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2.3: Basic Cooking Methods

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    With-in the cooking process, there are three distinct methods in reference to applying heat to food. These are: moist heat cooking, dry heat cooking, and combination cooking

    Understanding the working procedure of each of these methods, will help you to become a better, more confident and successful chef.

    Moist Heat Cooking

    The method of applying heat via hot liquids, associated with:

    1. Poaching,
    2. Simmering,
    3. Boiling,
    4. Blanching
    5. Braising
    6. Steaming

    These cooking methods are most useful when a cook fully understands the relationship of time and temperature. Establishing familiarity with these aspects of the cooking process will immediately improve and enhance one’s ability in the kitchen. The moist heat cooking methods follow with regard to temperature ranges.

    1. Poaching - 160-180 degrees Fahrenheit

    Poaching: to submerge food in a hot liquid at a temperature range of 160-180 degrees Fahrenheit, I like to use the term “gentle poach”. This requires submerging food into a hot liquid of no higher than 180 degrees Fahrenheit, and can be approached by two different methods. Two approaches are applicable: place a food product in a cold liquid, slowly raising the temperature up to 170/degrees, or bring the liquid to a boil then submerge the raw food product into the hot liquid then, immediately remove it from the heat source. Either method works well to cook the product while ultimately maintaining or protecting the quality and integrity of the food. It is important to remember that all proteins coagulate when applied to heat.

    1. Simmering & Stewing - 180-205 degrees Fahrenheit

    Simmering: to submerge a food in a hot liquid within a temperature range of 180-205 degrees, representing a slow to rapid performance result. Simmering is a long and slow cooking method utilized for cooking less tender cuts of meat as in a stew. Subsequently, less tender cuts of meat are most often less expensive. When simmering at the proper temperature one has total control over the cooking process with less evaporation or controlled loss of liquid. Evaporation can be controlled by utilizing a cover on the pot or pan. This method allows for both maximum flavor extraction, and maximum tenderization of a protein.

    Stewing: to sear off in hot fat, then simmer fully submerged in a flavored liquid (stock or broth). Stewing is considered a ‘low and slow’ cooking method, is best prepared in a cassoulet or crock-pot, and is recognized as a combination form of cookery.

    1. Boiling: to submerge a food in a hot liquid at a temperature range of 205-212 degrees. A true boil is not effectively reached until 212/degrees, but for convenience and better control, consider 205 – 210 a gentle boil and 210 – 212 a rapid boil.
    2. Blanching: to cook food quickly submerged in a hot liquid such as boiling water (212 degrees F.) or hot fat. Usually this method is followed by “shocking” a process of halting cooking by submerging the food in an ice water bath. We blanch foods for the following purposes:
    • Speeds up the final cooking process
    • Promotes more even and consistent cooking throughout
    • Enhances color pigmentation
    • Promotes vitamin and nutrient retention
    • Helps to prevent spoilage/extends the shelf life of a product
    • Blanched vegetables can be easier for some people to digest v/s eating raw food
    • Improves flavor - cooked food can taste better than raw food

    Of course, if you were blanching in hot oil as in “French fries”, one would not shock the food afterwards. The process of blanching potatoes in hot oil, removes excess liquid from the potato, prevents oxidization and yields a much crispier fried potato as a result.

    1. Braising: meats and vegetables are seared and browned in hot fat, then simmered in a covered pot or roasting pan with a small amount of liquid. This is referred to as a combination form of cookery. Usually, this method of cookery is reserved for less tender and less expensive cuts of meats. Eye of the round, the cut of beef commonly recommended for braising pot roast is a good example of this application or cooking method. When braising a pot roast the liquid or stock should come half way up the side of the roast. Half way through the cooking process the roast would be turned over. Braising can be done on top of the stove or in the controlled temperature environment of an oven. The latter is the preferred method. However, be sure to bring the liquid to a simmer before placing it in the oven. Long, slow cooking produces the best results with less evaporation and shrinkage. A nominal braising temperature is 300 degrees Fahrenheit for three hours. This of course depends on the cut, weight and size of the meat being braised. The oven braising temperature range is 275 to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
    2. Steaming: one of the hottest cooking mediums available ranging from 212 degrees Fahrenheit and higher. That is why pressure-cooking generally reduces overall cooking times by 2/3rds. This method is also arguably recognized and recommended for maximum vitamin and nutrient retention. Essential dietary vitamin and nutrient values are not washed away during the cooking process. As a word of caution, be very careful when cooking with steam, it is very hot and will burn if the steam is exposed to the skin or flesh of an individual. Never remove the cover of a steamer and look directly into the pot. Be sure to allow the steam to escape prior to inspecting your cooked foods.

    Dry Heat Cooking

    1. Roasting v/s Baking
    2. Pan Roasting
    3. Stove Top Smoking
    4. Spit roasting
    5. Grilling / Barbecuing
    6. Broiling
    7. Griddling
    1. Roasting v/s Baking (300 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit): I always ask this question on day one of my classes while discussing cooking methods. What is the difference between roasting and baking? Often, this question is followed by a long pause and then a few suggestions are offered. However, the answer is quite simple; there is no difference. Both cooking methods are performed in the temperature-controlled environment of an oven. One can low temperature roast or bake and one can high temperature roast or bake. They are both considered dry heat methods of cookery. The only difference is the semantics involved in describing a particular type of food or dish. For example, oven roasted breast of chicken verses baked chicken. Usually, the term roasting refers to meats, poultry, fish, and vegetables and baking refers more to the baking of bread or sweet and savory pastries.
    2. Pan Roasting (350 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit): a common cooking method frequently found on menus across America today. This method requires only a minimal amount of fat. After a food item is seared off (browned) in a hot pan on top of the stove, it is moved to a low or high temperature oven (dependent on the size of the cut) to complete the cooking process.
    3. Stove Top Smoking (200 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit): is yet another dry heat cooking method. This method was traditionally carried out on a backyard BBQ or grill. Today smoking can be done on a grill or the stovetop or in an oven. However, all indoor smoking requires a good ventilation system or exhaust fan. For indoor smoking, soak wood chips in water for thirty minutes prior to using them. Drain them well, pat them dry with paper towel and then scatter them in the bottom of a roasting pan. Insert a wire rack over the wood chips, and then place your meat, fish, poultry or vegetables on the rack. Place a tightly fitting lid on the pan and secure it with aluminum foil. Begin by heating the pan on top of the stove until the wood chips start smoking. Adjust the flame or temperature to produce an even and consistent burn. At this point, the smoking procedure can be finished on top of the stove or in an oven. Due to the fact that this cooking method is so dry, it is recommended that all protein food products be marinated or brined prior to the smoking process. See Brining….
    4. Spit roasting (minimum 300 degrees Fahrenheit): this age-old method occurs by which a food item is skewered, and then placed on a rotisserie device over or next to an indirect flame. The advantages of using this method are uniform cooking throughout and even browning and self- basting. There is nothing more satisfying than a spit roasted chicken, marinated leg of lamb or barbecued pork loin cooked in your own back yard on a rotisserie, above a charcoal grill or a slow burning open pit wood fire…Wow! Brining is also recommended for this method of cookery.
    5. Grilling Verses Barbecuing (350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit): being from the North East this is a frequently asked question: When cooking steaks outdoors on a gas grill am I grilling or barbecuing? Why is it when inviting guests we often say; we are having a backyard barbecue this afternoon would you like to join us? Although similar, there are some very distinct differences between the two cooking methods. Traditional barbecuing is done over rendered molten coals or cindered wood ash, over long periods and best described as a long, ‘low and slow’, methodical cooking process. Thus, fattier less expensive cuts of meat are recommended for this method of cooking.

    Grilling is generally cooking over high heat with charcoal, wood or gas. Items are marked or seared on the outside surface, then most often moved and finished in an oven, as not to over-char the outside surface. Alternately, move your charred foods to a rack raised above the heat source rather than directly over it. Barbecued foods are slow cooked in a low temperature oven or over slow burning coals or wood over a long period, then moved to a grill or broiler for final finishing. Barbecue sauce can be applied by brushing during the final stages of cooking - or served with on the side as an accompaniment.

    1. Broiling (500 to 550 degrees Fahrenheit): can be described as a rapid high heat cooking method achieved by a direct radiant heat source from above. Typically gas or electric broiling can be a very low fat way of cooking due to the fact that very little fat or liquid is required during the cooking process. Marinated foods work well using this direct heat method. Once an item is fully cooked on one side, it is turned over to finish the process on the other side. Broiling is a clean and efficient way to accomplish Maillard enzymatic browning, the toasting of breadcrumbs or melting cheese as in “Gratinee”.
    2. Griddling (250 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit): is accomplished on a flat top temperature controlled surface, referred to as a pancake griddle. The heat source is from the bottom and usually a small amount of fat or vegetable spray is required to prevent sticking. The latest trend is to use a grooved or raised griddle surface that leaves the appearance of open flame grill marks on the foods that are being prepared an in a “Panini” griddle.

    Dry Heat Using Fat

    1. Sautéing
    2. Pan Frying
    3. Deep Fat Frying
    4. Pan Searing
    5. Radiation or Microwaving

    The only distinguishable differences between these cooking methods are the varying amounts of fat required for each. If a recipe is calling for clarified butter, it is ok to use whole butter but oil must be added to raise the smoking point of the butter. I recommend using half butter and half oil. The food product can be placed in the pan when the butter is melted and after it stops foaming.

    1. Sautéing (350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit): to sauté literally means “to jump” referring to the action of the food being toss around or flipped directly in the pan. The sloped shaped sides of the pan help to facilitate this action. This method is achieved by cooking foods on very high heat in small amounts of fat. I recommend about (1-1 ½) ounces of fat in a standard 8” - 10” sauté pan. For the best results, get the pan hot, pour in the oil, followed by the food product. The most important factor when sautéing, is not to overcrowd the pan. NEVER let your proteins touch. Direct contact between proteins results in overcrowding. Overcrowding the pan causes moisture to build up, creating steam, which counteracts browning. Since browning is often the objective when sautéing, then anti-browning becomes counter-productive. Sometimes, meats are dredged in seasoned flour prior to being sautéed to help achieve uniform browning and to thicken a soup, stew, or sauce. This is perfectly acceptable; however never pre-dredge proteins ahead of time, as moisture in the product will make the flour wet and gummy.
    2. Pan Frying or Shallow Fat Frying (325 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit): is accomplished is a shallow straight-sided pan with a moderate amount of fat over moderately high temperature (360) degrees. Pan-frying is recommended when preparing foods such as fish cakes, chicken parts and/or fritters. The proper amount of fat should come half way up the side of the food being fried. If too much fat is used the food product will become buoyant, preventing direct contact with the pan. Contact with the pan produces a brown exterior for which pan-frying is known. The food product is fried on one side, and then it is flipped over to finish cooking it on the other side. If the product being pan-fried is thick, dense, or on the bone, it can be finished in an oven for final cooking throughout.
    3. Deep Fat Frying (350 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit): this cooking method requires that foods be totally submerged in hot fat. Temperature of the fat plays a significant role in the success of deep frying foods. The average temperature range of the oil for fried foods should be between 360 - 375 degrees. It is important to regulate the temperature range of the fat throughout the cooking process or consistency of the cooked product will vary greatly. Never overcrowd the frying basket or pan because doing so will drastically reduce the temperature of the frying oil. Recommended frying oils should have a high smoking point. Vegetable and peanut oils work well for this reason. After frying, oils should be strained, filtered and cooled before being refrigerated.
    4. Pan Searing (400 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit): this method utilizes the least amount fat. Using, a pre-heated hot pan, spray the surface of the pan or the food with a light coating of vegetable oil. Another option may be to utilize a previously marinated product prior to exposing it to the surface of the pan. For example, pan searing may be the method chosen to cook a marinated tuna steak. The tuna steak is removed from the marinade, quickly seared on one side and then flipped over to finish the cooking process on the other side on top of the stove. If a really thick product is used, then it can be moved to a low temperature oven to finish the cooking process to ones desired degree of doneness.
    5. Radiation or Microwaving: is certainly one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. This technology has added a significant convenience to today’s modern kitchen. Small waves of radiant energy motivate the water molecules in the food to move rapidly and flow through the food at an accelerated rate creating friction, which in turn heats and cooks the food product. Thus, dried or dehydrated foods that do not contain water cannot be cooked in a microwave without being rehydrated.

    As with any piece of equipment or appliance, learning how to use the microwave properly is of most importance. One of the biggest benefits of the microwave oven is its ability to speed thaw and defrost frozen foods quickly and safely. Due to the speed of the defrosting process, foods are not exposed to the “Danger Zone” for extended periods before being cooked and served. Some foods respond extremely well to the microwave cooking process, such as steamed vegetables, corn on the cob, (in the husk) and potatoes. Rotating foods during the cooking process helps to cook foods more uniformly and microwaving in multiple short blasts rather than longer uninterrupted cook times is recommended. When reheating foods, they should be covered trapping the steam and moisture for maximum efficiency.

    In terms of power and heat, 700 Watts in a microwave is like cooking at 350 degrees; 800 Watts equates to 450 degrees; 900 Watts equates to 525 degrees (Self clean) 1000 Watts equates to 575 degrees; and 1100 Watts would equal 625 degrees. Note: When using a microwave to thaw food I generally recommend cooking that food item shortly after thawing it to avoid the food being exposed to the danger zone for a prolong time. Remember that microwaving cooks food from the inside out. The inside temperature of the thawed food may be warmer than the outside temperature.

    This page titled 2.3: Basic Cooking Methods is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by William R. Thibodeaux and Jean-Pierre Daigle via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.