An Invitation to Learn Basic Cooking Techniques
By Allison De Meulder
Few things are more inviting than food. Well-cooked meals add warmth and comfort to any interpersonal gathering. When planning meals for your next get-together, consider one of the many, basic cooking techniques that have stood the test of time to create your feast. Whether you or your guests have a taste for the healthy or decadent, you can find cooking solutions in grilling, broiling, braising, or roasting. Vegetable-heavy dishes can benefit from sautéing, pan-frying, stewing, or stir-frying. Of course, deep-frying, boiling, steaming, and baking are popular amongst many different types of people, which can almost guarantee a delicious hit.
One of the most popular healthy cooking techniques is grilling. Direct heat is applied to food either on a physical grill like a barbeque, or while using a grill pan over a stove. This technique has a reputation for trapping flavors that create an smoky, succulent meal. Another method that incorporates high-heat is broiling. Much like grilling, it causes the meat to envelope flavor, but also contributes to exterior browning. Cooking takes place very quickly with broiling, and should be monitored carefully so that food remains within its optimum cooking time frame. Some cooks use broiling as a finishing touch to their meals, as it adds an extra bit of brown and toasting, especially after roasting or baking.
For meals that would benefit from a slow-cooking process, braising can be the ideal choice. With this technique, meats are placed in a skillet and seared in oil or fat. Then, water is added to the meat so that it can simmer, and allow for the accumulation of juices which can later be used to create sauces or gravies. A sister technique to braising is stewing. The same process is adhered to except, instead of water, a broth is used. The liquid that results from the combination of the broth and food settling into each other can be considered a gravy, and eaten, as well. Roasting, another slow-cooking technique, takes advantage of an oven's cramped quarters to deliver a thoroughly cooked, yet naturally sweetened, meal.
Some trendy methods of cooking are also healthy. sautéing, or the quick, constant stirring of small pieces of food in a pan over high heat, can produce completely cooked food fast and with a soft texture. For best results, cooks often add only one ingredient to the pan at a time, and wait to season the food until the very end of the cooking process. Close to the sautéing method is pan-frying, with the differences being that larger pieces of food are placed into the pan, and the purposeful turning over of food takes place. Stir-frying usually incorporates a wok, and uses the standard sautÃ© process to add food and seasoning, but results in vegetables with a harder texture.
There are simpler, tried-and-true techniques that have helped to cook the most delicious treats ever. Deep frying is characterized by the complete submergence of food in hot oil contained in a cooking apparatus over high heat. Food that is being optimally deep fried rises back to the top of the oil's surface after only a couple of minutes. Similar to deep frying is boiling, where food is submerged in boiling water and allowed to cook until tender. Blanching can be considered a shortened version of boiling, as blanching only requires that food be submerged in water for a very small amount of time. A good way to prepare nutrient-rich vegetables is to steam them, or cook them over the rising heat and steam of boiling water. Vegetables retain their nutritional value and aesthetics when cooked in this way. Baking is generally used to create pastries, breads and desserts, but can also be applied to vegetables and meats. Pastries, breads and desserts may need to have their recipes followed to the letter, while baking vegetables and meats can afford a bit of a creative cushion, cooking time wise. Poaching is one of the simplest techniques there is, as it uses a simmering liquid to help soften the texture of the food that it is cooking.
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