Cooking by Simmering and Boiling

Cooking by Simmering and Boiling

Simmered foods are often referred to as being boiled; however, this is not an accurate description of the cooking speed. In fact, the liquid's temperature should be kept as close to a boil as possible without ever reaching a true boil. A vigorous boil causes most meats, fish and poultry to become tough and stringy. The temperature should be high enough to allow connective tissues to soften, however. Usually the required cooking time is deliberately extended to allow even well-exercised cuts of meat to become tender to the bite.

Dried beans and grains, meat and some vegetables are more often boiled. The additional heat is necessary to soften the fibers and coatings that make these foods such excellent candidates for extended storage. Boiling both re-hydrates and cooks the food, changing the texture from dry and hard into something agreeable to the palate.

Steps to Simmering and Boiling

  1. Assemble all ingredients and preparations for simmering and boiling.

    • Main ingredients

    • Liquid

    • Additional or optional items for flavoring, finishing and garnishing

    • Items necessary to prepare sauce

    Some items to be simmered are generally naturally tender. Wrap whole fish in cheesecloth to protect it from breaking apart during cooking. Stuff the poultry, if desired, and truss it to help retain its shape. Stuff meats, if desired, and tie them to maintain their shape. Proper tying or trussing of the item will ensure that its natural shape is preserved.

    Most dried beans and some grains may require an initial soaking to begin softening them. This can be a longer soaking, done in enough cool water to cover them for several hours. The "quick soak" method calls for beans to be combined with water, brought up to a boil, and allowed to steep in the hot water for about 1 hour. In either case, they should be drained before beginning the actual boiling process.

    The liquid used for simmering should be appropriate to the food and well flavored in order to compensate for any flavor lost during cooking. It is important to use good-quality stocks and enough aromatic ingredient, such as herbs, wine, spices and vegetables, to produce a full, pleasing flavor in both the finished product and any sauce prepared from the liquid. Most boiled foods are prepared in plain or salted water.

    Boiled foods are often served with a pungent sauce prepared separately. Others are simply dressed with butter and seasoned.

  2. Assemble all equipments necessary for cooking and serving.

    • Poacher or other pots

    • Ladles or skimmers

    • Strainers or colanders

    • Holding containers to keep foods warm or to hold once cooled (optional)

    • Carving boards and slicers (optional)

    • Instant reading thermometer.

    The pot used for simmering and boiling should be selected with attention to the size and shape of the food being prepared. The pot should hold the food, the liquid and aromatics comfortably, with enough room to allow the liquid to expand as it heats. There should also be enough space so that the surface can be skimmed if necessary throughout cooking. A tight-fitting lid is necessary for some types of simmering and boiling.


  1. Combine the food to be simmered or boiled with the liquid and bring to the correct cooking temperature. Some foods are allowed to start off in cool water - potatoes or heavily salted or brained meats, for instance. Others, such as vegetables, are added to liquid that is already at the correct temperature. This allows the liquid to return to the correct temperature shortly after the item is added to ensure proper cooking. In general, the amount of liquid in the pot should be sufficient to keep the item completely submerged throughout cooking time. Grains and beans will absorb significant amounts of liquid as they cook. Add more water or stock if necessary to keep the pot from cooking dry. By the end of cooking time, there may be no free liquid at all.

  2. Maintain the proper cooking speed throughout the simmering or boiling process. Maintain an even cooking temperature throughout cooking time. Skim the surface of the liquid to remove any impurities, if necessary. This will help the dish to develop appropriate and attractive colors, as well as keeping any broth from becoming too cloudy - an important point if the broth is to be used as a sauce or served separately.

  3. Carefully remove the main item as appropriate. The food is ready to finish as desired, or it may be properly cooled and stored for later service.

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