Cooking techniques are the different ways in which food is cooked. Using ingredients in different ways will release its flavour accordingly. There are many ways to cook, and I’ve listed a fairly big list of the many methods that a person in the kitchen needs to know. These are not exhaustive; and these definitely are not just the basics. Do explore these to experiment and experience more about cooking.
Cooking food in the oven is called baking. Traditionally, this was also done in hot ashes, in hot sand, or on hot stones. The most common food item that is baked is bread – besides cakes and cookies. In baking, heat is gradually transferred from the food surface to the centre. It is because of this, the baked food tends to be have a firm dry crust with a soft centre.
Basting is a cooking technique that involves cooking meat with either its own juices or some type of preparation such as a sauce or marinade. The meat is left to cook, then periodically coated with the juice. This is often done with kebabs.
Prominently used in grilling, rotisserie, roasting, roasting, and other meat preparations where the meat is over heat for extended periods of time, basting is used to keep meat moist during the cooking process and also to apply or enhance flavour. Improperly administered basting, however, may actually lead to the very problem it is designed to prevent: the undesired loss of moisture (drying out) of the meat.
Heating liquid to a temperature where it begins to simmer/bubble and then begins to evaporate is the boiling point. When liquids reach this point, they tend to have enough heat in them to cook food items that are dropped in; or, they also begin to gradually lose its volume and tends to be thicker and more flavourful. Simmering is gentle boiling. For boiling and simmering, the liquid could not necessarily be only water, but can also be with milk or stock, or sauce, or gravy.
The best way to preserve the colour and the nutrients of most
vegetables is to boil them briefly in water (blanch), then cool them quickly with a dunk in an ice bath (shock). This technique also helps firm the flesh of a fruit while loosening the skin, which makes peeling (peaches or tomatoes, for example) easier. And it works for herbs, too: blanch and shock basil before making a pesto for a sauce that stays bright green (not brown!) even after it’s been tossed with hot pasta or stored for several days.
Braising (from the French word, ‘braiser’) is a combination-cooking method that uses both moist and dry heats: typically, the food is first seared at a high temperature, and then finished in a covered pot at a lower temperature while sitting in some (variable) amount of liquid (which may also add flavour). Braising of meat is often referred to as pot roasting, though some authors make a distinction between the two methods, based on whether additional liquid is added. Braising relies on heat, time, and moisture to break down the tough connective tissue (collagen) that binds together the muscle fibres collectively called meat, making it an ideal way to cook tougher, more affordable cuts. Many classic braised dishes (e.g., coq au vin) are highly evolved methods of cooking tough and otherwise unpalatable foods. Both pressure cooking and slow cooking (e.g., crockpots) are forms of braising.
Brining is a process similar to marination in which vegetable, meat or poultry is soaked in brine before cooking. Salt is added to cold water in a container, where the food is soaked anywhere from 30 minutes to a few days. The amount of time needed to brine depends on the size of the food. More time is needed for large pieces of food – like a turkey – compared to a chicken. Similarly with a large vegetables versus a thin cut.
Brining makes cooked meat moister by hydrating the cells of its muscle tissue before cooking, via the process of osmosis, and by allowing the cells to hold on to the water while they are cooked, via the process of denaturation. Thereby, this prevents the meat from dehydrating.
While mostly meats tends to be brined, it is increasingly common to have fruits and vegetables be brined too.
Browning is the process of partially cooking the surface of meat. Browning helps to remove excessive fat and to give the meat a brown coloured crust, and flavour through various browning reactions. Browning meat creates a chemical reaction on the surface of the meat called the Maillard Reaction, which develops deeper, richer flavours than can be created from roasting or braising alone. Ground meat will frequently be browned prior to adding other ingredients and completing the cooking process. It is typically done using a skillet or frying pan, which generally should be preheated to a medium high temperature to avoid sticking. In order to brown properly, the meat should first have surface moisture removed. This is usually achieved by patting the meat with a paper towel. The function of this is to remove water which creates steam instead of evenly browning the meat. When browning ground beef, the meat is stirred during cooking to break it up and to promote even browning. Onions and seasonings are sometimes added during the browning process. When the pink colour has disappeared and the meat has reached the desired degree of brownness, the pan is removed from the heat and the excess fat is drained off.
Caramelisation is the browning of sugar. This is a process used extensively in cooking for the resulting nutty flavour
and brown colour. As the process occurs, volatile chemicals are released, producing the characteristic caramel flavour. Specific sugars have their own point at which the reactions begin to proceed readily.
One should note that all foods contain sugar. When the sugar in food gets in touch with constant heat, it tends to caramelise. Therefore, onions get caramelised to a brown colour with a sweet caramel flavour when frying in a pan. Similarly, with mutton mince.
Confit (pronounced ‘con-fee’) is a cooking term for when food is cooked in grease, oil or sugar water (syrup), at a lower temperature than deep frying. While deep frying typically takes place at temperatures of 163–232 °C (325–450 °F), confit preparations are done much lower – an oil temperature of around 93 °C (200 °F), sometimes even cooler.
Although the term is usually used in modern cuisine to mean long slow cooking in oil or fat, the term “confit” means “preserved”. In meat cooking this requires the meat to be salted as part of the preservation process. After salting and cooking in the fat, sealed and stored in a cool, dark place, confit can last for several months or years. Confit is one of the oldest ways to preserve food, and is a specialty of south-western France.
In modern cooking many dishes slow cooked in oil at low temperature (e.g. confit potatoes) have no element of preservation.
Deep frying (also referred to as deep fat frying) is a cooking method in which food is submerged in hot fat, such as oil. Normally, a deep fryer or chip pan is used for this. Deep frying may also be performed using oil that is heated in a pot. Deep frying is classified as a dry heat cooking method because no water is used. Typically, deep frying cooks foods quickly: all sides of a food are cooked simultaneously as oil has a high rate of heat conduction. It is important to have the oil at a required high temperature for deep frying, as lower temperatures would mostly have the food item soak in the oil and then become stodgy.
The most popular deep fried foods are fries and pakoras.
Deglazing is a cooking technique for removing and dissolving browned food residue from a pan to flavour sauces, soups, and gravies.
When a piece of meat is roasted, pan-fried or prepared in a pan with another form of dry heat, a deposit of browned sugars, carbohydrates, and/or proteins forms on the bottom of the pan, along with any rendered fat.
Dry Roasting is a process by which heat is applied to dry foodstuffs without the use of oil or water. Unlike other dry heat methods, dry roasting is used with foods such as nuts and seeds. Dry roasted foods are stirred as they are roasted to ensure even heating.
Dry roasting can be done in a frying pan or wok (a common way to prepare spices in some cuisines), or in a specialised roaster (as is used for coffee beans or peanuts). Dry roasting changes the chemistry of proteins in the food, changing their flavour, and enhances the scent and taste of some spices. Roasted spices are commonly prepared by adding various herbs, spices and sugars in the frying pan and roasting until brown.
Dum Pukht or slow oven cooking is a cooking technique associated with the Awadh region of India, in which meat and vegetables are cooked over a very low flame, generally in sealed containers. The technique may be based on earlier Persian cooking methods introduced to India, but tradition assigns its origin in India to the reign of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah (1748-97). Historically Awadhi, it is now also commonly used in other cuisines like Mughlai, Punjabi and Hyderabadi. Dum means to ‘breathe in’ and pukht to ‘cook’.
If you find it almost impossible to stop dunking fries, vegetables, or your fingers into homemade aïoli or dressing, then you’re enjoying the magic of emulsification. Emulsification is the process of combining two liquids that don’t normally mix (like oil and vinegar) into a creamy, unified concoction. But dispersing and suspending tiny droplets of one liquid throughout the other takes patience, so don’t rush when preparing a mayonnaise or any other emulsified sauce.
The classic, garlicky Aïoli is delicious for dipping, stirring into a fish stew, or simply spreading on thick slices of country bread. The Tartare sauce to dip your fish fingers into is a result of an emulsion.
Flambé, is a cooking procedure in which alcohol is added to a hot pan to create a burst of flames. The word ‘flambé’ means ‘flamed’ in French. Flambéing is often associated with tableside presentation of certain liqueur-drenched dishes, such as Crêpes Suzette or Bananas Foster, when the alcohol is ignited and results in a blue-tinged flame. However, flambéing is also a step in making coq au vin, and other dishes and sauces, using spirits, before they are brought to the table. By rapidly burning off the volatile alcohol, flambéing can infuse a dish with additional aroma and flavour, and moderates the harshness of raw, high-proof spirits. The partial combustion of the flammable alcohol results in flames which quickly consume the liquid, however, some residual flavours usually remain.
While flambéing used to be very popular (as a part of table-side service), it has now lost favour with modern restaurants.
Grilling is a form of cooking that involves dry heat which is applied to the surface of food, commonly from above or below.
Grilling usually involves a significant amount of direct, radiant heat, and tends to be used for cooking meat quickly. Food to be grilled is cooked on a grill (an open wire grid such as a grid iron with a heat source above or below), a grill pan (similar to a frying pan, but with raised ridges to mimic the wires of an open grill), or griddle (a flat plate heated from below). Heat transfer to the food when using a grill is primarily via thermal radiation. Heat transfer when using a grill pan or griddle is by direct conduction.
You probably know the pleasure of macerating fresh summer fruit—essentially setting it aside to soften in a coating of sugar to draw out the flavourful juices. But this tenderizing technique also works with savoury foods, using salt instead of sugar. Rubbing kale leaves with salt and lemon juice will soften them for a raw salad. Macerating onions in a salt-and-vinegar bath will mellow their flavour and also deepen their colour, yielding a pungent (and, in this case, beautifully pink) pickle that’s great on everything from devilled eggs to burgers. Macerated whole shallots are a popular Indian table adournment with mint chutney.
Pan frying is a form of frying characterised by the use of minimal cooking oil or fat (when compared to shallow frying or deep frying); typically using just enough oil to lubricate the pan. In the case of a greasy food such as bacon, no oil or fats may be needed. As a form of frying, pan frying relies on oil as the heat transfer medium and on correct temperature and time to retain the moisture in the food. Because of the partial coverage, the food must be flipped at least once to cook both sides.
Not to be confused with boiling, poaching is the art of cooking in a flavoured liquid kept at a low simmer (just a few bubbles around the pan). The result: a well-seasoned, supremely moist dish that’s almost impossible to mess up. Poaching allows for more wiggle room to cook a recipe just right, making it a go-to technique for a plump chicken breast or fillets of fish that can easily overcook (or cook unevenly) at high heat. The broth slowly flavours the dish as it cooks, so don’t skimp on seasoning. Green onions, whole spices, and fresh herbs are great additions.
Parboiling (or leaching) is the partial boiling of food as the first step in cooking.
The word is often used when referring to parboiled rice. Parboiling can also be used for removing poisonous or foul-tasting substances from foodstuffs, and to soften vegetables before roasting them.
The food items are added to boiling water and cooked until they start to soften, then removed before they are fully cooked. Parboiling is usually used to partially cook an item which will then be cooked another way such as braising, grilling, or stir-frying. Parboiling differs from blanching in that one does not cool the items using cold water or ice after removing them from the boiling water.
Pickling is the process of preserving or expanding the lifespan of food by either anaerobic fermentation in in brine or immersion in vinegar. The resulting food is called a pickle, or to prevent ambiguity, prefaced with the adjective pickled. The pickling procedure will typically affect the food’s texture and flavour. In East Asia, vinaigrette (vegetable oil and vinegar) is used as the pickling medium.
In cooking, reduction is the process of thickening and intensifying the flavour of a liquid mixture such as a soup, sauce, wine, or juice by simmering or boiling.
Reduction is performed by simmering or boiling a liquid such as stock, fruit or vegetable juices, wine, vinegar, or a sauce until the desired volume is reached by evaporation. This is done without a lid, enabling the vapour to escape from the mixture. Different components of the liquid will evaporate at slightly different temperatures, and the goal of reduction is to drive away those with lowest points of evaporation. It thus can be seen as a form of distillation, capturing those components that have the highest boiling point.
While reduction does concentrate the flavours left in the pan, reducing too much will drive away all liquid in the sauce, leaving a “sticky, burnt coating” on your pan.
Roasting is a cooking method that uses dry heat where hot air envelops the food, cooking it evenly on all sides with temperatures of at least 300°F from an open flame, oven, or other heat source. Roasting can enhance flavour through caramelisation and Maillard browning on the surface of the food. Roasting uses indirect, diffused heat (as in an oven), and is suitable for slower cooking of meat in a larger, whole piece. Meats and most root and bulb vegetables can be roasted. Any piece of meat, especially red meat that has been cooked in this fashion is called a roast. In addition, large uncooked cuts of meat are referred to as roasts. A roast joint of meat can take one, two, even three hours to cook—the resulting meat is tender. Also, meats and vegetables prepared in this way are described as ‘roasted’, e.g., roasted chicken or roasted squash.
Sautéing is a method of cooking food, which uses a small amount of oil or fat in a shallow pan over relatively high heat. Ingredients are usually cut into pieces or thinly sliced to facilitate fast cooking. The primary mode of heat transfer during sautéing is conduction between the pan and the food being cooked. Food that is sautéed is browned while preserving its texture, moisture and flavour. If meat, chicken, or fish is sautéed, the sauté is often finished by deglazing the pan’s residue to make a sauce.
Sautéing may be compared with pan frying, in which larger pieces of food (for example, chops or steaks) are cooked quickly in oil or fat, and flipped onto both sides. Some cooks make a distinction between the two based on the depth of the oil used, while others use the terms interchangeably. Sautéing differs from searing in that searing only browns the surface of the food. Olive oil should not be used to sauté due to its low smoke point. Clarified butter, rapeseed oil, extra virgin olive oil and sunflower oil are commonly used for sautéing, but most fats will do. Regular butter will produce more flavour but will burn at a lower temperature and more quickly than other fats due to the presence of milk solids, so clarified butter is more fit for this use.
A crisp, golden brown exterior on meat or fish signals deep, savoury flavour—and looks pretty, too. Start by patting down the meat or fish with a paper towel. (Moisture creates steam, which hinders browning.) Next, preheat the pan over high heat, then add the oil. When the oil is shimmering and hot, add the meat and let it cook unbothered. It’s ready to flip when a corner lifts easily from the pan. If it sticks or tugs, give it a minute or so more. Thin cuts (like the chicken shown here) can be cooked completely on the stovetop. Thicker cuts (like steak) need to be transferred to the oven, either in the skillet or on a sheet tray, to cook to a rosy medium-rare.
This hands-off method (the oven does the work) gets the most flavour out of vegetables and ensures an even, fork-tender finish on a large cut of meat. (Fast, high heat can dry out the edges before the centre is cooked.) You’ll need time, but slow roasting can transform tough ingredients. Take tomatoes: Even not-so-great ones become irresistible as the low heat slowly removes water and concentrates their flavour. They’re excellent in a simple pasta salad or served with ricotta on crusty bread or toasted baguette slices.
Steaming is a methodof cooking using steam. This is often done with a food steamer, a kitchen appliance made specifically to cook food with steam, but food can also be steamed in a wok. Steaming works by boiling water continuously, causing it to vaporise into steam; the steam then carries heat to the nearby food, thus cooking the food. The food is kept separate from the boiling water but has direct contact with the steam, resulting in a moist texture to the food. This differs from double boiling, in which food is not directly exposed to steam, or pressure cooking, which uses a sealed vessel.
Stir frying is a Chinese cooking technique in which ingredients are fried in a small amount of very hot oil while being stirred in a wok. The technique originated in China and in recent centuries has spread into other parts of Asia and the West. Many claim that this quick, hot cooking seals in the flavours of the foods, as well as preserving their colour and texture.