The Only 10 Cooking Techniques You Need to Know

Do you know the difference between stewing and braising? Katie Workman, author of The Mom 100 Cookbook and creator of The Mom 100 blog breaks down 10 basic cooking techniques that will make you a better cook

Stir-frying

Stir-frying In a classic stir-fry, the food is always cut into uniform bite-sized pieces so that it cooks evenly. The cook keeps the food moving using a cooking utensil of some sort, and sometimes shaking the pan itself. The heat beneath the pan must be very high, a small amount of oil is usually used, and you will want to have every single ingredient fully prepped and measured before you begin, since stir-fries wait for no one, and the first ingredients might overcook while you are mincing the final components. Ingredients are usually added starting with the ones that take the longest to cook, and finishing with the quickest cooking ingredients, so everything reaches just-doneness at the same moment. A wok is the traditional pan used in stir-frying but a large skillet works just as well.

Recipes to Try:

Shrimp Stir Fried Rice

Searing

Searing Searing refers to the browning of food – usually meat or fish – in a pan over high heat. It often is used at the beginning of the recipe because the browning caramelizes the natural sugars in the food, allowing another layer of flavor to emerge, and also can add a pleasing texture to the outside of the food. A small amount of fat is usually used with this technique. In the case of a piece of fish, for instance, you may simply sear it on both sides, and the cooking process is complete, while in the case of a tougher, thicker cut of meat, the searing may be the first step in the preparation process, followed by braising or roasting.

Recipe to Try:

Roast Beef with Mustard Garlic Crust and Horseradish Sauce

Steaming

Steaming The consistent flow of hot air is what gently cooks the food in this technique, and it is very popular in Asian cooking. Chicken, dumplings, vegetables and fish are just some of the dishes that are often steamed. The fact that the food is cooked above the liquid, and not actually submerged, means that most of the nutrients stay right where they belong – in the food. Water is often used, though broth, wine, beer or other infusions can also be used to steam.

Make sure the food you are steaming has enough room around each piece so that the hot steam can cook everything evenly. And make sure the liquid level is about one or two inches below the food suspended above the liquid. You may have to add liquid to the pot as it evaporates.

There are many appliances that are used for steaming foods, but they all involve a perforated platform that holds the food above simmering liquid. Sometimes food is steamed directly in the basket or sometimes on a plate, if juices are going to be released that would add to the finished dish. Remember that steam burns! When you are steaming, make sure to keep your face and other body parts far away from the top of the pot when you remove the lid.

Recipe to Try:

Steamed Kale with Lemon Miso

Baking

Baking Baking simply means cooking food in the oven – usually uncovered – using indirect, dry heat. The term is often used when discussing foods like breads, cookies, muffins, and other, well, “baked goods” though it can also be used to describe savory foods like lasagna or chicken. Baked foods cook from the outside in, and the oven temperature varies from recipe to recipe, though once the heat gets higher, say 400°F or above, the term roasting is often used.

Recipes to Try:

The Best Streusel Apple Pie Ever

Fudgy One-Pot Brownies

Macaroni and Cheese

Roasting

Roasting This is one of the least hands-on cooking techniques, perfect for when you need to get dinner going but then have some other things clamoring for your attention before it’s time to eat. Roasting is very similar to baking, in that it usually involves dry heat cooking in the oven, uncovered. The difference is that roasting usually involves higher heats (and correspondingly short cooking times) than baking. Roasting can also refer to foods cooked over live fire, such as spit-roasting.

The baking pans typically used for roasting are relatively shallow so that the heat circulates evenly and the food doesn’t steam. Roasted foods, whether potatoes, vegetables, chicken or meat, brown nicely thanks to the high heat, while remaining moist and tender on the inside.

Recipes to Try:

Roasted Butternut Squash

Simple Lemon-Garlic Roasted Turkey Breast

Broiling

Broiling Broiling refers to cooking foods under a broiler, which can be a separate drawer in your oven, or may require you to place the top rack in your oven close to the roof the oven to be close to the heating element. The closer the rack is to the heat, the faster the food will brown and cook. The heat is direct and intense, and only the side of the food that is exposed to the heat will brown, so usually foods that are broiled have to be turned during the cooking process. Often the food is cooked on a rimmed baking sheet, which allows the food to be close to the heat source.

Foods that take best to this cooking method are foods that cook through quickly, so they don’t burn before they finish cooking inside. Seafood, chicken breasts, burgers, kebabsquesadillasand the like are good candidates for broiling, and the technique can also be used to finish dishes like frittatas. Timing is of the essence, so when you are broiling any type of food, you should stay close and check inside the oven often.

Recipes to Try:

Quesadillas 101

Teriyaki Beef and Chicken Skewers

Mushroom, Caramelized Onion and Feta Frittata

Grilling

Grilling Grilling is the technique of cooking foods over high heat. The food is exposed to the flames and a browned, caramelized exterior quickly develops as the inside cooks through. You can adjust the heat on a gas grill fairly easily, or if you are using a charcoal grill is it often advisable to have one area of the grill hot, and another less so (it takes experience playing with the charcoal or wood to get this down), so that you can move the food from zone to zone as needed. Grilling is different from barbecuing, which is low and slow.

Tender cuts of meat and poultry and various kids of fish and shellfish are well-suited to grilling, as are vegetables and even fruits. As with broiling, you’ll want to stay quite close to the grill as flare-ups can occur, and it’s easy from a food to go from nicely browned to charred in a flash. The timing varies wildly from food to food, and from grill to grill, so be prepared to test the doneness of the foods you are cooking as you go. You can also experiment with keeping the lid open and closed, which affects the temperature.

Both grilling and barbecuing have very vocal fans who have very definite opinions about their definitions, and we’ll leave that debate be for the time being.

Recipes to Try:

Fork-in-the-Road Burgers with a Kick

Simple Grilled Herbed Chicken

Braising

Braising Anything from endive to poultry can be braised, but this term is usually used in conjunction with meat, in particular cuts of meat that benefit from long, slow cooking to become tender. In braising, the food is often browned first, though not necessarily, and then it is finished in a low oven or over a low flame with a moderate amount of liquid, such as broth, wine or tomatoes. A lid usually covers the pot so that the liquid condenses on the underside of the lid and self-bastes the dish while it cooks. Sometimes seasonings and vegetables like carrots and onions are used in this cooking method along with the liquid.

Recipes to Try:

Monday Night Brisket

Stewing

Stewing Stewing is similar to braising, but often refers to food that cut been cut into smaller pieces, while braising often refers to whole cuts of meat or pieces of chicken, for instance. In stewing, the food is usually browned over higher heat, then returned to the pot with other ingredients, such as vegetables, and liquid to cover the ingredients. The pot is then at least partially covered, and the cooking is finished over low heat. Like braising, stewing is an excellent method for turning tougher cuts of meats or poultry or even certain kinds of seafood, like conch or squid, tender. Often things that have been stewed (and braised for that matter) taste even better the next day, so these are two great make-ahead techniques.

Recipe to Try:

Apple Cider Beef Stew

Sauteing

Sauteing It is difficult to think of a cooking method you can use with so many different kinds of food, from fish to vegetables to meat to noodles. Sauté means “to jump” in French, which alludes to the fact you have to toss the food around in a pan quite a bit. The technique is somewhere between stir-frying and searing. A variety of fats can be used from butter to various oils, or a combination, depending on the food you are sautéing. Since the heat used to cook the food comes directly from the pan itself, the pan and the fat must be hot enough so that the food will brown quickly. The exterior of the food should be browned, sometimes only slightly, sometimes more caramelized, and the interior cooked through using this method.

Recipes to Try:

Sautéed Kale and Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Fork in the Road Pad Thai

Creole Shrimp

 

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