Cooking is an art. It is the technology, science and craft of preparing food for consumption. Cooking techniques, methods, and ingredients vary widely across the world reflecting unique environmental, economic, and cultural traditions and trends.
Types of cooking also depend on the skill levels and training of cooks. At its most basic, cooking means applying heat to food. Whether the food is baked, fried, sautéed, boiled, or grilled, it’s all cooking.
In scientific terms, cooking is transferring energy from a heat source to the food. It is as much about the way heat changes the food as it is about the heat itself. Here’s a list of common cooking methods and their descriptions:
Boiling is basically the cooking of food by immersion in water that has been heated to near its boiling point. It is the method of cooking food in boiling water or other water-based liquids such as stock or milk. In some cases, the water boils the food till it is tender as in the case of beans, while in some other cases, the water boils the food till it becomes hard as in the case of eggs.
Simmering is a food preparation technique by which foods are cooked in hot liquids kept just below the boiling point of water and above poaching temperature. To create a steady simmer, a liquid is brought to a boil, then its heat source is reduced to a lower, constant temperature. It is gentler than boiling to prevent food from toughening and/or breaking up. Simmering is usually a rapid and efficient method of cooking. Food that has simmered in milk or cream instead of water is sometimes referred to as creamed.
This term is gotten from the French, sauté [sote], meaning ‘jumped, bounced’ in reference to tossing while cooking is a method of cooking that uses a relatively small amount of oil or fat in a shallow pan over relatively high heat. In a sauté, all the ingredients are heated at once, and cooked quickly. To facilitate this, the ingredients are rapidly moved around in the pan, either by the use of a utensil, or by repeatedly jerking the pan itself. A sauté pan must be large enough to hold all of the food in one layer, so steam can escape, which keeps the ingredients from stewing
Grilling is a form of cooking that involves dry heat applied to the surface of food, commonly from above, below or from the side. Grilling usually involves a significant amount of direct, radiant heat, and tends to be used for cooking meat, fish and vegetables quickly. Food to be grilled is cooked on a grill (an open wire grid such as a gridiron with a heat source above or below), using a cast iron/frying pan, or a grill pan (similar to a frying pan, but with raised ridges to mimic the wires of an open grill). Heat transfer to the food when using a grill is primarily through thermal radiation. Heat transfer when using a grill pan or griddle is by direct conduction. Grilling is often presented as a healthy alternative to cooking with oils, although the fat and juices lost by grilling can contribute to drier food.
Roasting is a cooking method that uses dry heat where hot air covers the food, cooking it evenly on all sides with temperatures of at least 150 °C from an open flame, oven, or other heat source. Roasting can enhance the flavor through caramelization 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. Meats and fish prepared in this way are described as “roasted”, e.g., roasted chicken or roast fish.
Baking is a method of preparing food that uses dry heat, normally in an oven, but can also be done in hot ashes, or on hot stones. The most common baked item is bread but many other types of foods are baked. Heat is gradually transferred “from the surface of cakes, cookies, and breads to their center. As heat travels through, it transforms batters and doughs into baked goods and more with a firm dry crust and a softer centre”.
Steaming is a method of 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 pot. Steaming is considered a healthy cooking technique that can be used for many kinds of food. Steaming works by boiling water continuously, causing it to vaporize 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.
Poaching is a cooking technique that involves cooking by submerging food in a liquid, such as water, milk, stock or wine. Poaching is differentiated from the other “moist heat” cooking methods, such as simmering and boiling, in that it uses a relatively low temperature. This temperature range makes it particularly suitable for delicate food, such as eggs, poultry, fish and fruit, which might easily fall apart or dry out using other cooking methods. Poaching is often considered a healthy method of cooking because it does not use fat to cook or flavor the food.
Frying is the cooking of food in oil or another fat. Similar to sautéing, pan-fried foods are generally turned over once or twice during cooking, using tongs or a spatula, while sautéed foods are cooked by “tossing in the pan”.A large variety of foods may be fried. There are about three different methods of frying.
- Deep frying: Deep frying (also referred to as deep fat frying) is a cooking method in which food is submerged in hot fat, most commonly oil, as opposed to the shallow oil used in conventional frying done in a frying pan. Normally, a deep fryer or chip pan is used for this; industrially, a pressure fryer or vacuum fryer may be used. Deep frying may also be performed using oil that is heated in a pot.
- Shallow frying: Shallow frying is an oil-based cooking technique. It is typically used to prepare portion-sized cuts of meat and fish, and patties such as fritters. Shallow frying can also be used to cook vegetables. Shallow-fried foods are often battered. It is a high-heat process that promoted browning.
- Stir frying: This method originated from the Chinese. Stir-frying is a fast and fresh way to cook. Simply toss and turn bite-sized pieces of food in a little hot oil in a wok over high heat, and in five minutes or less, the work is done. Vegetables emerge crisp and bright. Meats are flavorful, tender, and well seared.
- Pan frying: Pan frying or pan-frying is a form of frying food characterized by the use of minimal cooking oil or fat (compared to shallow frying or deep frying), typically using just enough to lubricate the pan. In the case of a greasy food such as bacon, no oil or fats may need to be added. As a form of frying, the technique relies on oil or fat as the heat transfer medium, and on correct temperature and time to not overcook or burn the food. Pan frying can serve to retain the moisture in foods such as meat and seafood. The food is typically flipped at least once to ensure that both sides are cooked properly.