It has happened to all of us. We buy a head of celery, throw it in the crisper (how ironic), forget, or just neglect, to use it, and, when we decide to make some chicken salad — we love some celery in our chicken salad — we discover the celery is limp, rubbery, and saggy. Can it be rescued and brought back to it’s former crispy state?
The answer is YES! Sure it can! Limp celery is not really bad, it’s just a bit dehydrated, and some other vegetables, it can be brought re-crisped. The procedure is simple. But wait. Do you think there is a difference in the taste of limp celery and crisp celery? Well, there’s not! Both limp and crisp celery have the same flavor compounds and our taste buds detect them the same way. But, the texture of a food makes a difference to our flavor experience. We will tend to experience that chewy and dried out texture as not tasting as good as a piece of celery that has a good snap. Flavor is complicated.
How to Re-Crisp Limp Celery
The procedure for getting limp celery crisp again is similar to how you freshen up some wilted flowers. If the celery sticks are still on the head, cut the bottom off and separate them. If they are already removed, trim the bottom part off each piece of celery. Then, stand them up in a bowl of cold water. Many cookbooks advice ice cold water but this is not necessary. Perhaps they are mixing up the procedure for shocking vegetables (after blanching) with crisping limp celery. And, you do not need to fully soak the celery in the water: Just the ends will do. Other vegetables, including asparagus, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, or even spinach, can be treated the same way to get them hydrated again after going limp. Remember, your vegetables are still respiring. The reason they go limp is because they have used up their water. Therefore, all they need to spring back is water! Now, many cookbooks recommend to put a few slices of raw potato in with the celery water. I do not know the reason for this, unless it has to do with the starches in the potato. You could sprinkle a bit of sugar in the water, as well, just like you might for flowers. Of course, the obvious question is how could we have stored the celery to keep it crisp for longer?
How to Store Celery to Keep It Crisp Longer
There are several different ways that you can store celery to prolong its crispness. Since we’ve just talked about crisping up celery by putting into water, then, does that mean we can keep it crisp by storing it in water? Well, yes. You can cut the bottoms of sticks of celery and place them end down into a glass of water, or whatever you have that is large enough. Then you can place a plastic bag over the top (like a big Ziploc bag), and place the whole shebang into the fridge. That works. At least it worked for me. But, man, it is one heck of an inconvenient way to store celery. You have to keep it on a shelf with a lot of head-space, and it’s like having a potted plant with sloshy water in your fridge, right there in the way all the time. Not convenient. So, there are some better ways.
First of all, celery will stay crisp longer if you remove the sticks from the root and trim off any green leafy parts (save them in the freezer for stocks, if you want). Then, any old way you store them they will still last longer. However, many people have reported, including many cookbooks and cooking tip books, that wrapping the celery sticks in aluminum foil, rather than keeping them in a plastic bag, will keep them crisper for longer. Gearing up for this post, I tried the aluminum foil method, and a special rectangular container meant for storing celery. Both methods worked well, and the celery stayed fairly crisp for about 12 days (I think that’s pretty darn good). Don’t ask me why I have the celery storage thing. It’s in my house for some reason so I use it sometimes. But, it takes up too much room in the fridge. I have a vintage Tupperware celery and vegetable keeper, shown below (Jadite Green!). It does work well and you can buy modern versions of like the Tupperware 3-Piece FridgeSmart Set.
Other similar products are on the market, and they all probably work. However, the quality of the plastic is suspect. The Tupperware product I show above is decades old and the lid still fits perfectly.
Storing Celery in Water
Despite the inconvenience of the water storage method, and all the products on the market, let’s not leave the keeping in water idea behind yet. There is another solution that does not take up too much room in the fridge. Keeping the head of celery intact, slice a thin layer off the base of the root. This is done to expose some cells so that the root can take up water. Now, dampen a couple of layers of paper towels and wrap the paper towels around the based of the head of celery. The place the paper towel wrapped celery into a plastic bag — the one the celery came in will probably do fine. The celery will take up the water from the paper towels, and stay crisp. You can do this, as well, with individual sticks but in that case I’d recommend placing a rubber band around the sticks to keep them in a compact group so it is easier to wrap the paper towels around the base. Check the towels for dampness periodically and replace as needed. This method will probably also work for asparagus, but I’ve never actually tried it (yet). Asparagus, however, is a bit less inconvenient to keep in water than celery is, and you may even be able to fit them into a coffee mug.
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