The moist cooking methods fall into three categories: Braising, Poaching, Steaming. Moist heat cooking methods generally use lower temperatures than dry heat cooking methods. We use the two extremes for delicate items and the middle range for tougher items. Poaching is so low temperature and so gentle that fish and eggs cook without damage. Steaming at a higher temperature only exposes the food to the steam, so it can cook delicate items. But, braising is for the tough items; really tough. Its cooked so long that the connective tissue in meats will gelatinize and soften so the meat is fork tender. If you have lean tender meat already, its best to sauté or fry the item.
Its best to involve liquids other than water to bring more flavor to the party for poaching and steaming. Herbs and spices in the liquid rush over the food as it cooks to impart a basting like quality to the process.
- Poaching = 140-180 degrees
- Braising = 180-205 degrees
- Steaming = 212 degrees
Poaching is an immersion technique. Its for low temperature cooking of delicate items like eggs and fish. Temperatures range from 140°F to 180°F and the liquid won’t be bubbling at all.
Braising is a cooking method for tough cuts of meat and for vegetable dishes. Braised meats are first browned and then cooked in a liquid that serves as a sauce for the meat. Braising makes an exchange of liquids bringing the meat flavor into the braising liquid and the braising liquid flavor into the meat. Braising is usually a long process where the meat connective tissue will gelatinize. This makes the meat is almost fork tender but not falling apart. When selecting cuts of meat, the process will work best for meat marbled with fat. The process will not Braising temperatures are not high enough to brown the meat. It must be pan seared before braising.
Meats simmer at temperatures between 180 degrees and 200 degrees. The meat and the braising liquid will boil over direct heat. The temperature is then reduced below boiling, and cover the pot. Cooking can finish in the oven or on the stove top. Near the end of the cooking process, remove the lid may from oven braised meats. This gives the liquid a chance to reduce and thicken to form a sauce. It will also give a chance for the chef to baste the meat with the thickening sauce.
Braising is more of a family of methods and can include the following:
Casseroling is from the name of the cooking dish used. Its an oven proof dish with a tight fitting lid referred to as a ‘casserole dish’. This is not so much of a variation in the method as a common name for a braise when done in a casserole dish.
Like casseroling and stewing, it cooks the food in a liquid but over an extended period of up to 12 hours. Crockpot is a brand name for slow cookers whose name has become synonymous with the method in the US.
Stewing is usually associated with smaller or bite sized pieces of meat. Stews, like braised meats, get much of their flavor from their cooking liquid. The small cuts of meat are submerged in the liquid while a true braise involves liquid 3/4 up the sides of the meat
Like the Casserole, the Tagine is a cooking vessel. The dishes made in the tagine take their name from the vessel. It is Moroccan in origin and whole books address Tagine cooking. The characteristic Moroccan flavors can be in a braising dish or stewpot and still known as a tagine.
This method cooks food in steam from boiling water whether in direct or indirect contact. You can use a traditional bamboo or stainless steamer.
Steam occurs when water comes to 212 degrees. So, all steam cooking occurs at 212 degrees where other methods can be at lower temperatures. The temperature must be at 212 because the food is above the liquid and only gets the convection heat of the steam.
Small amounts of liquid can steam if you encase the food in pouches. The French call it a Papillote. Take parchment paper cut in a butterfly shape and wrap it in a loose bubble around the food. Place meats and vegetables in the center of the pouch before closing. Add a small amount of flavorful liquid so it steams away inside the pouch while the whole thing bakes in an oven.
Blanching & Parboiling
These methods do not completely cook an item. They prepare items for further cooking under a different method. To blanch, plunge the food in boiling water or hot fat. Then remove it after a brief, timed interval. Then plunge it in iced water or placed under cold running water to halt (shock) the cooking . Blanch food to soften it, partly cook it, or remove a strong taste
Parboiling (or leaching) is like blanching but the cooking time is longer. You may blanch an item for 30 seconds or less to maintain a healthy green color such as in asparagus or spinach. Its also used to make peeling tomato skins easier. Parboiling cooks an item such as a potato so later cooking will be quicker. Parboiled potatoes are great for potato hash so the potatoes finish with tender ingredients.