Cooking Methods: Learning How To Cook
One of the first steps in learning how to cook is learning the proper cooking methods. There are many to learn, and they each have their advantages and disadvantages. You'll begin to notice a trend when it comes to applying cooking methods to various food items. Generally, you'll notice moist-heat methods used to help keep foods moist and to prevent drying out. Moist-heat cooking methods are also used to cook food items that would be too tough to enjoy if prepared using a dry-heat method. These items typically need longer cooking time and to ensure they don't dry out, a moist heat cooking method would be applied.
Practicing these types of cooking methods is the only way to become naturally adept with them. You are probably already aware of many of these methods and unknowingly use them on a regular basis. What the goal is to make sure that you are applying the proper cooking technique to the proper food item. While cooking is usually seen as an empty canvas in which to experiment with, you must first master the theory and practical skills that gives the canvas its inspirational ability. One of those things happens to an important foundational skill, and one that you can't afford to be without.
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These methods can be applied to any type of food, but it's been saved for this section due to the importance of remembering the methods in relation to meat cookery. There are three types of cooking methods to remember:
- Dry-heat Cooking Method
- Moist-heat Cooking Method
- Combination Cooking Method
Foods can be cooked in air, fat, water or steam. That's it. When we say that, we're talking about the mediums required to transfer heat to your foods. Convection, conduction, and radiation.
Dry-heat cooking methods are those that utilize air or fat. These are broiling, roasting, grilling, baking, sauteing, pan-frying and deep-fat frying. Foods cooked using this method have a rich flavor due to the caramelization and browning of the foods.
Moist-heat cooking uses water or steam. They include poaching, boiling, steaming and simmering. We use moist-heat cooking to emphasize the natural flavor in foods.
Combination cooking are methods that incorporate both dry- and moist-heat cooking. The two most important methods are braising and stewing.
Each one of these cooking methods can be applied to a large variety of foods including meats, vegetables, fish, pastries, cakes, cookies, etc.
Applying Cooking Methods
When you are staring at a cut of meat at a grocery store and you are wondering how you're going to cook so it tastes beautiful, what's going through your head? Is it a blank stare? Do you know which method to apply to, say, beef short ribs? What about those cheap cuts of meat you are always tempted into buying and are subsequently disappointed by? The point is, we must know how to apply the cooking methods if we are to put that knowledge to any use. You don't know the feeling of control and power you have when you can close your eyes, pick up a piece of meat and know exactly how to cook it. Not only that, but you start saving some real cash too. You don't have to buy a filet mignon to get a tender flavorful steak. All it takes is understanding how to apply the cooking methods! A true chef can make the cheapest cut of meat taste spectacular.
You probably know a bit about cooking. You heard something one time about the grain or the marbling or something. Well, you're close! Fully understanding the cuts and cooking methods requires an understanding of where those cuts come from off the animal. While this knowledge is invaluable, we'll save it for later.
Defining Dry-Heat Cooking
Sautéing involves very high heat and very little oil is used. The ingredients are added once the oil starts to smoke slightly. Less oil is needed because the high heat prevents moisture from escaping and as well as being safer from oil splattering and potentially causing a fire. Sauteing can be nerve-wracking due to the intense heat and sound of the product being cooked. Splatters happen! Be sure to wear the appropriate clothing as to avoid burns.
Pan frying involves cooking an ingredient in a frying pan at a medium-high heat. Think the "6-7" indicator on your stove. Pan-frying involves much more oil than usual as it helps prevent moisture releasing from the ingredient.
Roasting/Baking uses the air, or convection, to transfer heat to an ingredient. Your oven provides this cooking method, and is used because of its highly-accurate temperatures and ability to cook evenly for longer controlled periods. Large items are usually cooked, or items requiring even cooking. The browning it provides is a desired effect of roasting, and enhances the flavors of most foods. NOTE: Using a convection oven is a bit different than a conventional oven. A convection oven uses a fan to move the hot air around, promoting more even cooking and causing the product to be cooked faster. Because of the nature of a convection oven, there is a specific rule to follow. All standard recipes here assume you are using a conventional oven and the temperatures used reflect that. If you are using a convection oven (And if you're lucky enough to have one, use it!), reduce the temperature by 25F. TIP: Baking is exactly the same as roasting. The key difference is baking is only referred to as such in the bakery world.
Grilling is the favorite past-time of many men around the world and they all love to cook a nice ribeye or t-bone. This dry-heat method is desired for the flavor that is imparted from the rapid convection cooking. It is ideal for smaller cuts of meats and grilling requires an advanced and experienced cook to ensure proper cooking and the ability to not burn the product while producing perfect rarity on a consistent basis. Professional cooks and chefs use a cast iron grilling surface to do their grilling which provides that deep, noticeable grill-marking. It is much harder to do this with the coated stainless steel grill surface that comes with most barbeques today. If you are in the market for a good grill, look for one with a quality cast-iron grilling surface as that will indicate whether or not you're buying quality or if you're just buying brand and gimmicks.
Broiling is similar and almost reverse to Grilling in that is uses radiant heat from an overheat source. Broiled foods are placed on a preheated metal grate and the heat above cooks the meat while the grill below marks it.
Deep-fat frying or Deep Frying is another popular method of cooking. As odd as it sounds, deep frying is not considered a moist-heat method but rather a dry heat method. What separates deep frying from boiling is the temperature. Boiling water can never go above 100C (212F), while deep frying temperatures can be as high as 200C (400F). These high temperatures allow the product to be cooked faster and be browned.
Defining Combination Cooking
There are technically 2 types of combination cooking, but we will include a third - sous vide.
A popular combination cooking method is called Braising. The proper method of braising is achieved by first dry-heat cooking a product, such as a lamb shank, either by pan-frying or sauteing to ensure proper caramelization. Once the lamb shank is seared and slightly caramelized, you then add a liquid such as a stock until it comes up to about 1/3 of the lamb shank. Then, either in the oven or on the stove top, you simmer, or Braise, the lamb shank turning it often until it becomes soft and tender. Braising is especially useful for tougher pieces of meat.
If you were to cover the meat entirely, you would then be Stewing the meat. This produces a soup-like consistency and, obviously, is the preferred method for creating stews.
Sous vide is a method of vacuum sealing food into plastic and then simmering the package in water to heat throughout. Sous vide is a relatively new method, developed in the 70s. The method removes the product from the external environment where it cooked in a way that retains its natural flavor.
Defining Moist-Heat Cooking
There are 4 types of moist heat method using water or water-based liquids and they all have to do with temperature.
Poaching is the lowest temperature method, defined at between 71C - 82C (160F - 180F). This produces an environment that is calm enough for delicate foods, such as eggs. The water should show slight movement and no bubbles.
Simmering is a common temperature range because it is the most balanced. It is defined at 85C - 96C (185F - 205F) and you will notice a simmering liquid by having small bubbles breaking through the liquids surface. It is great for promoting flavor release in stews, meats and soups.
Boiling is the highest temperate for submersion. Defined at 100C (212F) at sea level, it is noticeable by rapid movement with many large bubbles. Boiling is rarely recommend for most cooking, and the only thing that is taught which should be boiled is pasta.
Steaming allows you to reach a higher temperature with liquids by steaming them. It is defined by the steam released once water reaches past 100C (212F). Food is in contact only with the steam produces from the boiling liquid. Steaming is common method due to its fast cooking times, high heat and moist-heat cooking nature.