let’s take a look at one of the most basic forms of cooking – immersing food in hot water.
Yes, I know. That includes simmering as well. But I want to look at boiling, some of the different foods involved and the ways in which they are treated.
Boiling is really divided into two separate methods. One is to place the food in cold water and gradually heat it to boiling point, the other is to bring the water to the boil first before adding the food.
The first method might be used for potatoes, for example, and the second for green vegetables.
A variation on both methods is whether or not the food should be covered while cooking. Let’s deal with that right now. Most green vegetables should never be covered while boiling – they will lose their color and turn an unattractive shade of gray.
Vegetables such as potatoes should be partially covered to preserve vitamins and reduce evaporation.
Remember that water will come to the boil much quicker if the pan is covered to start with, as will any other liquid.
Let’s take an example
Eggs. This may seem too simple, but the truth is you can tell more about a cook by the way they handle eggs and potatoes than just about anything else. I have lost count of the number of times a chef has tested my skills by asking me to boil potatoes or make a simple omelet.
So, how do we boil eggs?
One way is to bring a pan of water to the boil, put the eggs in and then time them for two, three or five minutes depending on the result you want. But there is another method, which is the one I use.
Put the eggs in cold, salted water and bring to the boil on the fierce heat. The salt will not flavor the eggs. It’s there simply to make the water boil at a slightly higher temperature.
Turn off the heat, cover the pan and prepare your toast. Assuming that will take around 4 minutes, the eggs will be ready when you are and can either be turned out on to the toast or served in their shells. Simple, huh?
Very. But there is one thing you have to have to make it work – fresh eggs!
If you’re one of the countless millions who doesn’t live right next to a chicken farm, then you’re just going to have to check your use-by date. If it’s any less than four weeks away, don’t buy the eggs!
I mean it. Eggs, like vegetables and fruit, need to be as fresh as you can get them.
Broadly speaking, we’re talking about things like green beans, snow peas and so on. Not cabbage, which should never be boiled, and not some of the more delicate greens like spinach and bok choy.
Beans and peas are best cooked in uncovered, rapidly boiling salted water until they are just cooked – which means they are still firm and cut cleanly.
Drain them in a colander and then plunge them immediately into icy water. You can leave them there until you need them. This is the ‘magic’ step chefs use to keep greens truly green.
Yes, I know they’ll go cold. That’s not a problem. You see, by using this method you can prepare your green vegetables well ahead of time and not have to worry about them until just before you serve the meal.
When everything else is ready, have a pan of boiling water on the stove. Drop the greens in, count to ten and drain them. They’re ready to serve as is, or you can glaze them with melted butter, add nutmeg, pepper or toss them in a little balsamic.
Easy? You betcha. And a foolproof way of ensuring that the greens are ready at the same time as the rest of the meal.