Each food reacts differently to different cooking methods. You may boil a stew with impunity, but you can’t do it with a beef steak. Learn the appropriate cooking method for each kind of food, and you’ll ne as adept as any chef. What’s more, once you understand the principles involved, you’ll be able to vary the taste and appearance of dishes.
Braising consists of first searing the meat on all sides to form a crust. Once this is done, take the meat out of the casserole, pour off the fat, and deglaze by pouring enough liquid into the casserole to reach half way up the meat. Put the meat back, cover, and simmer slowly. Be careful not to let the liquid boil or simmer to energetically. A gentle steam will envelope the meal. Turn the meat frequently so that all the sides take a turn in the cooking liquid. Over cooking makes for even braising, although you can do it on top of the stove if you have a casserole with a thick bottom.
Steaming is done in a form of double boiler that has the top half perforated with large holes, so that the food can be steamed rather than boiled. The cover prevents the steam from escaping. For small quantities of vegetables you can use a daisy wheel steamer that fits into almost any saucepan. You can flavor the the cooking water with spices or aromatic herbs and/or vegetables, wilted celery leaves, parsley stalks, or similar ingredients. Keep an eye on the level of liquid throughout cooking. If it is too high, the food will simply be boiled; if it is too low you’ll burn the saucepan and give the food a burnt taste.
This is done in a special pot equipped with a pressure valve. The pot is hermetically sealed. The method saves time and, because only a small amount of liquid is used, keeps the water-soluble vitamins from being leached out of the foods.
To blanch an ingredient you must put it into boiling, lightly salted water for a period of 30 seconds to 4 minutes, and then transfer it to icy cold water in order to halt the cooking. Blanching makes it possible to begin cooking an ingredient, and to resume cooking later. It is mostly used in preparing vegetables for freezing. Blanching prevents discoloration.
A food dropped into oil or fat at a temperature of 200 to 500℉ (100 to 260℃) will cook evenly on all surfaces. Foods with a soft consistency, such as croquettes or parmesan fondues, must be cooked at a high heat in order to form a crust rapidly and keep their shape. Foods such as potatoes, on the other hand, are cooked in two successive sessions: the first to sear them and seal in the goodness and flavor, the second to cook the inside. The hotter the oil, the less absorbed by the food. It’s therefor best to keep the cooking temperature as high as possible, although you should check first to find the combustion point of the oil of fat you’re using.
This method is used mostly for cooking delicate sauces. In France the method is termed “bain-maie” and consists of a small saucepan placed or held over water in a larger container. very often this can be done by simply using a double boiler. The purpose is to keep foods away from direct heat, especially those containing egg or cream. Place a ramekin, mold, saucepan, etc… in a larger receptacle that is half filled with very hot (not boiling) water. While this method may take a little longer, it doesn’t require as much watching, and there is far less risk of burning.
Water is the sole source of heat here. Meat that is to be cooked should be added after the water has been brought to a rolling boil, in order to close the pores and seal precious juices inside. On the other hand, bones or meat used for stock should be added when the water is cold. As the water comes to a boil, the flavor and goodness are drawn out of the ingredients. Boiling is equally useful in cooking vegetables, eggs and fish.