For the beginnings of cooking we should need to go back to the days when game was roasted by the open fire, built for warmth, or corn parched on hot stones. Perhaps some root was cooked in the hot ashes. This primitive method of roasting we still use in camp fires, and in modified form wherever food is directly exposed to the heat of coal or gas. Water could not be a cooking medium until man advanced at least to the first stage of pottery making, when some rude basket daubed with clay was water-tight and sufficiently heat proof.
Application of heat is the most difficult stage of the whole process of cookery. It is so easy to have the heat too intense, or too low, to expose the food for too long or too short a time to its action. Most of our apparatus fails to give us a uniform heat, the tendency being to an increase or decrease of temperature. Since the boiling temperature of water re-mains at 212° F., boiling is an easy process to manage, provided the water does not boil out. The presence of water insures a low or moderate temperature always.
It requires patience and time to learn how to bring this natural force of heat under control. One novice who had allowed a flour paste to boil over and burn while she was looking out of the window remarked: "We may forget, but they never do!" - a pretty way of stating the steady working of nature's forces which we can harness for our use only by the exercise of reason and will and constant watchfulness. The unintelligent cook is impatient of slow processes, and cannot believe that food will finally be "done " unless the water is at a "galloping " boil, and a red-hot fire is keeping the oven at burning temperature.
Look upon the application of heat as a continuation of nature's slow ripening process, a softening of tough fibers and a development of pleasing flavors. For why do we cook at all except for these reasons? Primitive man thought only that the food had a better taste. He may have decided, too, that it was easier to masticate; but we have learned that in some cases we may, with right methods of cooking, make it easier to digest farther on in the alimentary canal. Modern science carries us a step farther and teaches us that cooking destroys lower organisms, such as harmful bacteria that may be present, and even animal parasites in meats.
We have at our command the following processes:
Heat direct from coal, charcoal, wood, or gas.
Surfaces of food exposed and turned for browning.
Thin portions of meat or fish exposed and turned for searing, browning, and short cooking of the interior.
Thicker cuts of meat exposed and turned frequently for searing, browning, and gradual cooking of the interior. This is an ancient method. It survives in the French "Rotisserie " ; and we use it in the modern gas stove when we cook directly under the gas.
Water, the medium.
Cooking in boiling water, temperature, 212° F., or 100° C.
Simmering, stewing, or "coddling." - Cooking in water below the boiling temperature, 180° F. up to 210° F.
Cooking in a receptacle into which steam penetrates, 212° F. - or in a closed receptacle surrounded by steam or boiling water as in a double boiler, of a "steamer," temperature from 200° F. to 210° F.
Fat, the medium.
Deep fat frying, temperature 350°-400° F.
Pan broiling - Cooking of chops or steaks in a heated pan, without additional fat.
To cook in a heated pan with a small amount of fat, enough merely to prevent the food from sticking to the pan and to hasten the browning process. "Baking" cakes on a griddle is a modification of this method.
Cooking in a heated oven, temperature from 300° F. to 450° F., or higher for rapid browning. Meat and poultry cooked in an oven are baked and not roasted, although we use the word "roast " for this method.
Cooking meat in a heated oven in a closed vessel, with a supply of water to keep down the temperature. This might be called an "oven stew."
These methods are sometimes combined in one process. In a brown stew, the meat is first cooked in a pan with a little fat to brown it, and to sear the outside for retaining the juices, before the actual stewing begins. A "pot-roast," is an old-fashioned method of cooking a solid piece of meat with a little water in a pot on top of the stove. The water simmers out, and the meat is browned. What methods does this process unite?
The American Indians in their Squantum, or Clam Bake, heated a layer of stones by means of a fire on top, removing the ashes when the fire died down. A layer of wet seaweed was placed on the stones, and upon this clams, fish, and corn were laid, and covered with another layer of seaweed. We have inherited this method from the Indians, and use it at the shore. What is the cooking process ?