Learn about Life in the 1920s

Different Cooking Methods and Processes


26. Food is cooked by the application of heat, which may be either moist or dry. While it is true that the art of cooking includes the preparation of material that is served or eaten raw, cooking itself is impossible without heat; indeed, the part of cooking that requires the most skill and experience is that in which heat is involved. Explicit directions for carrying on the various cooking processes depend on the kind of stove, the cooking utensils, and even the atmospheric conditions. In truth, the results of some processes depend so much on the state of the atmosphere that they are not successful on a day on which it is damp and heavy; also, as is well known, the stove acts perfectly on some days, whereas on other days it seems to have a stubborn will of its own. Besides the difficulties mentioned, the heat itself sometimes presents obstacles in the cooking of foods, to regulate it in such a way as to keep it uniform being often a hard matter. Thus, a dish may be spoiled by subjecting it to heat that is too intense, by cooking it too long, or by not cooking it rapidly enough. All these points must be learned, and the best way to master them is to put into constant practice the principles that are involved in cookery.

27. Without doubt, the first step in gaining a mastery of cookery is to become familiar with the different methods and processes, the ways in which they are applied, and the reasons for applying them. There are numerous ways of cooking food, but the principal processes are boiling, stewing, steaming, dry steaming, braizing, fricasseeing, roasting, baking, broiling, pan broiling, frying, and sautéing. Which one of these to use will depend on the food that is to be cooked and the result desired. If the wrong method is employed, there will be a waste of food material or the food will be rendered less desirable in flavor or tenderness. For example, it would be both wasteful and undesirable to roast a tough old fowl or to boil a tender young broiler.

The various methods of cookery just mentioned naturally divide themselves into three groups; namely, those involving dry heat, those requiring moist heat, and those in which hot fat is the cooking medium.


28. Cooking with dry heat includes broiling, pan broiling, roasting, and baking; but, whichever of these processes is used, the principle is practically the same. In these processes the food is cooked by being exposed to the source of heat or by being placed in a closed oven and subjected to heated air. When dry heat is applied, the food to be cooked is heated to a much greater temperature than when moist heat is used.


--The cooking process known as broiling consists in exposing directly to the source of heat the food that is to be cooked; that is, in cooking it over or before a clear bed of coals or a gas flame. The aim in broiling is to retain the juices of food and develop flavor. As it is a quick method, foods that are not tender, as, for example, tough meats, should not be broiled, because broiling does not help to render their fibers more tender. In applying this cooking process, which is particularly suitable for tender portions of meat and for young fowl, the food should be exposed to intense heat at first in order to sear all surfaces quickly and thus retain the juices. At the beginning of the cooking, the article that is being broiled should be turned often; then, as soon as the outside is browned, the heat should be reduced if possible, as with a gas stove, and the article allowed to cook until done. If the broiling is done over coals, it is necessary to continue the turning during the entire process. While broiling produces an especially good flavor in the foods to which it is applied, provided they are not tough, it is not the most economical way of cooking.


--Pan broiling is an adaptation of the broiling method. It consists in cooking food in a sissing-hot pan on top of the stove without the use of fat. In this process the surfaces of the steak, chop, or whatever the food may be, are quickly seared, after which the article is turned frequently and cooked more slowly until done. The object of pan broiling is the same as that of broiling, and it is resorted to, as a rule, when the fire is not in the right condition for broiling.


--Originally, the term to roast meant to cook before a fire, because, before the time of stoves, practically all food was cooked in the fireplace. Food that was to be roasted was placed before the fire in a device that reflected heat, this device being open on the side toward the fire and closed on that toward the room. The roast was suspended in this device, slowly turned, and thus cooked by radiant heat--that is, heat given off in the form of direct rays--the principle being the same as that of broiling, but the application different. Nowadays, the term roasting is almost universally applied to the action of both hot air and radiant heat. However, much of what is called roasting is in reality baking. Foods cooked in the oven of an ordinary coal or gas range are really baked, although they are said to be roasted, and a covered roasting pan is a misnomer. Food must be exposed to the air in the process of cooking if it is to be roasted in the true sense.

It may be well to note that successful roasting or broiling depends more on the shape of the article to be roasted or broiled than on its weight. For this reason, thick, compact cuts of meat are usually selected for roasting and thin cuts for broiling. Good results also depend very much on the pan selected for the roasting process. One of the great aims in cooking should be to save or conserve all the food possible; that is, if by one process less waste in cooking results, it should be chosen rather than one that will result in loss at the end of the cooking process.


--By baking is meant cooking in a heated oven at temperatures ranging from 300 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. As the term baking is frequently used in a wrong sense, the actual conditions of the process should be thoroughly understood. In both broiling and the original method of roasting, the heat is applied directly; that is, the food is exposed directly to the source of heat. Actual baking differs from these processes in that it is done in a closed oven or by means of heated air. Starchy foods, such as bread, cakes, and pastry, are nearly always baked, and gradually other foods, such as meats, fish, and vegetables are being subjected to this method of cooking. In fact, persons who are skilled in cooking use the oven more and more for things that they formerly thought had to be cooked in other ways. But the name that is applied to the process depends somewhat on custom, for while meat that is cooked in the oven is really baked, it is usually termed roasted meat. It seems strange, but it is nevertheless true, that ham cooked in the oven has always been termed baked, while turkey cooked in exactly the same way is said to be roasted.


33. The methods of cooking with moist heat, that is, through the medium of water, are boiling, simmering, steaming, dry steaming, and braizing. In every one of these processes, the effect of moist heat on food is entirely different from that of dry heat. However, the method to be selected depends to a great extent on the amount of water that the food contains. To some foods much water must be added in the cooking process; to others, only a little or none at all. If food is not placed directly in large or small quantities of water, it is cooked by contact with steam or in a utensil that is heated by being placed in another containing boiling water, as, for example, a double boiler.

As water is such an important factor in cooking with moist heat, something concerning its nature and use should be understood. Therefore, before considering the moist-heat cooking processes in detail, the function of water in the body and in cooking and also the kinds of water are discussed.


--Water supplies no energy to the body, but it plays a very important part in nutrition. In fact, its particular function in the body is to act as a solvent and a carrier of nutritive material and waste. In doing this work, it keeps the liquids of the body properly diluted, increases the flow of the digestive juices, and helps to carry off waste material. However, its ability to perform these necessary functions in the right way depends on its quality and its safety.


--Water is either hard or soft. As it falls from the clouds, it is pure and soft until it comes in contact with gases and solids, which are dissolved by it and change its character. It is definitely known that the last of the water that falls in a shower is much better than the first, as the first cleanses not only the air, but the roofs and other things with which it comes in contact. In passing through certain kinds of soil or over rocks, water dissolves some of the minerals that are contained there and is thus changed from soft to hard water. If sewage drains into a well or water supply, the water is liable to contain bacteria, which will render it unfit and unsafe for drinking until it is sterilized by boiling. Besides rain water and distilled water, there is none that is entirely soft; all other waters hold certain salts in solution to a greater or less degree.

The quality of hardness, which is present in nearly all water, is either temporary or permanent. Water is temporarily hard when it contains soluble lime, which is precipitated, that is, separated from it, upon boiling. Every housewife who uses a teakettle is familiar with this condition. The lime precipitated day after day clings to the sides of the vessel in which the water is boiled, and in time they become very thickly coated. Permanent hardness is caused by other compounds of lime that are not precipitated by boiling the water. The only way in which to soften such water is to add to it an alkali, such as borax, washing soda, or bicarbonate of soda.


--It is the solvent, or dissolving, power of water that makes this liquid valuable in cooking, but of the two kinds, soft water is preferable to hard, because it possesses greater solvent power. This is due to the fact that hard water has already dissolved a certain amount of material and will therefore dissolve less of the food substances and flavors when it is used for cooking purposes than soft water, which has dissolved nothing. It is known, too, that the flavor of such beverages as tea and coffee is often greatly impaired by the use of hard water. Dried beans and peas, cereals, and tough cuts of meat will not cook tender so readily in hard water as in soft, but the addition of a small amount of soda during the cooking of these foods will assist in softening them.

Water is used in cooking chiefly for extracting flavors, as in the making of coffee, tea, and soups; as a medium for carrying flavors and foods in such beverages as lemonade and cocoa; for softening both vegetable and animal fiber; and for cooking starch and dissolving sugar, salt, gelatine, etc. In accomplishing much of this work, water acts as a medium for conveying heat.


--As applied to cooking, boiling means cooking foods in boiling water. Water boils when its temperature is raised by heat to what is commonly termed its boiling point. This varies with the atmospheric pressure, but at sea level, under ordinary conditions, it is always 212 degrees Fahrenheit. When the atmospheric pressure on the surface of the water is lessened, boiling takes place at a lower temperature than that mentioned, and in extremely high altitudes the boiling point is so lowered that to cook certain foods by means of boiling water is difficult. As the water heats in the process of boiling, tiny bubbles appear on the bottom of the vessel in which it is contained and rise to the surface. Then, gradually, the bubbles increase in size until large ones form, rise rapidly, and break, thus producing constant agitation of the water.

38. Boiling has various effects on foods. It toughens the albumin in eggs, toughens the fiber and dissolves the connective tissues in meat, softens the cellulose in cereals, vegetables, and fruits, and dissolves other substances in many foods. A good point to bear in mind in preparing foods by boiling is that slowly boiling water has the same temperature as rapidly boiling water and is therefore able to do exactly the same work. Keeping the gas burning full heat or running the fire hard to keep the water boiling rapidly is therefore unnecessary; besides, it wastes fuel without doing the work any faster and sometimes not so well. However, there are several factors that influence the rapidity with which water may be brought to the boiling point; namely, the kind of utensil used, the amount of surface exposed, and the quantity of heat applied. A cover placed on a saucepan or a kettle in which food is to be boiled retains the heat, and thus causes the temperature to rise more quickly; besides, a cover so used prevents a loss of water by condensing the steam as it rises against the cover. As water boils, some of it constantly passes off in the form of steam, and for this reason sirups or sauces become thicker the longer they are cooked. The evaporation takes place all over the surface of the water; consequently, the greater the surface exposed, the more quickly is the quantity of water decreased during boiling. Another point to observe in the boiling process is that foods boiled rapidly in water have a tendency to lose their shape and are reduced to small pieces if allowed to boil long enough.

Besides serving to cook foods, boiling also renders water safe, as it destroys any germs that may be present. This explains why water must sometimes be boiled to make it safe for drinking. Boiled water, as is known, loses its good taste. However, as this change is brought about by the loss of air during boiling, the flavor can be restored and air again introduced if the water is shaken in a partly filled jar or bottle, or beaten vigorously for a short time with an egg beater.


--The cooking process known as simmering, or stewing, is a modification of boiling. By this method, food is cooked in water at a temperature below the boiling point, or anywhere from 185 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Water at the simmering point always moves gently--never rapidly as it does in boiling. Less heat and consequently less fuel are required to cook foods in this way, unless, of course, the time consumed in cooking the food at a low temperature is much greater than that consumed in cooking it more rapidly.

Aside from permitting economy in the use of fuel, simmering, or stewing, cooks deliciously certain foods that could not be selected for the more rapid methods. For example, tough cuts of meat and old fowl can be made tender and tasty by long cooking at a low temperature, for this method tends to soften the fiber and to develop an excellent flavor. Tough vegetables, too, can be cooked tender by the simmering process without using so much fuel as would be used if they were boiled, for whatever method is used they require long cooking. Beets, turnips, and other winter vegetables should be stewed rather than boiled, as it is somewhat difficult to cook them tender, especially in the late winter and early spring. If dry beans and peas are brought to the simmering point and then allowed to cook, they can be prepared for the table in practically the same length of time and without so much fuel as if they boiled continuously.


--As its name implies, steaming is the cooking of food by the application of steam. In this cooking process, the food is put into a steamer, which is a cooking utensil that consists of a vessel with a perforated bottom placed over one containing water. As the water boils, steam rises and cooks the food in the upper, or perforated, vessel. Steamers are sometimes arranged with a number of perforated vessels, one on top of the other. Such a steamer permits of the cooking of several foods at the same time without the need of additional fuel, because a different food may be placed in each vessel.

Steaming is preferable to boiling in some cases, because by it there is no loss of mineral salts nor food substances; besides, the flavor is not so likely to be lost as when food is boiled. Vegetables prepared in this way prove very palatable, and very often variety is added to the diet by steaming bread, cake, and pudding mixtures and then, provided a crisp outside is desired, placing them in a hot oven to dry out the moist surface.


--Cooking foods in a vessel that is suspended in another one containing boiling water constitutes the cooking method known as dry steaming. The double boiler is a cooking utensil devised especially for carrying on this process. The food placed in the suspended, or inner, vessel does not reach the boiling point, but is cooked by the transfer of heat from the water in the outside, or lower, vessel. A decided advantage of this method is that no watching is required except to see that the water in the lower vessel does not boil away completely, for as long as there is water between the food and the fire, the food will neither boil nor burn.

Because of the nature of certain foods, cooking them by this process is especially desirable. The flavor and consistency of cereals and foods containing starch are greatly improved by long cooking in this way. Likewise, custards and mixtures containing eggs can be conveniently cooked in a double boiler, because they do not require a high temperature; in fact, their texture is spoiled if they are cooked at the boiling point. To heat milk directly over the flame without scorching it is a difficult matter, and, on the other hand, boiled milk is hard to digest. Because of these facts, food containing milk should not be boiled, but should be cooked at a lower temperature in a double boiler.


--Cooking meat in an oven in a closed pan with a small quantity of water constitutes braizing. This cooking process might be called a combination of stewing and baking, but when it is properly carried out, the meat is placed on a rack so as to be raised above the water, in which may be placed sliced vegetables. In this process the meat actually cooks in the flavored steam that surrounds it in the hot pan. The so-called double roasting pans are in fact braizing pans when they are properly used. A pot roast is the result of a modification of the braizing method.


43. Of the three mediums of conveying heat to food, namely, hot air, hot water, and hot fat, that of hot fat renders food the least digestible. Much of this difficulty, however, can be overcome if an effort is made to secure as little absorption of the fat as possible. If the ingredients of the food are properly mixed before applying the fat and if the fat is at the right temperature, good results can be obtained by the various methods of cooking with hot fat, which are frying, sautéing, and fricasseeing.


--By frying is meant the cooking of food in deep fat at a temperature of 350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Any kind of fat that will not impart flavor to the food may be used for frying, but the vegetable oils, such as cottonseed oils, combinations of coconut and cottonseed oils, and nut oils, are preferable to lards and other animal fats, because they do not burn so easily. Foods cooked in deep fat will not absorb the fat nor become greasy if they are properly prepared, quickly fried, and well drained on paper that will absorb any extra fat.


--Browning food first on one side and then on the other in a small quantity of fat is termed sautéing. In this cooking process, the fat is placed in a shallow pan, and when it is sufficiently hot, the food is put into it. Foods that are to be sautéd are usually sliced thin or cut into small pieces, and they are turned frequently during the process of cooking. All foods prepared in this way are difficult to digest, because they become more or less hard and soaked with fat. Chops and thin cuts of meat, which are intended to be pan-broiled, are really sautéd if they are allowed to cook in the fat that fries out of them.


--A combination of sautéing and stewing results in the cooking process known as fricasseeing. This process is used in preparing such foods as chicken, veal, or game, but it is more frequently employed for cooking fowl, which, in cookery, is the term used to distinguish the old of domestic fowls from chickens or pullets. In fricasseeing, the meat to be cooked is cut into pieces and sautéd either before or after stewing; then it is served with a white or a brown sauce. Ordinarily, the meat should be browned first, unless it is very tough, in order to retain the juices and improve the flavor. However, very old fowl or tough meat should be stewed first and then browned.

Source: Woman's Institute Library of Cookery

Heat for Cooking >>>>


Other Chapters: The Problem of Food | Selection of Food | Food Substances | Food Value | Digestion and Absorption of Food | Preparation of Food | Methods of Cooking | Heat for Cooking | Utensils for Cooking | Preparing Foods for Cooking | Order of Work | Cooking Time Table | Care of Food | Menus and Recipes | Terms Used in Cookery