The Ways We Cook

It’s important to experiment with different cooking techniques in order to become a better home chef. This article explores three of them.

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Steaming, braising and pressure cooking each have their advantages but there are a few do’s and don'ts for each. Read on for an overview of each technique. 

STEAMING

Steaming is considered a moist heat cooking method. Moist heat cooking refers to various ways of cooking food with, or in, any kind of liquid—this includes steam. Steaming is a very common way to cook vegetables, but this technique is used for other types of food as well, including rice, fish and Asian dumplings. This cooking method uses hot steam to transfer heat to food, without disturbing it by the boiling process, resulting in a tender, moist product. Steaming is a wonderful way to prepare delicate fish, such as trout or bass, since it is such a gentle cooking process. As for the science behind it, once water is heated beyond the 212°F mark, it turns into steam. Steam can be forced to exceed this natural limit by pressurizing it (i.e. pressure cooker) but more on that in a bit. 

Two main advantages of steam cooking are that it preserves the moisture and the nutrients in foods. It is hard to find a more natural, healthy and flavour-friendly cooking method than steaming. It is also a quick way to cook something. For example, steaming potatoes before throwing them on the grill will shorten the preparation time significantly. It is also a great idea to learn to aromatise the cooking liquid when steaming. One part white wine to four parts water, as well as adding spices and fresh herbs like bay leaves and thyme works nicely. 

Two main advantages of steam cooking are that it preserves the moisture and the nutrients in foods.

Steaming is simple. You just need a stovetop, a pot and a steamer basket. Pour a small amount of water in the pot, bring it to a simmer, suspend the basket with the ingredients above the liquid, and cover the pot for anywhere between 3 to 15 minutes, depending on what it is you’re steaming. That’s it! It’s a cheap, fast and healthy cooking method, with little room for error! 

PRESSURE COOKING

Time is a precious commodity and a pressure cooker saves hours of time in the kitchen. Moreover, it produces dishes that have an incredible complexity of flavor in a matter of minutes. One of the reasons restaurant cooked food often tastes better than home cooked food is that they have the ability to let a stock or sauce simmer for 24 hours. Most people don’t have the time for that, but by using a pressure cooker, they can achieve a similar result. 

Using a pressure cooker, risotto, takes seven minutes instead of twenty five. Beans and chili are other dishes that are significantly sped up when made with a pressure cooker. You can even pressure cook food in canning jars, which is a great way to preserve fruits and vegetables. 

A pressure cooker is just a pot with a sealed, lockable lid and a valve that creates the pressure inside. It works by capturing steam that builds up and, as it builds, it increases the pressure in the vessel. The pressure increase then raises the boiling point of water and voila!  

The number one priority when using a pressure cooker is safety! Do your research before buying one and read the instructions carefully before christening it.

Time is a precious commodity and a pressure cooker saves hours of time in the kitchen.

BRAISING (AKA LOW AND SLOW)

Braising is a chef’s best kept secret for exceptionally tender and flavorful meat. This cooking method uses both wet and dry heats: typically, the food is first sautéed or seared at a high temperature, then finished in a covered pot at a lower temperature while sitting in liquid (usually wine, stock or water). Meats and vegetables can both be braised and pressure cooking is a form of braising. 

Braising needs heat, time, and moisture to break down the tough tissue that binds together the muscle fibers in meat, making it a great technique for cooking tougher, budget-friendly cuts. Some of the most popular braised dishes include coq au vin, beef bourguignon and beef brisket.

Braising is a chef’s best kept secret for exceptionally tender and flavorful meat.

There are four main steps when it comes to braising meat, which is commonly prepared this way. First, sear the meat evenly on all sides in a heavy pot like a Dutch oven. Next, you’ll need to cook a mirepoix (that’s an onion, celery, carrot combo) in the drippings that remain from searing. Add your braising liquid, stirring and scraping up those delicious browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Finished that? Return the meat to the pot, bring the liquid to a simmer, cover and slide into a hot oven. Then just let it braise until the meat is fork-tender, which is usually a few hours. 

Similar to braising, stews require slow cooking and low temperature and can do wonders for tougher cuts of meat, but where you're adding the least amount of liquid required for cooking when it comes to braising, stews actually require full submersion. If the ingredient you’re braising has a high water content (usually vegetables) it can be cooked in its own juices, making additional liquid unnecessary.