Good cooking is not the result of accident, a species of good luck, as it were. There is reason in every process; a law governing every chemical change. A course of medical lectures does not make a physician, nor will a collection of choice recipes make a cook. There must be a knowledge of compounding, as well as of compiling; of baking, as well as of mixing; and above all, one must engage in the real doing. Theory alone will not suffice; but experience, which practice only can give, is of the utmost importance.
Mention will be made under this head of those forms of cooking only which enter into vegetarian cooking as usually understood.
The term "boiling," as applied to cookery, means cooking in a boiling liquid. Many kinds of food need the action of water or other liquid, combined with heat, to cook them in the best manner, and boiling is one of the most common forms of cookery. When water becomes too hot to bear the hand in it with comfort, it has reached one hundred and fifty degrees, or the scalding point. When there is a gentle tremor or undulation on the surface, one hundred and eighty degrees, or the simmering point, is reached. When there is quite a commotion on the surface of the water, and the bubbles breaking above it throw off steam or watery vapor, two hundred and twelve degrees, or the boiling point, is reached.
After water reaches the boiling point it becomes no hotter, no matter how violently it may boil. The excess of heat escapes in the steam. This important fact is rarely understood by the average cook, and much fuel is often needlessly wasted because of the mistaken idea that rapidly boiling water cooks food more quickly.
In all ordinary cooking, simmering is more effective than violent boiling. The temperature of the water may be slightly raised by covering the kettle. If sugar or salt or anything to increase its density, is added to water, it takes longer for it to boil, but its boiling temperature is higher. This explains why boiling sugar syrup and boiling salt water are hotter than boiling fresh water. Boiling effects partial destruction or removal of organic and mineral impurities found in water, hence the importance of boiling the water where such impurities exist. Boiling also expels all the air and the gases which give fresh water its sparkle and vitality. Therefore, the sooner water is used after it begins to boil, the more satisfactory will be the cooking.
Fresh water should be used when the object is to extract the flavor, or soluble parts, as in soups and broths. Salt water should be used when it is desired to retain the flavor and soluble parts, as in most green vegetables. Cold water draws out the starch of vegetables. Boiling water bursts starch grains, and is absorbed by the swelling starch, and softens the cellulose in cereals and vegetables.
In cooking some kinds of food, milk is used instead of water. Milk being thicker than water, less of the steam escapes, and it becomes hot sooner than water, adheres to the pan, and burns' easily. At its boiling temperature (214 degrees), the casein contained in milk is slightly hardened, and its fat rendered more difficult of digestion. By heating milk in a double boiler, these dangers are avoided. It then only reaches a temperature of 196 degrees, and is called scalded milk. The process is a form of steaming.
Steaming is a process of cooking food over boiling water. It is a very satisfactory and convenient method, without much loss of substance. It takes a longer time than some other ways of cooking, but requires less attention. There are two methods of cooking by steam: (1) In a steamer, which is a covered pan, with perforated bottom. This is placed over boiling water, and the steam carries the heat directly to the food. (2) By means of a double boiler. By this method the heat is conveyed from the boiling water, through the inner boiler to the food. When cooking by steam, the water should boil steadily until the food is done. Watery vegetables are made drier by steaming, and flour mixtures develop a different flavor than when baked.
Stewing is cooking in a small quantity of water at a low temperature for a long time, and is a form of boiling. The food loses less nutriment when stewed than when rapidly boiled.
Baking is cooking by means of dry heat, as in a close oven. The closely-confined heat of the oven develops flavors which are entirely different from those obtained by other forms of cooking. The baking of many kinds of food is as important as the mixing, and every cook should thoroughly understand how to regulate the oven. Nearly all flour mixtures, as bread, cakes, and many kinds of pudding, are more wholesome when baked than when cooked in any other way.
Braizing is a combination of stewing and baking. Meat cooked in a closely-covered stew-pan, so that it retains its own flavor and those of the vegetables and flavorings put with it, is braized. Braized dishes are highly esteemed.
Broiling, meaning "to burn," is cooking directly over, or in front of, the clear fire, and is the hottest form of cooking. The intense heat, combined with the free action of the air, produces a fine flavor quite unlike that obtained in any other way. Pan broiling is broiling on a hot surface instead of over hot coals.