Healthy Cooking Methods
Preparation can dramatically affect the nutrient content of food. Cooking in a healthful way doesn’t take much effort, but it does take some attention.
Broiling and grilling are known as dry-heat methods. They require no moisture, and little or no oil is necessary. Definitions vary, but grilling generally refers to food placed over a heat source, and broiling places food under a heat source.
The key to the success of dry-heat cooking is high heat. High temperatures seal the outside of the meat and hold in the juices. Lower temperatures allow more of the natural juices to drip out, yielding a drier finished product.
Sautéing, which comes from the French term meaning “to jump,” is a similar technique to stir-frying. Foods are cooked quickly over high heat and kept in constant motion.
Stir-frying and pan frying require a small amount of oil. When using it for vegetables, the high heat limits the nutrient loss and keeps the colors fresh and bright.
Steaming is a moist-heat method. Food is suspended in a basket or perforated pan over simmering water, and the heat of the steam does the cooking. Unlike boiling, nutrients are not lost in the water. They can, however, dissipate into the air if overcooked.
Poaching is great for delicate sausages, fish filets, quenelles, and delicate fruits. The liquid used can be flavored with herbs, spices, or aromatic vegetables, but it is meant strictly for cooking, and is not generally consumed.
Food can also be steamed in its own juices by wrapping it in foil or parchment paper and baking it in the oven. This is a particularly great way to maintain moisture and flavor for low-fat meats like chicken and fish.
Roasting is an all-around dry-heat technique that may or may not involve added fat. When used for meat, it is an excellent way to eliminate fat. Suspended on a rack above a roasting pan, the meat juices drip away.
Roasting is a great method for certain vegetables, including potatoes in their jackets, onions and garlic in their skins, and squash and pumpkin still in the rind. These foods essentially steam themselves soft, and their natural sugars concentrate, providing more natural flavor than when they are peeled and boiled.
Stews are often enriched with fat or starch, and in most cases they include fatty meats. That’s because this method works miraculously to soften the connective tissues of tough meats and melt away the fats, turning them into succulent tender delicacies.
Poaching is a moist heat method. It is not boiling, but it’s close. Water is kept just below the simmer so that the food is not agitated by the motion of a rolling boil. Boiling employs water or other liquid brought to a rolling boil. Food is added and cooked to the desired doneness. Simmering cooks the food under the boil, but still in motion.
Boiling not only increases the temperature of the cooking, but it keeps the food in motion. This is important for foods that tend to stick, like pasta. Because it leaches nutrients into the cooking liquid, it is best reserved for recipes that utilize the cooking liquid, such as soups and stews. Frugal chefs have been known to save cooking liquid for use in subsequent recipes.
Stewing is another moist-heat method, and it usually refers to a longer cooking time. It also frequently refers to a liquid that thickens into a sauce as part of the meal.