Cooking methods

Cooking is about learning to handle some fundamental techniques not just about recipes. The best ingredients can be ruined if you don't know how to handle them in the right way. Here are some very basic cooking techniques.

1. Dry heat Method

Cooking food uncovered in hot air either in a spit(clay oven or tandoor), in an oven or in a heavy bottomed pan with occasional basting. Roasting can be used as a preliminary step (roasting eggplant for bharta or pepper for roast pepper hummus) or as a final step (roast potatoes). Dry roasting semolina, broken wheat or vermicilli for upma is an example of dry roasting in a pan. Roasting can enhance flavor by caramelizing the food surface. It uses slow diffused heat to slowly cook large chunks of meat.

Cooking food in dry hot air in a closed oven for a long period of time by convection. As the food cooks heat gradually travels from the surface of the food to the center, giving a dry outer crust with a soft center. Bread, cake, pies, cookies, crackers, pastries are all baked goods.

Cooking food by applying a significant amount of direct or radiant heat from above or below, to cook the food quickly. When the heat source comes from above, it is termed as broiling. For example as a final step to brown dishes such as au gratins. Grilling exposes the food to very high temperatures which also imparts a distinctive roast aroma. You can grill all types of meat and vegetables.

2. Moist heat Method

Cooking food in boiling water or other liquids such as stock or milk. Simmering is gentle boiling. Boiling should be done in a covered pan of the correct size using minimum amount of water sufficient to cover the food.
It is a harsh cooking technique and cannot be used for delicate foods such as fish. Foods suitable for boiling include root vegetables and starchy foods such as rice, noodles, potatoes, eggs, meats, sauces, stocks and soups. It is an effective cooking method for producing well flavoured stocks and cooking tough foods, but the disadvantage is the loss of soluble vitamins from foods to the water. If the water is discarded then these nutrients are lost.

Simmering foods in flavorful liquids just long enough to cook it through. Could be shallow poaching where enough liquid id added to cover the food by about three quarters.With deep poaching food is fully submerged in the liquid kept at simmer, almost below the boiling point.
Its a wonderful technique to cook foods while cutting fat and still enhancing the flavor and prevents delicate foods from getting tough. Used for eggs and fish, even fruits.
The poaching liquid consists of the base liquid which is most often water, stock or cooking wine. Some acidic ingredient is usually added to the base liquid to hold the protein of the poached food together while enhancing flavor. Flavorings added to the poaching liquid is often optional but can add a lot of flavor to the food. Includes seasoning, whole herbs and spices, finely chopped vegetables like onions, shallots, celery.

Cooking food by surrounding it with plenty of steam from boiling water. This is a valuable cooking method as it preserves the vitamins and minerals in the food, as opposed to boiling. Steaming involves no use of fat and so is also a way to cut back on fat.
Direct steaming is done by using an ordinary steamer or by placing food in a metal sieve or a steaming basket over a pan of boiling water as in steaming dim sum, fish, vegetables, etc. Indirect steaming is done by having the food in a covered dish and placing it in boiling water as in dhokla and idli. Do not use this method for tough cuts of meat or tough vegetables since they need more cooking time to get tender. Chinese dim sum, Mexican tamales, Parsi patra-ni-maach, Gujarati dhokla and idli are all examples of steamed dishes.

 Cooking chunks of meat and vegetables in flavorful broth which is kept simmering in a covered pan. Slow moist cooking results in a tender flavor infused dish called a stew. Stews are a great way to use leftovers and makes for a comforting, warming and hearty meal.
In this cooking method the heat never rises above the boiling temperature of water, so the food will never get hot enough to brown. One of the best ways to develop deep and wonderful flavors in a stew is to sear the meat and vegetables before stewing. And this brings us to braising.

A cooking technique where the main ingredient is first browned or seared in fat and then simmered in liquid with other stuff on low heat in a covered pan. The way it differs from stewing is that the food cooked is usually in larger chunks and uses a lot less liquid than stewing. Liquid used is usually water, stock, wine, beer or tomatoes.
This is a good method for tough cuts of meat and tough vegetables. A great example is pot roast where the meat cooks tender with a thick sauce or gravy. Kashmiri rogan josh and also butter chicken are both braised.

3. Frying: cooking food in heated oil or fat

Deep fat frying
Frying food in a large amount of oil such that the food is completely submerged in oil. Food cooks very quickly due to the high temperature and quick heat conduction of oil. Puri, kachori, vadas, pakoda, potato fries, chips, samosas, fried fish, corn dogs, onion rings, donuts, tempura, are all examples of deep fried foods.

Shallow fat frying
Frying food in just enough fat so as to prevent sticking. As the food is not submerged in fat, it is necessary to turn the food halfway through to cook the other side. Eggs, parathas, pancakes, dosa, cheela, tikki, crepes are all examples of shallow fried dishes.

Sauteing /Stir frying

Frying or tossing food in small amounts of fat at a high temperature in a wok or frying pan with rounded sides. This technique cooks quickly by sealing the flavor while preserving the color and texture of the food. This method of frying gives tender crisp texture to the veggies and is the prime technique used in Chinese cuisine.