There’s a lot of lingo when it comes to cooking with liquid: poach, simmer, boil. They all mean different things. It’s all about temperature.
Poaching is a gentle way of cooking tender cuts of meat or vegetables. The goal is to shoot for 160 to 180F degrees. I like to poach chicken breast, fish, eggs, fruits or foods that generally don’t need a lot of heat to break down their connective tissue or fibers. One of my mentors taught me how to poach. I was told to think of it as a happy smile just waiting to say hello. It sounds odd, but it helped me remember what to look for when poaching. The surface of the liquid should shimmer with the possibility of a bubble. The food must be completely submerged. That is why in some poaching recipes, you’ll cover with parchment instead of a lid, which would quickly raise the temperature to a simmer. Science!
Simmering is more intense than poaching, but less intense than boiling. Simmering is essential for tough cuts of meat like pot roast. The slow, gentle heat melts the connective tissue. I like to simmer broths, stocks, stews and braises. The temperature is between 180 to 205F degrees. Hence, you will see lingo such as gentle simmer, medium simmer or full simmer. As my mentor described it, this is the greeting, not a handshake just yet. A simmer has slow, small bubbles that periodically rise to the surface. The gentler and slower the bubbles, the lower the temperature.
Boiling is something most people recognize when they see it. Ideally, a full boil is 212F degrees and a low boil is 206F degrees. This is what my mentor would describe to me as the handshake. Very technical stuff. Really, it’s just very hot water with rapid bubbles. I pretty much only boil pasta or hearty vegetables like beets. Boiling can quickly overcook food, making vegetables limp and meat dry and tough, even though they are cooked in liquid.
Types of Cooking Liquids
As you can imagine, there are as many types of liquids to cook your food in as their are people cooking their food in liquids. There’s a lot. I’m going to narrow it down to three of the most common flavorful liquids that I use on a regular basis at home. Water, being the most obvious. Court Bouillion, and Dashi being the other two. These liquids are great bases. Meaning, you can add a little of your own flair to anyone of these liquids and it changes them drastically and make it your own.
The easiest recipe in the book of cooking. This what I use for cooking pasta, potatoes, big pot blanching green and other vibrant colored vegetables. It’s neutral in flavor and ready to go.
Big pot blanching is what chefs use to cook vegetables and retain their bright colors. The reason I call it big pot blanching is because we want to have enough water in our pot that when we add our vegetables to it the water really doesn’t stop boiling which is very important for cooking the vegetable as fast as possible and keeping the vibrant color. After cooking the vegetables, we plunge our vegetables in ice water to stop the cooking.
Dashi is a Japanese broth made from one, or the combination of Kombu, Katsuobushi (Bonito Flakes), small dried fish, and dried shiitake. Dashi is rich in umami, our savory sense of taste. If you’ve had miso soup. You’ve more than likely had dashi, which is the base of miso soup.
Now, before we get down the rabbit hole that is Dashi. I have to let you know that there are as many Dashi recipes as their are cooks. Everyone has their own recipe for Dashi. And that is what makes cooking interesting and vastly. Below, you’ll find a Dashi Recipe I use at home. Sometimes, I don’t even use bonito flakes and just use a ratio of kombu and filtered water and cold infuse it in my refrigerator overnight. This recipe is called a Konbu Dashi.
Dashi is very versatile. At the restaurant I worked in Denmark, Noma. Dashi was a base to many dishes. At home I like to poach chicken and shellfish in the dashi to bring some great savoriness to any dish I make.
Prep Time: 10 minutes | Cook Time: 10 minutes | Yield 1 1/4 cups
4-inch square Konbu
1 medium handful of shaved Katsuobushi
2 Cups Water, preferably filtered
Step by Step
- Place the konbu in a small saucepan
- Add 2 Cups cold water to the small saucepan
- Bring to a light simmer over medium-high heat.
- Remove the konbu from the pot and discard
- Drop in the katsubushi, and cook at a gentle simmer over low heat for about 8 minutes
- Remove from the heat and let steep for 8 minutes
- Strain the dashi through a wire-mesh sieve before using
- Store in air tight container for up to 5 days.
Coming up in French kitchens. Court Bouillon was used heavily for poaching fish, poultry, and meat. Court Bouillon, literally means “short broth.” This aromatic vegetable broth usually includes an acidic ingredient, such as wine or vinegar; which helps set the protein and add flavor to the ingredient your cooking.
Prep Time: 10-15 minutes | Cook Time: 35 minutes to 1 hour | Yield: 1 gallon
5 quarts, water
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
4 bay leaves
8 sprigs thyme
12 parsley sprigs
2 cups white wine
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 lemon, juiced
Step by Step
1.Combine water, thinly sliced veggies, salt and herbs in a non-reactive stock pot and bring to a simmer.
2.Simmer for 35 minutes to an hour or until ingredients are tender and a flavorful broth has been created.
3.For the last 10 minutes, add the white wine, pepper, and lemon juice
4.Strain and reserve the liquid
5. Cool the court bouillon down immediately, or keep warm for use
6. Store in an airtight container. This will keep for up to 5 days. But it is also great to make a big batch and freeze for a later use.