Water is as essential as fire in all processes of cookery. No food can be cooked without water and unless it naturally contains a large proportion of the fluid, more must be added during the cooking process.
Cooking food in water indicates further progress in this art than either broiling or roasting. It implies the invention of a kettle to contain the water, though the earliest cooking of this sort may have been done by dropping heated stones into a hollow one containing the water and meat or into a water tight basket. Homer and other ancient writers have nothing to say about boiled meats, though they mention those which were broiled or roasted.
Boiling, stewing, and steaming are slight variations of the same process. Under ordinary conditions, without pressure, no food thus cooked can be raised to a higher temperature than 212° F at sea level, and at high altitudes few foods can be cooked in this way, since water boils at a lower temperature.
Experiment. Much may be learned by heating a given measure of water and watching it until it reaches the boiling point.
Tiny bubbles hardly larger than the point of a pin soon form and rise to the top, but this is not boiling. The same thing may happen in a glass of water standing for an hour on the table. How will you explain this?
When the water is actually boiling large bubbles rise rapidly and break on the surface. Keep up this process until nothing appears to be left in the pan. Where has the water gone? Has anything been left behind ? There will usually be a trace of coloring matter to indicate that solids do not evaporate.
This point may be made more apparent by putting a tablespoonful of salt in the water that is to be evaporated.
What is left behind in a teakettle which is never cleaned inside though the water is allowed to boil day after day?
Experiment. Other simple experiments may be made with two dishes of uniform size containing the same amount of water exposed to the same heat, one covered, the other uncovered. Which reaches the boiling point first ? From which does the water first evaporate ?
The evaporation of water is an important factor in cooking. The rate of evaporation is proportionate to the surface exposed to the air and not to the amount of water in the kettle.
Thus the same quantity of syrup or sauce made in a shallow pan will naturally become thicker than when cooked for the same time in a deep pan having only one-fourth the surface.
The art of the cook is displayed by the proper choice of utensils, or, if utensils are limited, by varying the time of the process or by the addition of more water for different purposes. Where long cooking is necessary choose deep utensils, reserving the shallow ones for the occasions when haste is essential.
The use of a cover serves several purposes; it protects the food in the kettle from foreign matter from outside, it aids in retaining the heat, and prevents the loss of water to some extent, as much of the steam condenses and runs back.
Choice of Utensils
Even without a thermometer it is evident that water cannot be made as hot as fat, for a potato, a bit of meat, or a lump of dough might be cooked in water indefinitely without assuming the brown color which would come to any one of these articles in hot fat.
By observation also, we might discover that, however rapidly the water in a kettle boils, potatoes or other foods do not cook more quickly. In the same way we should find that absolute boiling or bubbling of the water was not necessary in order to cook some foods.
Through such observation and experience certain common laws of cooking have been established and these have been verified and explained by the experiments of modern scientists. The temperature of the water should be adapted to the type of food material to be cooked in it. Vegetables containing woody fibre to be softened require the boiling-point, while meats and eggs, of different composition, will cook more perfectly at a lower temperature. To extract juices and flavors of meats and vegetables to the fullest degree divide the substance finely to expose as much surface as possible to the action of the water and let that be cold. Soak first, then heat the whole slowly and hold below the boiling point till the end is gained.
When water is used only for the purpose of conveying heat let it be boiling hot when the food is put into it. Even then some of the solids in the food will be dissolved in the water and lost unless it be used. In some cases, as in strong flavored vegetables, this may be a desirable loss. Mediums like hot fat, a thick syrup, or a* gravy in which water is thickened with flour, by their density prevent loss of shape and flavor in the articles cooked in them. Rapid boiling in water tends to disintegrate foods. Meats are cooked to rags, potatoes become a soggy paste, and no intensity of heat is gained.
Stewing implies moist heat, a sort of sweating process. Boiling requires much water, at its highest temperature; stewing is done with little water at a heat sufficient to soften the substance, but considerably below the boiling point. Hence boiling is more applicable to vegetables and stewing to animal foods.
Braising and fricasseeing and pot roasting are combinations of broiling or frying and stewing. Sections of meat are first browned to secure a good flavor and then stewed until tender in broth or gravy.
Water is a restless substance and is constantly escaping from the surface of our foods while they are being cooked. Keep the water in the right place, is a watchword against many of the difficulties that arise in cookery.
When a sauce or soup is too thick water may be added. On the other hand, when such foods are too watery the surplus often may be evaporated by cooking rapidly, uncovered, for a short time.
Besides kettles of various shapes, the double boiler and the steam cooker are important utensils dependent for use upon water. The double boiler we owe to the inventive genius of Count Rumford. Here is one kettle set in another containing water, and so long as there is water between a food and the fire no browning can take place in the food. This utensil is especially associated with compounds of milk and with the cooking of cereals. Though the food in the upper part does not quite reach the boiling point, this disadvantage is more than balanced by the long time which may be allowed for cooking with no danger of burning.
The steam cooker is found in many patterns, all on the same general plan. It differs from the double boiler in having several parts above the kettle containing the water, each with perforated bottom, so that the steam and vapor have direct access to the food.
The"bain marie" is a French device to serve the same end. One large kettle of water contains a number of deep sauce pans. This is especially useful for food already cooked which is to be kept hot for intermittent serving in restaurants.
A Double-Boiler - an Invention of Count Rumford
The prevalent idea that all food must be served the moment it is cooked is due in many cases to imperfect methods for keeping it warm.
The different kinds of tea receive their name from the locality where they grow and from the size of the leaf, the younger leaves furnishing the choicer varieties. (See the illustration and description given on page 139 of Food and Dietetics.)
To make tea, use an earthen pot, fresh boiling water, and from one-half to one teaspoonful of tea for each half pint of water. Leave covered in a warm place to steep for three to five minutes and serve. For cold tea drain from the grounds at once.
Names mean little in brands of coffee further than to indicate the original home of a special variety of the plant. The berry improves in quality for several years but loses flavor after roasting and more after grinding. One pound of good coffee measures about one quart and will make at least thirty full cups of strong coffee. Thus one pound should supply one person for a month or four persons for a week. It is better to buy coffee in small lots often, unless it is ground as used. Coffee may be steeped like tea or boiled. All things considered, the drip coffee pots are most satisfactory and the beverage thus made is more economical and uniform and probably less injurious than when it is boiled.
Coffee Pot for Making Drip Coffee
Steam Cooker With Doors