Poaching, simmering, and boiling are all moist-heat cooking techniques that adhere to the basic steps of immersing food in a liquid in order to complete its cooking process. The three cooking techniques are differentiated by temperature level.
Since the level of heat varies between the three stages, certain food items are more conducive to one technique over another. The liquid used also varies depending upon the temperature since items like milk should be kept at a low temperature to prevent scorching or boiling over.
While it might seem simple to differentiate between these three fundamental cooking techniques, each one has its positives and negatives. Once you understand what these are, you will be well on your way to moist-heat cooking success.
Poaching is a gentle way to cook delicate foods such as fruit, tender vegetables, fish, and eggs. The temperature ranges from between 60–180°F and since the heat is relatively low, liquids such as milk, stock, oil, and wine are all suitable for poaching. Because food items that are suitable for poaching cook in a relatively short period of time, they are able to retain their color, flavor, and nutritional value in a way that foods that are simmered or boiled are not.
Simmering occurs between 180-200°F. Dishes such as stews, stocks, sauces, soups, and items like tougher cuts of meat, pasta, potatoes, and rice are all perfect dancing partners for simmering. Since these recipes and ingredients generally take longer to cook than those that are poached, flavor, color, and nutritional value are sometimes diminished. However, since simmering enables the flavors and ingredients in dishes such as soups and stews to mingle for a substantial period of time, simmering is also the ideal way to create new flavors.
Fine simmering occurs when tiny bubbles rise to the surface of the water every two to four seconds. Standard simmering takes place when bubbles are rising consistently and vigorous simmering happens when there are consistent bubbles accompanied by steam.
Boiling occurs once the temperature of the liquid exceeds 212°F. Adding sugar or salt to the liquid increases its boiling point and because it typically takes less time to cook an item by boiling it, more flavor, color, and nutrients are retained than when simmering. Boiling is also a safe way to prepare a food item since the high temperature kills off dangerous microbes, bacteria, and parasites that might exist. Tender cuts of meat, root vegetables, and tougher grains like barley are all suitable for boiling.
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