Chinese Water Temperatures
I remember as a kid my mom boiling a lot of foods. Vegetables – fresh, frozen or canned were thrown in a pan and brought to a boil. Chicken, beef, pork, hot dogs, even some seafood was boiled. There was no finesse about it; she just turned up the heat and let her rip. Everything was cooked on high at a rolling boil. Looking back and knowing what I know about cooking today, I shake my head. No wonder some of her meals (not all them mind you) were tough to get down.
There are plenty of reasons not to boil most foods, especially because there are relatively few foods that benefit from a true hard boil. Think about it.
When you put a pot of cold water on the stove and turn on the heat, the temperature slowly rises. I have an article about the stages of boiling, but sometimes I find that I really need something more descriptive than a temperature range.
Chinese Water Temperatures
I recently read about a really interesting way to explain the stages of heating water, and it works really well for visual people like me. The Chinese have given descriptive names to describe the water at different temperatures. For me, a description is often a lot easier to understand than a temperature range, especially if I can’t find my thermometer.
I don’t have photos of these stages yet but there is a link at the bottom of this post where I learned about these descriptions and the author has good photos to check out.
Shrimp Eyes – The first stage is shrimp eyes, or tiny bubbles all over the bottom of the pan. At this stage, the water is approximately 160°F, the temperature at which eggs begin to set.
Crab Eyes – The next stage, crab eyes, sees the bubbles getting slightly larger and some steam beginning to rise from the pan. The temperature is right around 175°F.
Fish Eyes – Coming quickly after crab eyes is the fish eyes stage, where the bubbles are even a bit larger and the temperature is 180°F.
The first three stages are perfect for poaching. The trick is to adjust the heat to keep the temperature steady. Without adjusting the heat, the temperature continues to rise and the water gets to the next stage, rope of pearls.
Rope of Pearls – This is what I might also call a very slow boil, when the bubbles begin to rise in streams from the bottom of the pan but the surface is still relatively calm. At this point, the water is between 200°F -205°F.
Raging Torrent – The last stage, the full rolling boil, is referred to as a raging torrent in the Chinese tradition. At this point, the water is bubbling violently and the surface is rolling with them and, at sea level, the temperature is 212°F.
In the Western tradition, we tend to divide hot water temperatures into three phases: poaching temperature (about 150°F – 180°F), simmering temperature (about 180°F -205°F) and boiling temperature (212°F ). I do appreciate the descriptive names given by the Chinese, however, because they remind me to pay attention to how the water looks. And I always have my eyes with me, if not my thermometer.
Now that I think of it, maybe when my mom said she was going to boil some meat up for dinner, she was really simmering it. After all, I don’t have terrible memories of trying to gnaw through tough, overcooked meats.
And my friend Paula, who is from Mexico and is a marvelous cook, “boils” a lot of foods, including meats, yet her food is always mouthwateringly delicious. Maybe it’s just a question of semantics. We often say the water is boiling if it is bubbling, but water can bubble at as low as 180°F -190°F.
Reference for Chinese stages of boiling: Golden Moon Tea.com You’ll find some good photos there too.
Introduction to Boiling
Be sure to check out my article on How to Boil Foods with links to the various stages. We have all heard the jokes about someone who is so bad at cooking, “They can’t even boil water!”
Well, you may just have a different opinion about that after you read my post.