How to Freeze Chard
The best time to enjoy chard (sometimes called Swiss chard) is spring and summer, when the plant is at peak availability and most affordable. But you don't have to limit your chard consumption to that window. You can preserve these hardy, healthy greens by freezing them. So, to enjoy chard beyond its prime season, read on to find out how to freeze chard and what recipes to use it in after you've pulled it from your freezer.
How to wash and prep chard before freezing
Fresh chard only lasts in the fridge for around a week, much like spinach, so you'll want to preserve the leaves soon after you buy them. To preserve fresh chard for freezing, wash the greens first, like you would when cooking chard. Be sure to rinse the leaves thoroughly to remove any dirt, debris and insects, and use cold water to prevent premature wilting. Pat dry with cloth or paper towels, or take the leaves for a ride in a salad spinner to remove the excess moisture.
Give the chard a rough chop after rinsing and drying. You can also separate the leaves from the stems, if you like. Since chard stems are tougher than the leaves, they take a few extra minutes to cook. Many people cook the sliced stems and the leaves separately, but if you don't mind the extra crunch of a stem, leave the stem intact and chop the whole leaves up. When using both leaves and stems in the same dish, you may want to start cooking the stems first, then add the leaves a few minutes later.
There are two simple ways to separate the stems from the leaves. Cut off and discard the end of the stem, then separate the leaf from the remaining stem by holding the base of the stem, grasping the leaf at its base and pulling gently upward. Alternatively, you can remove the leaf from the stem by using a knife to slice the leaf along the stem. Then, cut the stems into pieces about 1/4-inch thick and toss them together with roughly chopped leaves, or keep them separate, if desired.
What is blanching, and why blanch chard before freezing?
One imperative step when freezing vegetables is to blanch them: "Blanching is used to firm the flesh … and to heighten and set the color and flavor (as with vegetables before freezing)," according to the Food Lover's Companion by Herbst and Herbst. They define blanching as:
"[Plunging] food into boiling water briefly, then into cold water to stop the cooking process." Immersing vegetables into a cold-water bath to halt cooking is called shocking.
While blanching is an extra step, it is well worth the effort because it helps retain the chard's natural flavor, color and texture. Freezing chard without blanching results in faded greens with off flavor and texture.
Generally, chard has an earthy and pleasantly bitter flavor (more like spinach than kale) that lessens as the leaves are cooked, giving them a milder and sweeter flavor. The stems tend to have a slightly more earthy flavor, reminiscent of beets.
The extent of blanching is dependent on your taste preference. If you prefer your greens to retain their raw and uncooked taste, you could blanch for 30 seconds. If you love the cooked flavor, blanch for up to two minutes (three minutes when including the chard stems), but don't overdo it. Blanching the greens for too long will leave them overcooked, and no one wants mushy, slimy thawed greens.
How to blanch chard before freezing
- Set a large pot of water to boil and prepare a cold-water bath
- When the water is boiling, use tongs to immerse the chard in the water. Work in batches to ensure the water stays boiling.
- After 30 seconds to three minutes, depending on your preference, transfer the chard to the cold-water bath to shock the leaves, stopping them from cooking. Leave the greens in the bowl until cool, two to three minutes.
- Drain the chard thoroughly and squeeze out the excess water with your hands. Pat dry with cloth or paper towels and/or spin dry using a salad spinner.
Keep in mind that excess water will create a layer of ice crystals on the surface of the greens that can lead to unpleasant flavor and textural changes. So make sure you dry the blanched greens as thoroughly as possible before freezing.
How to store chard in the freezer
To prepare the blanched chard for freezing, you may do large or small batches.
For large batches, place the chard In vacuum-sealed bags or zip-top freezer bags, pressing out as much air as possible before sealing, or in glass or plastic airtight containers.
Some people like to freeze chard in smaller quantities, packing the blanched greens in small portions in ice cube trays. Once frozen, remove them from the tray and place them in vacuum-sealed or airtight freezer-safe bags or containers.
Using airtight, sealable containers with as much air removed as possible helps avoid freezer burn which ruins the quality of the leaves. When stored properly, frozen chard can last 6 to 12 months in the freezer.
How to defrost chard
Frozen chard is great for soups and stews, where you can skip the extra step of thawing by placing the frozen greens directly into the pot, slow cooker or Instant Pot. You may want to thaw the chard ahead of time before using in dishes like frittatas and tortillas. All you have to do is get the number of desired cubes from your frozen stash and defrost them in a small container in the refrigerator.
If you have a frozen bag of leaves, you can also place the bag in the fridge for thawing. Thawed leaves should be consumed within a few days.
The key to enjoying delicious chard all year round is following the proper steps for blanching, freezing and thawing. Check out our recipe collection to find out how you can enjoy chard whatever the season.