How NOT to Cook with Water – Boiling

April 19, 2018 1 Comment

The Boiling Technique Mistakes

Boiling occurs when water reaches 212F (100C).  There are a couple of caveats that come with that, however.  First, the temperature 212F (100C) applies only to water.  Other liquids boil at slightly different temperatures.

Second, that temperature holds true at sea level.  For every 500 feet above sea level you go, you can subtract 1 degree F from 212F.

The reason for this is that boiling occurs when the vapor pressure of the liquid equals the atmospheric pressure, allowing the vapor to explosively escape as steam.  The higher the elevation, the lower the atmospheric pressure and the lower the corresponding vapor pressure for the liquid.

There are several stages of boiling.  In fact, the Chinese recognize five stages of boiling, giving each stage poetically descriptive names such as rope of pearls and raging torrent.

I propose two stages for general cooking purposes: a gentle boil and a full boil.  A gentle boil is characterized by many bubbles rapidly breaking the surface of the liquid.

A full rolling boil means that the surface of the water is extremely turbulent and bubbles rapidly and explosively break the surface.

Gentle boiling is ideal for cooking stuffed pasta such as ravioli and tortellini. A full boil works well for dried pastas and grains, such as rice and oats. The violent agitation of the water keep s starchy foods moving, thus avoiding sticking.

Boiling these types of dried foods generally takes between five and fifteen minutes., immersing delicate foods in boiling water for very short periods of time, following by immersion in ice cold water, is called blanching.

Blanching times ca range between just a few seconds to a minute or so, depending upon the food.

Blanching is a necessary step before freezing most fruits and vegetables.  A short dip in boiling water followed by the shock of ice water effectively kills off the enzymes present in fruits and vegetables that cause browning.

Freeze unblanched apples, and you’ll end up with brown apples within a couple of weeks.  Blanching is also useful in bringing out the bright colors of vegetables that are then to be served chilled, as for crudités, as well as for loosening the skins of peaches, nectarines and tomatoes–even potatoes–for easy peeling.

And guess what?  There are some commonly made mistakes that I am here to help you avoid.

Mistake #1  My Vegetables Are Soggy!

While it’s a great idea to blanch broccoli florets before putting out for snacks, it’s not such a great idea to boil broccoli until cooked through.  Once the color peaks during boiling, it quickly begins to fade, leaving you with some sad, gray vegetables by the time they’re cooked.

The Fix–Blanch, Don’t Boil

Dunk your vegetables in ice water after no more than a minute, or once the colors have brightened considerably.  Never walk away from blanching vegetables; you won’t even have time to get across the room, let alone make a phone call.

Boiling for long periods of time almost guarantees soggy vegetables, so keep boiling times short, and be sure to shock your vegetables after blanching.

Mistake #2  My Food is Gray!

You blanch your spinach for about fifteen seconds, just enough for it to turn a bright and beautiful green.  Then, you fish it out with a strainer, wander off to check the mail and then come back to a pile of dark green-ish gray-colored spinach.  What happened?

The Fix–Don’t Forget the Shock

The culprit, in this case, is carryover cooking.  We’re used to thinking about carryover cooking when roasting, and we generally remember to take our food out of the oven before it reaches the target temperature, letting it coast to doneness while resting.

In the case of roasting, carryover works in our favor, as cooking continues even once the food is on the counter.  With blanching, however, carryover cooking is definitely the enemy.  With delicate foods such as spinach and broccoli, overcooking can happen in a split second, and along with overcooking comes the dreaded gray color you are seeing.

When blanching foods, consider the ice water bath part of the blanching process rather than a separate step.  Plunging blanched foods into ice water effectively stops the cooking process instantaneously.  It can mean the difference between green and gray, so just do it.

Mistake #3  My Homemade Fettuccine Disintegrated!

Never forget that boiling is an extremely aggressive cooking process.  The water is very hot and boiling most intensely in the pot.

Foods are bound to get banged up.  When cooking boxed pasta, this is not a problem.  The agitation keeps the food moving, and semolina can certainly stand up to the rough treatment.

However,. not all pastas are created equal.

The Fix–Don’t Forget the Gentle Boil

As Emeril is always so fond of saying, “The knob goes from high to low for a reason.  Use it!”

Handmade and refrigerated pastas are more delicate than dried pastas, so they require more gentle treatment.  Cook these pastas and other more delicate foods such as dumplings at a gentle, rather than a full, boil.

This has been a pretty exhaustive look at poaching, simmering and boiling.  I bet you had no idea that these methods are so different from each other, even though they all involve submersing food in liquid.  It can be a bit confusing.

Just keep in mind that, on the roughness scale, poaching is at the very low end at “delicate,” simmering falls somewhere in the middle and takes a longer time, and boiling is at the high end and is a relatively short cooking process.

Remember that poaching lends itself to lean meats and fish while simmering (stewing/braising) is a better technique for tough, fatty meats.

Boiling is generally used for re-hydration of dried foods, such as boxed pasta, rice and other grains.  And when blanching, a form of boiling, make sure to shock the blanched foods in an ice bath.


How NOT to Cook with Water – Poaching

How NOT to Cook with Water – Simmering


Last modified on Fri 10 August 2018 3:30 pm

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  1. Janice says:

    Loving this series!! Thank you!!!

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