Charlie Baggs

Cooking techniques provide flavor, color, and texture to foods, and it is critical for food product developers to understand the basic cooking techniques to duplicate a chef’s signature dish on a commercial basis.

Each cooking technique involves heat, moisture, fat, and time. The techniques differ in how the heat is applied, the amount of caramelization that takes place, how long the product is cooked, when and how the food is seasoned, and so on. There are many variables to consider, including taste, texture, type of meat (tenderness, muscle tissue), intended application, type of cooking equipment, and the gold standard target.

• Braising and Stewing. These techniques utilize moist heat. They differ in that stewing utilizes more liquid than braising. The tougher the meat, the more cooking time needed for a tender end result.

The first step for a braised or stewed meat dish is to sear the product with a small amount of fat in a heavy, shallow pan. This caramelization process produces a complex and rich flavor and a deep color. The next step is to cook the product in a closed vessel, where the gentle simmering creates steam and a consistent temperature for controlled, slow cooking.

If a nice light color is desired, sweating the mirepoix (mixture of onion, carrot, and celery) by cooking it in a small amount of fat over low heat will add flavor but not color. By comparison, deeply caramelizing the mirepoix adds flavor, color, and aroma.

• Sautéing, Stir-Frying, Pan-Frying, and Deep-Frying. These techniques utilize dry heat with fat. They take a relatively short period of time to cook and provide a crispy exterior, a moist texture, and savory notes.

Sautéing and stir-frying use a small amount of oil or fat and high heat for a short time. The result is a well-flavored, crispy, and juicy product with an intense flavor.

Pan-frying and deep-frying are typically used with coated or breaded products and provide multiple layers of textures and flavors. In deep-frying, the product is completely immersed in oil or fat and cooked evenly on all surfaces. In pan-frying, the product is cooked in oil that only reaches halfway up the side of the product, so the product needs to be flipped to cook on both sides evenly. If the product is not completely flat, uneven cooking can result. Adding a little extra oil or fat allows the oil or fat to reach and cook in the crevices of the product, producing an even brown surface. In comparison, sautéing would produce uneven cooking in the crevices.

• Grilling, Broiling, and Roasting. These techniques involve dry heat without fat; any fat that is used is intended to add flavor, rather than act as a cooking medium. The techniques provide a smoky flavor, wood or charcoal notes, caramelization, a moist interior, and a savory profile. The heat source is below the meat in grilling and above the meat in broiling. In roasting, the meat is surrounded by hot, dry air.

• Steaming, Poaching, and Cooking En Papillote. These techniques involve moist-heat cooking and provide a fresh, aromatic, light, delicate taste and a unique texture and color. The product is cooked either in a liquid or in the steam produced from a liquid. Steaming is a healthy, low-fat option that also promotes the natural flavor of the product to shine.

Poaching can be done in a small amount of liquid (shallow poach) or in a larger amount (deep poach). In a shallow poach, the juices and liquid used to poach the product usually are made into a sauce and served with the finished product. In a deep poach, the liquid (court bouillon) used is a highly flavored liquid that is typically not consumed; it infuses a nice balance of flavors into the finished product.

En papillote cooking is a blend of shallow poach and steaming. The product (usually fish) is cooked in a disposable package, such as a parchment envelope. A small amount of liquid is added to the package; then the product is seasoned, sealed in the package, cooked at a constant temperature, and served in the package.

Since these cooking techniques often can’t be used in commercial production of food products because of the time they require, it is important for food scientists to understand the effects that the techniques have on flavor, color, and texture, so they can select appropriate ingredients to duplicate them successfully.

Executive Chef & President
Charlie Baggs, Inc.
Chicago, Ill.
[email protected]