When I first started cooking, what befuddled me the most were the names of the techniques: What does it mean to “bake” versus “broil”? When should I “blanche” and when should I “boil”? Here, I present to you the quick-and-dirty guide to basic cooking techniques, designed to take some confusion out of cooking.

Our Basic Cooking Techniques breakdown into 4 major categories: Dry, Oil-based, Water-based, and “Other,” since we are being MECE here.

Dry Techniques:

Bake – to cook in a closed environment (read:oven) by enveloping the food in hot, dry, air.

Sample Dish: Naan

Broil – easily confused with baking, in broiling the food is placed much closer to the heat source, often leading to a crispier skin. In broiling the heat source is above the food, in grilling the heat source is under the food.

Sample Dish: broiled salmon

Grill – no, not the 90’s teeth bling, to grill is to heat a food with a heat source close below. Grilling with wood/coal often impacts additional desired flavor. Grill marks also look delicious!

Sample Dish: Burger, kebabs

Oil-based Techniques:

Fry – to cook in a layer of hot oil, usually until a crispy edge or char forms. Pro: delicious. Con: fattening as the oil is partially absorbed.

Sample Dish: Chicken Cutlets

Saute – to cook in a small amount of oil. The ingredient is usually chopped to small pieces, and quickly stirred around in the hot oil to coat and cook.

Sample Dish: Kung-Pao Chicken

Water-based Techniques:

Steam – to cook the food with the steam over a boiling source of water, usually in a closed environment (i.e. pot with lid, rice cooker). Pro: low-fat and preserves the original flavors.

Sample Dish: Chawanmushi

Blanch – to place food into boiling water briefly, stopping before cooking all the way through, and plunging into cold water/ice water to stop the cooking process. Blanching is used most often with vegetables and fruits to retain the original bright colors.

Sample Dish: Crudités

Boil – to cook for a prolonged period in boiling water. There are many stages of boiling depending on temperature. For now, we can simplify down to “boiling” when large bubbles rise to the water’s surface, and “simmering” with tiny bubbles (the size of a pinhead) cover the pot’s bottom and rise to the surface.

Sample Dish: Chili, Soup, hotpot

Other Techniques:

Acid – Used most commonly with white fish, acid causes the protein to denature and turn opaque, much as it does when heated.

Sample Dish: Cerviche

Microwave – When you are really crunched for time…why not? The microwave heats the inside of the food more easily than other techniques.

Sample Dish: Hot Pockets? 🙂