vegetables, however, are best cooked very briefly, until they are crisp-tender or al dente (firm to the bite). At this stage of tenderness, they not only have the most pleasing texture but also retain maximum flavor, color, and nutrients.

uidelines for Achieving Proper Doneness in Vegetables

1. Don't overcook.

2. Cook as close to service as possible. Holding vegetables in a steam table continues to cook them.

3. If vegetables must be cooked in advance, slightly undercook them, cool rapidly in cold water, drain, and refrigerate, then reheat to order.

4. For uniform doneness, cut vegetables into pieces of uniform size before cooking.

5. Vegetables with both tough and tender parts need special treatment so the tender parts are not overcooked by the time the tougher parts are done. For example,

Peel the woody stalks of asparagus.

Peel or split broccoli stalks.

Pierce the base of brussels sprouts with a sharp knife. Remove the heavy center stalks of lettuce leaves before braising.

6. Don't mix batches of cooked vegetables. They are likely to be cooked to slightly different levels of doneness.

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