Step by Step: Canning fruits and veggies

May 10, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Canning today has taken on a rather refined role in a west suburban restaurant named one of the best in the country.

It is probably not what comes to mind when you think of canning -- gourmet, sophisticated and served at a Michelin-star restaurant? That's exactly what award-winning chef Paul Virant says canning can be.

"Anything I think you make, you capture at its peak in anticipation of what it's going to be like when you open it up," Virant said. "That's the passion of why I really got into it."

Dubbed by the Chicago Sun-Times as The Jar Star, Chef Virant cans with a passion. The storage room is stocked at his Western Springs restaurant, Vie, where they often serve dishes paired with his own pickled vegetables. And Chef Virant agreed to take us behind the scenes into his kitchen. Whether it's tomatoes, strawberries or asparagus, he says you too can can like a pro.

The first step, whatever vegetables you choose, you wash them, then trim. And for asparagus, you blanch it in boiling water.

Next, Chef Virant says the glass jars have to be heated up.

"You want to heat up the jar because when you add the hot brine, you want to temper the glass so it doesn't break," he said.

Once the jars are hot and sterilized, you pack in the asparagus. Add your spices.

And then comes the brine.

"The brine typically will be vinegar, water salt, sugar," Virant said.

Important to remember, tighten the jar only finger tight.

"Because when you put the jar into the water bath, you want the opportunity for air to escape from the jar," Virant said.

A water bath is literally the jars sitting in boiling water. Make sure it's covered by about an inch of water. The length of time depends on the size of the jar.

"If it seals properly, you have a shelf-stable jar you can keep at room temperature," Virant said.

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