How to Boil Water, both the book and TeeVee iterations, are aimed at basic cooking, first semester in the kitchen type of Cooking 101. Today's topic, how to simmer liquid, is a little more abstract, definitely a varsity level topic.
Boiling is an easy. Water boils at 212 degrees at sea level. 212 f isn't that high of a temperature – ovens mostly run at 350-375, deep frying 350, stovetop surfaces reach over 1,000. It isn't that cooking food in boiling water, the lowest temperature of that group, offers the greatest perils to food – this blog will continually posit two ideas:
- Foods are neither good nor bad – Is a Big Mac better or worse than acai berry probiotic smoothie? Eh. Is the occasional burger a big deal if you eat plenty of fruit and veg and are physically active? As opposed to being vegan chain-smoking, couch potato who eats only highly processed foods like tofu and cheetos (yes these people exist). It's really about the diet in totality.
- People need to turn the temperature down. It's not just the high temperatures; culturally we need to slow down and enjoy both the cooking process and the eating.
Boiling isn't always the best method for cooking in liquid for two reasons. First, boiling is a somewhat violent act. Yes, the bubbling motion can theoretically mess up food, but it's the molecules violently colliding against each other that are going to damage food. And secondly, be it meat or veg, you want even results – with the outer part of the food being roughly the same temperature and consistency of the inside. Pasta, durable pasta is going to be fine in boiling water, tender dumplings will fall apart in a hard boil.
Before boiling we have two graduated stages – poaching and simmering. Poaching happens around 160 degrees, you will hear the phrase enjoined in instructions for fish and eggs. A poached egg or fish, are going to be done at about 140 degrees. The closer the cooking temp is to the final temp the hard it is to over cook an item.
Simmering happens between 180 to 200 degrees, the term is maddeningly vague; 200 is boiling in Denver after all and the bottom of a pot is hotter than the surface, so it's hard to assign a precise number to the activity, but without getting all metaphysical, simmering is a state of balance, where the cook is gently extracting flavor and gelatin from ingredients: Too hot and you leach fine particles, impurities and overcook food, too low and you may not over cook foods but you aren't going to cook to extract any flavor either.
To be able to simmer, a cook has to either have the patience,confidence, experience and the knowledge – sometimes paid with the price of a few mistakes - to know what the ultimate result will be or own a crockpot.