You may not be able to boil an egg, but you probably (hopefully) know that you can’t steam sweet potato fries or simmer cupcakes. Many cooking methods only work with certain types of foods, and you won’t get the outcome you’re after if you don’t know which is which. Here are six basic cooking techniques you won’t get through life without, even if you never turn into the next Julia Child (who, by the way, didn’t start cooking until she was married).
Assuming you know how to boil something (liquid, dash of salt if it’s water, heat, lots of bubbles, possible overflow if you don’t keep your eye on it), blanching is the natural next step. When you blanch something, you par-cook it and then put it in a water bath to stop the cooking process. This is similar to when you make a soft boiled egg – you put it in a water bath so it stays soft boiled instead of cooking through because of how hot it is. People will par-cook a food if they want to finish cooking it later. For example, if you make baked macaroni, you’d par-cook it so it’s almost tender, and then it would finish cooking once you put it in the oven to bake.
Broiling is somewhat like grilling, except instead of the heat coming from below, it comes from the top (which is why your broiler is at the top of your oven). There should be a setting for “Broil” on your oven, but there’s no specific temperature. It doesn’t take long for food to broil and you’ll want to carefully watch whatever you’re cooking so that it doesn’t burn. When would you broil something? After baking lasagna, you can pop it in the broiler to get the cheese crispy brown, for example.
Love eggs benedict? You don’t have to wait until Sunday brunch to eat them if you learn how to poach an egg (just forgo the Hollandaise sauce, it’s a pain to make). In order to poach something, you have to completely submerge it in liquid, and the liquid has to be somewhere between 160 and 180 degrees. The food will stay in the liquid until it’s cooked through and it should be tender to the touch.
To simmer your next sauce, put it in a liquid in a pot and place it on the stovetop. Keep the heat on low and you should eventually see small bubbles on the surface. Some people prefer to bring certain things up to a boil before turning it down to simmer – this is a common way to make Italian sauce.
Before you can braise, you have to sauté or sear the food. Then, you simmer it in a liquid until it’s tender – this step usually takes a long time, depending on what you’re cooking. Pot roasts and poultry are often braised. Does this kind of sound like making a stew? It kind of is – stewing is a bit different because smaller ingredients are used and they remain in the liquid. When you braise, the food may be coated in a liquid, like sauce, but it’s not necessarily served in it.
The easiest way to cook with steam is to use a steaming basket – the food sits in the basket, covered by a top, and the whole thing is placed on top of another pot that has water in it (then turn the heat on, of course). Steaming food is the healthiest way to cook vegetables, but if you let them steam too long, you could end up with too-soft veggies (like spinach that feels like wet tissue or mushy carrots). Also, if the heat is set too high, the water in the bottom pan could boil over.
Knowing the essential techniques helps to demistify common recipes and give you a shot at cooking something new and interesting. No, we didn’t explain how to toast. Hopefully you’re already a toasting master.
Judy Long is a professional is a professional blogger that shares advice on healthy cooking for your family. She writes for RecipeChart.com, where you can find a large selection of delicious recipes.
Category: Home and Garden