All you need to know about boiling water for cooking

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Learn more about this simple skill that is crucial to cooking

Boiling water seems pretty straightforward. You fill a pot, set it on your stove, turn up the heat and wait. It’s so simple that many of us have never really thought about it as something we had to learn.

But for aspiring home cooks, knowing the different ways to boil water is one of the basic skills that can’t be overlooked. After all, many recipes, from rice to veggie-based dishes, require this step.

Boiling water on a stove is quite different from boiling it in a microwave. When the former means heating water up at a steadily rising temperature, the latter poses the danger of overheating water, well above its typical boiling point.

What happens when water boils?

Once water is subjected to heat, after several minutes, bubbles start to form at the bottom of the pot. After a few more minutes, the water starts to simmer as these bubbles start to break up its surface, and then it starts emitting steam The bubbles start to rise to the surface, first partially, then it scatters across the pot of water. Soon, the water starts to quiver. When the water comes to a full boil and you will see steam rising and notice the water is already constantly churning.

Now let’s take a closer look at the different types of boiling commonly used in cooking.

The Different Ways to Boil Water: Why are they crucial to cooking?

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Scalding

This method is often done on milk to be used in recipes for breads, pastry, creams, and puddings. Why is it done? Well, back in the day (way before pasteurization was discovered) scalding was the go-to process to rid milk of harmful bacteria. These days, since pasteurized milk is readily available, scalding is mostly just done as a way to boost flavour.

How is it done? Scalding technically isn’t boiling, actually. It’s done by heating up milk just before it reaches its boiling point.

Blanching

This super simple cooking technique involves quickly cooking vegetables in boiling water (for about 20 seconds) then submerging them briefly in cold water. You can add salt to the boiling water prior to blanching for added flavour, for noodles, for instance, when making pasta dishes.

When done on leafy greens or onions, it helps lessen bitterness and enhance their vibrant colours. As for green beans, broccoli and carrots, blanching helps maintain that crispy, tender texture.

Poaching

Another cooking method that involves heating up water, but not exactly bringing it to a full-blown boil, is poaching. This technique involves keeping water at a constant, fairly low temperature. This is ideal for cooking eggs or fish.

Remember the phase approaching boiling that involves bubbles starting to form but not quite rising to the surface? That’s when poaching is best done. When poaching eggs, add vinegar to the pot of water to keep egg whites firm and intact. As for fish, some some prefer adding salt and milk to the water before poaching to enhance the creamy and rich flavour.

Simmering

You know how the bubbles start to rise to the surface midway through the boiling process? Turn the heat down low (some say the lowest possible on your stove) then you can start to simmer.

Simmering is an important process because it is a slow, gentle way to cook food. Out of all the different ways to boil water, this is a common step in many recipes, like braising meat or making stew. It’s great for maintaining the integrity and texture of certain types of fish and vegetables, like carrots and potatoes. When in doubt, simply think of simmering as midway between poaching and a full, rolling boil.

Reduction

This technique can be done by simmering or boiling. It’s a cooking process that thickens and boosts the flavour of soups, sauces, juice, or wine. As a general practice, any food that’s high in moisture can be reduced.

How is this done? By bringing the liquid to a boil and then simmering if you desire. Leave the pot uncovered so that it is allowed to evaporate. Keep heating it up until you reach the desired amount and consistency.

Boiling water is simple but vital to cooking. Keep these tips on the different ways to boil water in mind the next time you come across these terms in the next delicious recipe you want to try to make it even better!

Read also: A simple guide to perfect boiled eggs