Food Tips

11 Basic Cooking Techniques

11 Basic Cooking Techniques

<a href="">People illustrations by Storyset</a>

Food Tips

11 Basic Cooking Techniques

Not sure how sautéing differs from searing or stir-frying?
The best way to become a good cook is to learn the culinary lingo.


1/ Sear, v., to brown just the surface of food over high heat, usually as the first step for other cooking methods

  • Meat, poultry, fish and shellfish are seared to enhance them visually and to add flavour by the process of caramelization (called the Maillard reaction, a term for what happens when sugars and amino acids are heated together).
  • Searing is done to intensify flavour.
  • Food will let you know when it is ready to turn by a process of “catch and release.” Food catches (or sticks) to the pan while cooking and releases once properly seared.


  • Searing can be done in a skillet, under the broiler or in a hot oven.
  • Pat meat or fish dry before searing.
  • Heat the pan first, then the fat. Fat must be very hot before meat or fish is added to the pan, otherwise juices will run.
  • Turn food only once after first side is seared. Make sure food is fully seared before turning. If turned too soon, food will stick to the pan and tear.


2/ Sauté, v., to cook food quickly in small amount of fat over relatively high heat

  • From the French verb sauter, meaning “to jump,” sauté refers to the way food jumps around in the hot pan as the food is shaken and tossed.
  • Proper sautéing produces a browned exterior, which intensifies flavour.
  • Pan size is important. If the pan is too large, food can dry out or burn. If it is too small or overcrowded, food will steam instead of brown.


  •  Cut foods into uniform size and thickness to brown evenly.
  • Use enough fat to just film pan’s surface. The more natural fat that the food has, the less fat will be needed in pan.
  • Heat pan before adding fat.
  • Heat fat until shimmering but not smoking before adding food.


3/ Stir-fry, v., to quickly cook relatively small, evenly-sized pieces of food in a wok over high heat

  • This efficient cooking method helps retain vegetables’ crisp textures, natural flavours and vibrant colours.
  • Use this versatile method of cooking for chicken, beef, pork, shellfish, tofu, vegetables, eggs and noodles.


  • Constant movement or stirring is key for maximum exposure of ingredients to heat.
  • If stir-frying for a crowd, cook food in batches to avoid overcrowding and steaming food.
  • Consider stir-frying meat first to brown. Set it aside, then return to wok along with other stir-fried ingredients and sauce to heat through.
  • When adding sauce, pour into a “well” made by pushing meat and vegetables up side of wok, stirring to thicken before tossing with other ingredients.


4/ Pan-fry, v., to cook food in fat in a shallow pan

  • Pan-frying is similar to searing, except that food is cooked all the way through in a larger amount of fat and at a lower temperature.


  • Avoid overcrowding the pan, or pan will lose heat, causing food to steam or become soggy.


5/ Roast, v., to cook food, uncovered, by surrounding it with hot dry air in oven

  • Roasting is usually used for large tender cuts of meat and whole birds.
  • Food is often seared before roasting.
  • Low oven temperature helps keep food tender, while extended cooking produces deeply browned exterior.
  • The term baking is often used interchangeably with roasting, with baking most often referring to nonmeat items, such as breads and cakes, as well as some casseroles, pâtés, ham and fish.


  • Use oven-safe food thermometer. Or insert digital thermometer near end of cooking, take reading, then remove thermometer.
  • After cooking, loosely cover food with foil and let rest so juices on surface are absorbed into flesh.


6/ Broil, v., to cook food, uncovered, directly under high heat

  • Because air is not an efficient conductor of heat, broiling requires food to be quite close to the heat source.
  • Use for quick-cooking steaks and chops, chicken pieces, ham slices, fish and shrimp; for blackening skin on peppers; and for browning top of cakes and casseroles.


  • Use broiler pan, wire rack in shallow cake pan or foil-lined rimmed baking sheet.
  • Trim fat off meat to avoid flare-ups.
  • Food browns quickly, so watch carefully.


7/ Deep-fry, v., to cook food by submerging in hot fat

  • Although it seems like moist-heat cooking, it’s not.
  • Deep-fried foods often seem oily or greasy, but this is merely a sign of poor cooking technique.


  • Use deep-fry thermometer to monitor and maintain temperature of fat.
  • Do not overcrowd fryer; temperature of fat will drop and food will become oil-soaked and soggy rather than crisp and nongreasy.
  • Transfer all deep-fried foods to paper towel–lined tray or bowl to blot excess fat.


8/ Poach, v., to cook food (usually egg, chicken or fish) by submerging in a flavourful simmering liquid

  • Fish is often poached, because this even, gentle cooking method helps preserve its delicate flesh.
  • Large whole fish (and often fillets) are traditionally poached in court bouillon, a cooking liquid or quick stock made from water; citrus, wine or vinegar; vegetables and herbs. The acidic elements help keep fish firm.
  • When making poached eggs, help firm egg whites by adding a spoonful of white vinegar to the simmering water.


  • Keep liquid at gentle simmer (160 to 180°F/71 to 82°C). With higher heat, the agitation of the bubbles can damage delicate foods.
  • Avoid letting poaching liquid rapidly boil; cooking in it may overcook and dry out food, or it could cause eggs to break.


9/ Steam, v., to cook food on rack or in steamer basket or insert over boiling or simmering water in covered pan

  • Steaming is gentle, moist-heat cooking ideal for vegetables, fish or chicken.
  • With no water in direct contact and little-to-no added fat, food retains juices and nutrients.
  • A steamer can be metal, bamboo or electric; anything from a collapsible basket to a multilayered appliance. Most important is a tight-fitting lid, so that steam doesn’t escape and thus prolong cooking.


  • Cut food to uniform size.
  • Fill pan so that water comes at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) below rack; bring to boil.
  • Arrange food on rack with enough space for steam to circulate evenly.
  • Except for electric steamer, add rack with food to pot after water boils.
  • Steam foods that release liquids (such as fish or chicken) on plate or pan on rack to catch juices, which can enrich a sauce.
  • To maintain proper temperature and time, don’t lift lid during cooking.


10/ Simmer, v., to gently cook foods submerged in liquid heated to just below boiling point

  • The temperature for simmering is 185° to 200°F (85° to 93°C).
  • Simmering liquids include water, broth and wine and can be enhanced with the addition of salt, herbs and spices.
  • Boiling is similar but is done at the slightly higher temperature of 212°F (100°C).


  • Bring liquid to boil, then reduce heat and maintain a steady simmer.
  • Use a pan large enough to hold liquid and keep food submerged during cooking.
  • Simmering can be done with or without lid.


11/ Braise or stew, v., to brown food in fat then cook, tightly covered, in small amount of liquid over low heat for a long time

  • Large pieces of meat are partially covered with liquid and braised. Small cubes of meat are covered with liquid and stewed.
  • Braising tough or sinewy meat softens fibrous tissues and develops flavour.
  • Browning adds flavour to food because it caramelizes the sugars and proteins.


  • Brown meat in batches. If done all at once, pieces may be crowded and steam, resulting in pallid grey meat and gravy.
  • Use tight-fitting lid.
  • Simmer on stove top over low heat or in 300° to 325°F (150° to 160°C) oven until tender.


Moist-Heat Cooking

Any style of cooking in or with liquid (steaming, simmering, boiling and poaching) is moist-heat cooking. It uses lower temperatures than dry-heat cooking (with 212°F/100°C being the boiling point).


Dry-Heat Cooking

Any technique where heat is transferred to food without the use of any moisture is dry-heat cooking. This usually involves temperatures of 300°F (150°C) or higher. Dry heat requires moderately-high to high cooking temperatures in order to obtain complex flavours from the browning of meats and vegetables.


Combination-Heat Cooking

Braising and stewing are often considered combination cooking because they begin with dry heat (browning or searing) then simmer in liquid, a moist-heat method


More Cooking Technique Definitions: 

• Baste: To use butter, fat or liquid to moisten and keep surface of foods from drying out while cooking.

• Blanch: To immerse food briefly in boiling water to heighten colour and flavour, and to loosen skins.

• Brown: To cook food in a pan, often with a bit of fat, until it darkens in colour.

• Caramelize: To cook with dry heat so natural sugars break down as food cooks, resulting in browning and intensifying flavours.

• Deglaze: To add liquid (usually wine or stock) to browned bits in pan (called fond) after browning food; the bits loosen and dissolve, making the base for sauces and stocks.

• Dredge: To coat food lightly with flour or bread crumbs before frying or roasting to help brown food.

• Parboil: To boil foods until partially cooked. Cooking is completed either later or by using another cooking method, such as sautéing.

• Reduce: To decrease liquid in uncovered pan by use of heat.

• Refresh: To stop cooking and retain colour by plunging foods into ice water and removing as soon as cooled.

• Render: To use heat to melt and remove fat.

• Scald: To pour boiling water over food or dip food briefly into boiling water; to heat a liquid, often milk or cream, to just below boiling point.

• Score: To cut shallow slits in food for decoration, to promote tenderness, to prevent fat from curling, or to aid in rendering fat.

• Steep: To let dry food ingredients (such as ground coffee, tea leaves, herbs and spices) soak in hot liquid to extract colour and flavour.

• Sweat: To cook foods (often with high water content, such as onions) over low heat in fat to soften without colouring and to draw out moisture


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Food Tips

11 Basic Cooking Techniques