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

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

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

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.

Butter Poached Halibut

Honest Food

The butter in this recipe results in a rich flavor and silky texture. The addition of a seasonal salad is a fresh, vibrant flourish. Get the recipe.

Olive Oil-Poached Fingerling Potatoes

Gently poaching fingerling potatoes enables them to retain their buttery flavor that is intensified by the rustic note of olive oil. Get the recipe.

Simmered Chicken and Vegetables

Just One Cookbook

This regal simmered chicken recipe is a go-to favorite in Japan on days when something special is required. The layers of flavors are developed slowly through simmering, resulting in a colorful dish that will wow your guests. Get the recipe.

Potatoes Simmered in Spices and Coconut Milk

eCurry

This Indian recipe is bursting with complex flavor and a lingering sweetness from the coconut. Get the recipe.

Il Gran Bollito Misto (Boiled Meat)

Memorie di Angelina

This robust dish from northern Italy is an ideal way to fill your home with earthy aroma and to create an addicting broth that is as flavorful as it is comforting. Get the recipe.

Red Wine-Poached Rhubarb

David Lebovitz

Pears are commonly poached in red wine but rhubarb is an unexpected twist on a garnish that pairs perfectly with ice cream, custard, or cheesecake. Get the recipe.

— Head photo illustration by Chowhound, using: Burnt Macaroni/The Gourmand Mom.

Jody Eddy is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan. She has cooked at Jean Georges, The Fat Duck, and Tabla and is the former editor of Art Culinaire Magazine. Her most recent cookbook was "Cuba! Recipes and Stories From a Cuban Kitchen", published by Ten Speed Press. Her cookbook "North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland" was published by Ten Speed Press in 2014 and won the 2015 IACP Judge's Choice Award. She is the author of the James Beard nominated cookbook "Come In, We're Closed: An Invitation to Staff Meals at the World's Best Restaurants" and her upcoming book for Ten Speed, "The Hygge Life", will be published in November, 2017. She is writing a cookbook for W.W. Norton profiling the cuisine and food traditions of monasteries, temples, mosques and synagogues around the world which will be published in 2019 and a cookbook with the Food Network chef Maneet Chauhan profiling the cuisine of India via an epic train journey throughout the country. She writes for Travel+Leisure, Saveur, Food & Wine, The Wall Street Journal, Plate, and VICE, among others. She is the author of JodyEddy.com, leads culinary trend tours for food and beverage corporations in Iceland, Peru, Mexico, Ireland and Cuba and is the Vice President of Marketing, Partnerships and Events at Hop Springs, an 85 acre agritourism destination opening in Nashville in May, 2018.
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