The Cooks ABC – Cookery Processes Part One

By Alan Lugton, Cookery Manager

When following a recipe or preparing a meal it soon becomes clear that there is more than one way to cook your ingredients. Various cookery processes have long been used to help us get the best out of the ingredients either through increasing flavour, improving texture and appearance or retaining nutrients.

There are 12 cookery processes commonly available to use; each cookery process is specific and has its advantages and disadvantages for your meal.

In Part One, I will take you through the ‘wet cookery processes’ and next time we will look at the processes that involve dry heat as the main source of cooking.

These are:

  1. Boiling
  2. Poaching
  3. Steaming 
  4. Stewing
  5. Shallow Frying
  6. Deep Frying

Boiling

Boiling is cooking food in boiling water, or other water-based liquids such as stock or milk. Simmering is included as part of this cooking process. It is a gentle boiling, to help control the speed at which food is cooked. Foods typically cooked by boiling include: soups, stocks, sauces, pasta, rice, eggs and vegetables.

You can use boiling in two distinct ways, either by placing your food into the boiling liquid and bringing it back to the boil, then reducing the heat slightly so that the liquid boils gently – (simmering) or by placing your food in a pan and covering with cold liquid and then heat until the liquid boils, and then reducing the heat slightly so that the liquid simmers.

Advantages:

  • Good for older, tougher joints of meat
  • Nutritious, well flavoured stock is produced – good for sauces and gravy
  • Simple process and requires little attention
  • Maximum colour and nutritive value are retained with green vegetables if cooked for the correct time

Disadvantages:

  • Some foods can look bland and unattractive
  • Flavours can be bland when boiling in water
  • Loss of soluble vitamins in the water

Poaching

Poaching is to cook food in a liquid with a temperature ranging from 60°C to 80°C. Poaching is typically reserved for cooking very delicate items like eggs and fish and Gnocchi. But other proteins like chicken are often prepared via poaching, and some vegetables can be poached too.

The liquid for poaching is usually stock or water with seasonings and aromatic vegetables. Fish and seafood is traditionally poached in a liquid called court bouillon.

At the correct temperature, the poaching liquid won’t show any visible signs of bubbling, though small bubbles may form at the bottom of the pot.

Advantages:

  • Poached items will turn out moist and tender
  • Ideal for tender fish
  • Less likely that items will be overcooked

Disadvantages:

  • Poaching requires a little more skill and some patience to do well
  • Not a suitable method for many foods

Stewing

Stewing is a long, slow cooking method where food is cut into pieces and cooked in the minimum amount of liquid, water, stock or sauce. The food and the cooking liquid are served together.  Stews can be cooked in a Slow Cooker or in a covered pot on the stove top or as a Casserole. A Casserole is the name of a lidded cooking dish in which some stews are made by placing it an oven.

All stews have a thickened consistency from the reduction of the liquid in the cooking pot which also produces intense flavours.

Advantages

  • Meat juices are retained as part of the stew
  • Correct slow cooking results and very little evaporation
  • Nutrients are conserved
  • Tough foods are tenderised
  • Economical in labour because the foods can be bulk cooked

Disadvantages

  • Stewing is a slow cooking method and needs to be prepared well in advance of any meal.

Examples of foods which might be cooked by stewing:

  • Fish (e.g. bouillabaisse – French fish soup / stew)
  • Meat (goulash, minced beef, Irish stew, white stew of veal)
  • Poultry (chicken fricassee, curried chicken)
  • Vegetables (ratatouille)

Steaming

Steaming is cooking prepared foods by steam (moist heat) under varying degrees of pressure.

Bamboo or other steamers form a mesh over boiling water, which the food sits on and allows the steam and heat to directly pass around the food to cook it.

Placing food in a solid bowl or between two plates over boiling water allows the steam to indirectly heat the food.

Advantages:

  • Retention of nutritional value
  • Some foods become lighter and easier to digest
  • Low pressure steaming reduces the risk of overcooking
  • With steamed fish, natural juices can be retained; they are served with the fish or used to make an accompanying sauce
  • Economical on fuel (low heat is needed and a multi-tiered steamer can be used)

Disadvantages:

  • Foods can look unattractive
  • It can be a slow method

Shallow Frying

Chef cooking vegetables in wok pan

Shallow frying is cooking food in a small quantity of pre-heated fat or oil in a shallow pan or on a flat surface. The intense heat and oil ensure that the outside of the food has a pleasing golden colour as natural juices or sugars caramelise on the outside. The food is first fried on the presentation side, then turned, so that both sides are cooked and coloured. Frying is a versatile and quick way of cooking a wide variety of foods.

Sauté is a more gentle method of frying, used to cook tender cuts of meat and poultry in a sauté or frying pan. After cooking, the fat is discarded and the pan is deglazed with stock or wine as a part of the finished sauce. When cooking potatoes or onions, these are cut into slices and tossed into hot shallow fat or oil in a frying pan till golden brown.

Stir frying uses less oil than shallow frying as the ingredients stay in the pan to create the whole dish. Often using a wok or frying pan, strips of vegetables or meat are tossed into the hot oil and stirred around to cover all sides. Examples of foods which might be cooked by shallow frying are: eggs, fish, meat, vegetables and pancakes.

Advantages

  • Quick cooking method
  • No loss of soluble nutrients
  • Good colour

Disadvantages

  • Suitable for expensive cuts of meat
  • Not easily digested
  • Requires constant supervision

Deep frying

Deep frying is cooking food in pre-heated deep oil or fat. Conventional deep-fried foods (except potatoes) are coated with milk and flour, egg and crumbs, batter or pastry to protect the surface of the food from the intense heat, to prevent the escape of moisture and nutrients and to modify the rapid penetration of the intense heat. The food is placed into deep pre-heated oil or fat, fried until cooked and golden brown, drained and served. Food like chips, croquettes, fritters, cutlets and doughnuts are all deep fried. It is the least healthy cooking method.

When deep frying potatoes such as chips – these are often blanched first in a slightly cooler oil – this seals them so that they can be held. Once they are required they are fried again at a hotter temperature until golden and crispy.

Advantages:

  • Quick cooking method
  • No loss of soluble nutrients
  • Ensures good colour

Disadvantages:

  • Not easily digested
  • Safety hazard

What about our health? 

The choice of oil used in frying typically depends on taste and on heat stability. Some oils are heat-resistant and can be used at high temperatures, while others with intense flavours and lower heat resistance are best enjoyed raw in salad dressing for example.

For health reasons, the ideal cooking oil should contain high amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, with low amounts of saturated fats and no trans fats. Deep fried foods from takeaways are more likely to contain trans fats.

At home, choose unsaturated oils such as rapeseed and watch the quantities that you use. When lightly frying, it is advisable to measure out oil with a teaspoon instead of pouring straight from the bottle. Grilling, baking, steaming or poaching are the healthier cooking methods.

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