There are eight basic cooking techniques: sautéing, grilling, frying, boiling, steaming, simmering, poaching, and braising. Once you understand the steps of these cooking techniques and what foods are best cooked using each method, you can cook just about anything. Throughout this article, you’ll learn much more about the techniques, and soon you’ll be able to start cooking without a recipe
Dry-heat cooking and moist-heat cooking are the two main categories of cooking styles. Dry-heat cook-ing is most often used when you want to brown the food to develop a deep, rich ﬂavor. Dry-heat cooking techniques include sautéing, frying, and grilling. Moist heat cooking is most often used to retain bright ﬂavors and to tenderize what’s being cooked; these techniques include boiling, simmering, poaching, steaming, and braising.
Dry-Heat Cooking Techniques
The sautéing method uses high-heat cooking in a pan. Thin, tender cuts of meat such as chicken breasts and hamburgers are good for sautéing. This method is also used for heating vegetables and browning them a bit on the outside, which still leaves them ﬁrm on the inside. Searing and stir-frying are methods of sautéing.
The basic steps of sautéing are:
- Season the food being cooked.
- Put the food in a very hot pan lightly coated with oil.
- Cook on high heat until browning occurs.
- Turn the food and repeat the cooking process on the other side.
Grilling is the process of cooking directly over a ﬂame or other heat source. It’s best to grill items that are less than 1⁄2 inch (1.25cm) thick and tender, such as sliced summer squash, salmon, or beef steaks. The technique of broiling is a form of grilling but with the ﬂame above the food rather than below.
The basic steps of grilling are:
- Season and oil the food.
- Place the food on the hot grill and cook halfway.
- Turn the food and cook the rest of the way.
Frying uses hot oil to cook food. The process of deep-frying is often confused as a moist-heat cooking technique, but moist cooking uses water to penetrate the item being cooked in order to heat the food. Frying is a dry heat method because water doesn’t exist in the oil. If the technique is used correctly, the oil doesn’t penetrate into the food—it’s only a conduit for the heat. This process is best used for delicate, quick-cooking items such as shrimp, onion rings, or chicken. In pan-frying, the oil only goes halfway up the sides of the food. In deep-frying, the food is fully submerged in the oil.
The basic steps of pan-frying are:
- Season the food.
- Coat it with ﬂour and bread crumbs.
- Place it in preheated oil and cook halfway.
- Turn the food and ﬁnish cooking.
Moist-Heat Cooking Techniques
The technique of boiling is cooking food submerged in a liquid that’s 212°F (100°C). This process is often used with starches to hydrate and soften them. Examples are cooking potatoes for mashing and cooking pasta.
The basic steps of boiling are:
- Season the cooking liquid and bring it to a boil.
- Place the food to be cooked in the boiling liquid
Cooking food in a liquid at 180° to 210°F (82° to 99°C) is called sim-mering. Simmering is most often used for tough cuts of meat, or for delicate vegetables and starches. Examples of foods that are simmered are beef and vegetable soup, stocks, and corned beef.
The basic steps of simmering are:
- Heat the liquid to a boil.
- Season the food.
- Submerge the food in the liquid. Adjust the heat to keep within the 180° to 210°F (82° to 99°C) range
Poaching cooks food in a ﬂavorful acidic liquid at 160° to 180°F (71° to 82°C). This technique can be used on tender, thin-cut foods. Cooking at this low temperature preserves more nutrients and the natural ﬂavors of the food. This technique is often used for chicken or ﬁsh. Shallow poaching is a variation in which the liquid covers the food halfway and the pan is covered.
The basic steps of poaching are:
- Heat the liquid to a simmer.
- Season the food.
- Submerge the food in the liquid. Adjust the heat to keep in the 160° to 180°F (71° to 82°C) range
Steaming is cooking food in hot vapors, most often the steam from boiling water. Steaming is considered a nutritious method of cooking because fewer vitamins and minerals are leached out into the cooking medium compared with poaching or simmering. This method is most often used on vegetables, such as broccoli and asparagus.
The basic steps of steaming are:
- Heat liquid to the steaming point.
- Place the food in the steam above the liquid. Cover the pot to trap the steam in.
- After cooking through, vegetables should be chilled or served right away to retain nutrients
Braising combines sautéing, steaming, and simmering. The best example of braising might be cooking a pot roast, where the meat is sautéed to brown on all sides and then put into a pot with a liquid that comes one half to two-thirds of the way up the sides of the meat. The liquid is brought up to a simmer and the pot is covered to hold in the steam. This technique is ideal for tough cuts of meat.
Stewing is a form of braising in which the meat is cut into smaller pieces, sautéed, and completely submerged in the simmering liquid.
The basic steps of braising are:
- Season the food and cover it in oil.
- Add the food to a hot pan and brown on all sides.
- Add a ﬂavorful liquid to the pan and bring up to 180° to 210°F (82° to 99°C)
- Maintain the temperature until the food is tender.