Methods of Cooking

An important aspect of cooking, but one that is often overlooked, is the possible methods. When you buy a piece of meat for dinner, the methods are all the ways that you can cook what you have bought. Being familiar with them allows you to make the most appropriate choice for the ingredients you have. Probably the most versatile piece of meat is the chicken – it can be cooked using all the methods listed here.

Category Methods Description Examples
Moist Heat Boiling In rapidly moving water at 100C. Although the temperature is relatively low, the movement and density of the water convey heat efficiently to the food. Firm, green vegetables, pasta, boiled eggs.
Poaching In ‘shimmering’ water at less than 100C. Slower than boiling but the gentle movement and lower temperature mean that this method is suitable for more delicate foods. Fish, eggs and chicken breasts.
Steaming In water vapour above 100C. Slower than boiling due to the lower density of steam, but this is compensated for by a slightly increased temperature. Helps retain flavour and juices. Good for green vegetables and fish.
Dry Heat Roasting In an oven with fat – generally 150-220C. High temperatures combined with the fat will enable the outside to brown, but the cooking must also be long and slow enough for the heat to penetrate to the centre of the food. Large cuts of tender foods – whole fish, joints of meat, hard vegetables.
Baking In the oven, generally 150-200C. Similar to roasting but without a coating of fat, the food is less likely to brown and more likely to dry out. Cakes, meat, fish or vegetables if they’re in a sauce – tender cuts.
Grilling Below (or above in the case of a barbeque grill) a powerful heat source. This caramelises the outside, and means that the piece must be thin enough to cook through before the outside dries out or burns. Thin, tender cuts of meat and fish.
In fat Pan Frying Frying in a small amount of fat at a high heat to brown the outside. Tender cuts of meat or fish. If very thick, can be finished in the oven.
Sauteing Cooking in a small amount of fat, over high heat, with a lot of motion (Sauter = jump in french). Small pieces of robust food that will not be damaged by shaking in the pan – vegetables and chicken pieces.
Stir frying Cooking over a very, very high heat, with lots of motion to evenly cook everything in the pan/wok. As for saute – small pieces of robust but tender foods.
Deep frying Cooking in hot oil that the food can be submerged into. This browns the outside, but will not cook the inside thoroughly unless the pieces are small. Vegetables (chips and crisps!); wet vegetables, fish or meat if coated in batter – all in small or thin pieces.
Combination Braising Cooking for a long time at a low temperature. Begin by browning (in fat) then bake in a small amount of liquid. The low temperature and liquid mean than the connective tissue in toough cuts of meat can be converted into gelatine, making the meat tender (lamb shanks are a good example). On the other hand, tender pieces, without much connective tissue or fat, will overcook.
Stewing Very similar to braising, combining an initial browning with long cooking in liquid, but this time enough liquid to submerge all the components. Same cuts of meat as braising – tough pieces like beef chuck or braising steak, chicken thighs and legs, lamb shanks, oxtail.
Encased In paper/foil Basically steaming, using the case to trap steam released from the food. The case also means that flavours and aromas will be trapped too. Anything that can be steamed – fish, chicken breasts, pork loin or tenderloin, as well as veggies.
In pastry The same principle applies – the pastry traps steam and juices, and also provides a contrasting texture. Pastry can be edible (like beef wellington) or a flour and water crust that must be removed before eating. Tender cuts that are suitable for e.g. roasting. The pastry protects, allowing longer cooking than parchment.
In salt crust Salt crusts are usually made from rock salt combined with egg whites, to make an inedible crust, a little like flour and water pastry crusts. As the crust is removed before serving, food does not taste overly salty. Works well for whole fish and poultry, where the salt can easily be removed from the skin.

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