Cooking and food presentation is very much a form of art, and creating something flavorful, nutritious, and beautiful requires the proper tools. Whether you're new to cooking or just looking to hone your skills, this overview of common cooking techniques will help to get you started.
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To put it simply, baking is fully cooking food in an oven. Just about anything can be baked, including bread, desserts, fish, poultry, meat, and vegetables.
The key in baking is the proper ratio between the oven temperature and the baking time, which can be determined by the size or weight of the dish. The larger and denser the item, the longer it will take to cook, and the smaller and less dense, the less time. For example, something dense like a cheesecake, will bake a high temperature initially for a short amount of time and then bake slowly at a low temperature to ensure even cooking throughout. A fillet of fish cooks very quickly and is baked at medium-heat for a short duration.
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Boiling is cooking food submerged in liquid at a temperature above 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Because this is such a high temperature, it's a less common technique for all foods. It is useful for slow-cooking vegetables, such as onions and potatoes or pasta. Most foods if cooked submerged in liquid will cook at a simmer, to prevent the breaking down of proteins and starches which will alter the taste and texture of the food.
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Poaching is an incredibly versatile cooking method; just about everything from fruits to meats can be cooked using this technique. Poaching is merely simmering food in liquid until it is cooked through.
As with baking, the density of the food will determine the cooking duration time; fish is cooked for a short amount of time in liquid that is gradually heated, while denser meats cook longer starting with a cold liquid. The key to poaching meats and proteins is to make sure that your stove temperature is not too high, as this will cause the meat to break down, resulting in a greasy meal. Because eggs cook quickly, the liquid is first brought to a boil then turned off. Then, the eggs are added and covered until cooked to the desired doneness.
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Roasting, although also a method of cooking food in an oven, is different than baking because it exposes food to dry, hot air. This is achieved by cooking food in a convection oven or at the highest setting possible for a short amount of time. It's common to brown the outside of the food, then turn down the oven to finish cooking through the food without over-browning. Foods that are often roasted are meats and vegetables. Just as with baking, it is important to adjust the temperature of your oven and cooking duration according to the size of the food. A roast turkey will cook for a longer time at a lower temperature than a duck or other small bird, which at the same temperature would dry out before browning.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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Sautéing is a method of cooking that requires that you use an appropriate amount of oil in a pan. The goal is even cooking in a pan that is heated to the correct temperature. If you cook foods at too low of a temperature, the water that is released will not evaporate and your food will not brown properly. Ideally, the water released from the food should evaporate on contact with the pan, which will allow for proper browning and will produce the best texture and flavor.
Sautéing does not require a large amount of oil. Adding too much oil to the pan is a common mistake that many cooks make; this will result in either a crispy or soggy meal, depending on the temperature of your pan.
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Steaming generally refers to cooking food set over (but not touching) boiling water and placing a lid or cover over the food. This allows the heat and moisture to remain within the pot while cooking. If done properly, this is a wonderful cooking method for cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, as it allows for lighter cooking without leaching out a lot of nutrients. It is often the case that harsher cooking methods for these vegetables will turn them a gray color, but steaming keeps their vibrant green color intact.
While a pot with a fitted steam basket is ideal for steaming, you can also use a colander or strainer, provided it fits in the pot, with a lid.