How to Use Essential Cooking Methods
If you ever learned to play an instrument as a child, you’ll remember how much you dreaded practicing your scales. But when you get comfortable with the essential elements of cooking technique and preparation, you’ll see how much easier the rest of cooking gets. Getting to know cooking methods improves your cooking in the same way that playing a song improves once you’ve mastered your piano scales. Learn to master basic cooking techniques and you will be able to cook almost anything with complete confidence. If you’re learning to cook, you’ll see a huge jump in your progress and skills if you master these cooking methods. Even though you can cook without knowing all of the rules, understanding moist, dry, and combination cooking approaches opens new doors and possibilities with your cooking. When you learn to play a new sport as a kid, you also have to learn the basic rules and skills first; how to pass, where the boundaries are, and how to dribble or shoot. If you’re ready to “play the game” when it comes to cooking, and dive into a cooking lifestyle that allows you to make any recipe with ease, it’s smart to learn the essential cooking techniques. In this article we’ll get you oriented with the essential cooking methods so that you can braise, stew, grill, or bake with confidence!
The 3 main types of cooking
There are three main classifications of cooking techniques, which include dry, moist, and combination cooking methods. You may have heard cooking terminology spoken at home, or jokingly mentioned on TV shows––like in Schitt’s Creek where the lead character and his mother are perplexed by the word “fold” in the recipe. Learning new techniques can feel like a foreign language, but there are only a few words to learn in this language. Once you get to know the new words you’ll be able to use these simple techniques to cook anything you want.
Dry Heat Cooking Methods
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Broiling technique involves direct, dry heat and will help bring out the flavour in your food. If you’re learning to broil, you’ll want to get to know your oven first. Most ovens have broiling as an option, but take time to learn how quickly your oven heats up and how broiling affects different dishes. Broiling can be combined with other cooking techniques like baking; sometimes when you’re roasting a chicken, a recipe will call for broiling as a final step to add a delicious brown crust to the meat. It’s important to tend to a broiled meal carefully; it’s easy to burn food when you’re broiling!
Tips for broiling:
Look for the “broil” button on your oven. It may have a default heat setting. You’ll notice this is usually much higher than the average oven temperature.
Most ovens default to 500º Fahrenheit for broiling, and take 5-10 minutes to reach full heat.
You may want a thinner pan or a broiling pan with holes in it to broil food properly on all sides. A cast iron skillet also does the trick.
Watch closely! Most recipes won’t ask you to broil anything for more than ten minutes, as foods can burn easily at such a high temperature. Keep children or pets away from the kitchen while you’re broiling to avoid injury.
Use oven mitts and exercise extra caution when removing food from the oven.
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Baking is a dry-heat cooking method that uses the controlled heat of an oven. Baking often relates to foods like cookies, bread, or cakes that require leavening agents like baking powder to help food rise and change shape. Baking is a go-to technique because it allows for even heat that warms food thoroughly with a flavourful, brown outer layer. If you’re intimidated by baking, you’re not alone. Cooking allows for more of a margin of error than baking does because of the precise, scientific nature that baking requires.While baking is great for desserts, you can also bake an appetizer like brie cheese with cranberries and nuts on top, or a pan of homemade granola to add to breakfast dishes.
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Grilling is typically done over a rack or tray on top of a heat source, where intense heat is coming from below the food you’re preparing. You likely have memories surrounding grilled meals in the summertime months. Grilled vegetables, meats, and potatoes provide a delicious meal and palette of flavours that are easily prepared and served. Grilling is favoured for the way it flavours and chars food to add to the taste and to create a pleasing texture.
Grilling tips to consider
Meats like steak or pork chops do well on a grill, and so do dense vegetables and foods like potatoes, eggplant, carrots, or squash.
Fish is also delicious when grilled, but you’ll want to keep it away from direct flames and watch it carefully so that you don’t burn or overcook your meal.
Coat your food with oil or cooking spray, but don’t oil the grill directly. Oiling the meat or vegetables you’re grilling before you place them over heat will help lock in the flavourful juices in your meal and will keep your food from burning too.
Grilling can be done over gas or charcoal. Charcoal grills are more traditional and are often favoured by cooks who like the flavour they evoke. Many people favour gas flames because they’re easier to manage and allow for consistent heat on a barbecue grill. If you’re new to grilling, start with gas flames until you feel confident.
Moist Heat Cooking Methods
Poaching is a slow, wet cooking method that uses hot liquid to cook food without adding extra fat. You’ve likely had a poached egg, but poaching also works well for chicken, vegetables, and some other fruits and delicate proteins. Poaching lets the food you’re cooking keep its moisture and encases the flavour and texture using heat and moisture. Poaching techniques vary for different poaching methods, including:
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Simmering is a well known method, mainly because it’s so commonly used in popular recipes and often accompanies boiling methods. In terms of intensity, simmering is more intense than poaching, but less aggressive than boiling technique. If you’re ever heard the word “simmering” in relation to a grumpy individual, you’ll understand this cooking technique; add more heat to a simmering pot and it will bubble up with boiling water. A recipe will often call for boiling, and then ask you to turn down the heat slightly so food is simmering in the pot. Simmering is often used for soups, stews, pastas, and other meals where liquids are present. It’s great for beans, potatoes, or legumes that require slow, gentle heat to soften and bring out flavours. The perfect simmering temperature is between 85 to 96ºC (185 to 205ºF).
Types of simmering
There are three levels of simmering: low heat, low to medium heat, or medium-high heat.
Low heat simmering is barely bubbling, with some steam rising from the pot. Low to medium heat simmering is often used for making soups or stews, and involves some bubbles.
Medium-high heat simmering is often used for making sauces or gravies. With rapid simmering you should see little bubbles on the surface of the water.
Combination Cooking Methods
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Braising is another great essential cooking method to have in your cooking lexicon. This technique typically means to cook meat, fish, or vegetables slowly in a flavourful liquid to create a tender texture and bring out rich flavour. While braising can be used whenever you’re looking for soft, caramel-like texture, it’s best suited to tougher cuts of meat like a beef brisket. The item you’re braising is typically seared in a pan before braising. Braising is a technique that’s commonly used for meat, but you can also braise vegetables or other foods. The broth used for braising often thickens during cooking and can be used as a sauce for the meal afterwards.
How to braise:
Pick a pan or Dutch oven with some depth so your liquid doesn’t boil over. Set your oven to medium-high heat.
Drizzle butter, fat, or olive oil into the pan and sear the vegetables or meat on every side until evenly, lightly browned. Now remove the food from the pan and set it aside.
Add broth to the pan, or create your own by frying garlic, onions, shallots, or other spices in water or wine until they create an aromatic, rich liquid. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a gentle boil.
Now add back in the vegetables and meat and let simmer on the stovetop or in an oven at 300°F.
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Stewing is a low heat, slow cooking method that infuses food with flavour and rich texture over time. Stewing allows more dense foods to become tender, like tough meats or dry beans. When a dish is stewed it’s often served with the liquid it was cooked in for a flavour sauce or stew. A chef will often choose stewing over braising when they’re also wanting a sauce or gravy to serve with the food being cooked.
Different stewing methods to try
1. Slow Cooker Stewing
Slow cooker stewing is the perfect way to try stewing for the first time. Stewing a meal in a slow cooker is ideal for a beginner cook. A crock pot or slow cooker is a preferred method for its ease of preparation. If you stew a meal in a crock pot you can leave it cooking throughout the day and come home to an entire meal ready for you.
2. Stove Top Stewing
It’s common to stew a meal on a stove top, but you’ll need to watch carefully to make sure your liquid doesn’t boil over or burn. Stewing on a stovetop is most effective if you’re cooking on a stovetop that you’re familiar with.
3. Oven Stewing
Stewing a meal in the oven can be effective if you don’t have a slow cooker, but if you’re using a big pot it might be challenging to lift it when it’s full of hot liquid; so make sure you plan ahead and test the weight of the pot when it’s full of water. An oven can offer a more even and predictable cooking temperature than a stovetop does, but make sure your pot doesn’t boil over!
Learn how to cook with Boomerang’s online classes
Our online community at Boomerang is a great place to source inspiration for your next great recipe from the comfort of your home. Join our weekly discussion group, and explore culinary classes, learn about mindful eating practices, learn to make a tangy fish curry, try new ideas, and make new friends. Sign up for Boomerang and check out some of our cooking and culinary workshops coming up:
Learn to make your own cheese at home
Create your own shrimp rice with a delicious pineapple curry
Make your own snacks with dehydrated fruits and vegetables
Our community members love to share ideas, tips and valuable insights. Whether you’re looking to try something new or develop skills you already have, our community learns by doing. Join us today, and let’s get cooking!
This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or its affiliates.