Maybe you’re the type of person who put a pot of water to boil as soon as you walk in the door (or, in these WFH days, at the first sign of stomach growls). And well done to you! Chances are you’ll find a way to use this pot, whether it’s to boil (or steam!) A few eggs, make rice, cook noodles or pasta, or poach a piece of chicken.
Water can do it all. Well, almost – that’s pretty pointless when it comes to crisping or browning. But it can help you cook your veggies, protein, and leftovers to perfection without the risk of drying out or scorching. Below, we’ll outline some of the most common ways to cook with water so that you can finally understand the difference between blanching, steaming, and boiling broccoli. (Haven’t you always wondered?) Here’s how – and why, and when – to use these four techniques:
This is the technique that requires the most maneuvering: simmer a pot of water, then place your food, whether it’s broccoli florets, new potatoes, sweet potatoes, kabocha wedges. , fish wrapped in banana leaves, tamales, dumplings, rice, or – a tip we learned from cookbook author Amy Chaplin – a heat-resistant leftover container, in a basket made of metal or a bamboo tray that fits in the pot but sits above the water. Cover the entire craft.
Once you’ve got your setup set up, steaming is fast (as you may recall after a high school science class, steam is hotter than water), versatile (you can cook an entire meal at one time adding ingredients that cook faster (later) and water-saving (no need to fill an entire jar), while preserving nutrients and flavors.
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We like to boil whole or chopped vegetables when we already have a full pot on the stove, for example for noodles or cereals. If your water is salted well, you will also be seasoned from the start. Be careful with delicate green vegetables like spinach, which will need a lot of pressure after boiling. You’ll also find recipes, especially those from the culinary traditions of Southeast and East Asia, which involve boiling meats like pork, chicken, beef, and bones in order to remove unwanted flavors and / or to create a clearer, cleaner broth.
When you toss what you’ve boiled into an ice bath to stop the cooking process and keep the color and texture, it’s called blanching. This is handy for maintaining the sweet freshness of precious ingredients, like first-season peas or asparagus, as well as removing sticky skin from tomatoes, peaches, pearl onions, and even almonds and hazelnuts.
But in most cases, bleaching is not strictly necessary! Unless you’re cooking for a sweetheart or for the queen, skip the ice bath: just rinse the vegetables under cold water in a colander, then spread them out to keep them cool.
Poaching refers to cooking in hot, not boiling water, a gentle way to approach delicate foods like chicken breasts, eggs, and fish. It’s healthy, convenient, and perfect if you need a blank canvas (hello, chicken salad), but don’t expect crispy bits or a variation in texture. Pay attention to the water temperature: if the water is too hot, the fish may curl, the meat may harden, and the eggs may scramble.
Improve your game by adding flavors – citrus peel, a hint of soy, white wine – or replacing the water with olive oil. Although some may say that you are confiting?