Basic Cooking Methods
The following are some of the more common cooking methods used, not only in Thai cooking, but throughout the world. A brief understanding of these methods will help you with all of your cooking.
Stir-Frying and Sautéing
Stir-frying and sautéing are very similar cooking processes that involve cooking in an open pan over high temperatures and with a minimal amount of cooking oil. Sautéing is usually done in either a slope-sided gourmet pan (or skillet) or a straight-sided sauté pan. Stir-frying done in a wok.
The best meats for either method are boneless chicken; tender of beef, pork, or lamb; fillets of fish; and shellfish. For stir-fries, should be cut into thin, bite-sized pieces to allow for quick and cooking. Thicker pieces can be browned in a sauté pan and then cooking in the oven at a low heat. Vegetables should also be thinly or cut into bite-sized pieces.
Cooking fats should be relatively free of flavor and have a high point. The best are canola oil and peanut oil. (If you insist on using butter for flavor, use equal parts of oil and butter.) The oil must but not smoking before you begin to cook. To check, you can sprinkle drop or two of water into the pan: It should spatter. Please be careful! spatters can burn! Shaking the pan for sautéing or quickly tossing ingredients in stir-frying prevents the food from sticking as it sears.
Grilling and Broiling
Grilling and broiling are methods by which food is cooked exposing it to direct (usually intense) heat over hot coals or some heat source. This method is typically fast; the direct heat chars surface of the food, giving it great flavor. The fuel used in a grill impart a nuance of flavor. Adding aromatic wood chips such as or applewood or certain herbs such as lemongrass or fennel will additional flavor tones. (This is not an option when using a broiler.)
The grill itself may be traditional, using some type of charcoal, in some instances electric. The best grills will allow for somewhat controllable heat. To prepare your grill for cooking, heat it until and then use a long-handled brush to scrape away any residue. Just before placing food on the grill, rub a wad of paper towels dipped in oil onto the grate. This will significantly reduce sticking.
Almost all food can be grilled: tender cuts of meat, poultry, game birds, seafood, fish, or vegetables. The food will grill more evenly if it is allowed to come to room temperature just before cooking. Seasoning, especially with salt, should be done just prior to cooking, as salt tends to draw out moisture, rendering your final product less juicy. In addition, foods that are naturally low in fat should be brushed with oil or butter basted with a sauce to keep them from drying out. Marinades are way to add additional flavor to grilled foods.
To test when your grilled meat is done, it is best to use an instant-thermometer. Alternatively, you can insert the point of a knife to visually see if your food is done. Always remember that your food continues cook even after you remove it from the grill. In addition, meats will reabsorb some of their juices after they are done cooking. Make sure allow your meats to rest for five to ten minutes before serving.
Cooking in Water
Simmering and poaching are both techniques that involve cooking food in liquid. With both techniques, the cooking liquid is first brought a boil and then the heat is reduced in order to obtain less active bubbling. Poaching should have slightly less bubbling action than simmering, but it's a tough call when something is simmering versus poaching. Some recipes call for a covered cooking vessel, others open one. As something simmers or poaches, it is important to skim surface every once in a while to remove the residue that accumulates. Fish, rice, and poultry are all good candidates for poaching and simmering.
Only a few foods are actually boiled — noodles and potatoes being most obvious. Boiling water is also used to blanch or parboil fruits vegetables before they are exposed to another cooking method or want to keep them tender-crisp. Blanching involves placing the ingredients in boiling water briefly and then plunging them into cold water to retain color and flavor or to help remove their skins. Ingredients that parboiled actually stay in the boiling water a bit longer, in order to slightly soften them.
Another cooking process that involves water is steaming. With this method, the ingredients are not in the water, but rather above it on a rack. The pot is always covered. Steaming is a very gentle cooking method and it is usually the most nutritious. Steamed ingredients don't lose much of their nutrients, texture, or individual flavor. Vegetables and sticky rice are perfect candidates for steaming.
Roasting is another core cooking method used around the world. a very simple method performed in an oven, usually with high heat. can also use indirect heat from a grill and obtain similar results.) Essentially anything can be roasted: meats, fishes, vegetables, or fruits.
Roasting meat involves seasoning it in some fashion, sometimes searing it before you place it in the oven and sometimes basting it it cooks — depending on the recipe — and always letting it rest. Resting allows the meat to reabsorb some of its juices, making your roast juicy and easier to carve. To rest your roast, you simply remove it the oven, cover it with foil, and let it sit.
A very handy gadget to have when roasting is an ovenproof meat thermometer. This will let you know when your roast is done to your liking, without cutting into it. For an accurate reading, you must insert tip of the thermometer into the deepest part of the meat without touching bone, fat, or the bottom of the pan. Roasting charts usually come the thermometers.