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Put the Sizzling Pan Aside: Why You Should Embrace Quieter Cooking Methods

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One of the things I love most about cooking—and a point that chef Samin Nosrat makes often in her cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat—is that it keeps you humble. If you want to make good food, you can’t sleep through a dang thing, from choosing ingredients to chopping them up to cooking them well and serving them. And just when you get a little too confident, bam, you’ve burnt the nuts you were toasting or over-seasoned the broth or spilled pie filling all over the bottom of your oven. (Been there.)

Why Cheesecakes Crack (& How to Stop It)
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Why Cheesecakes Crack (& How to Stop It)

Take this example from Samin: “Cooling on the countertop, [the cheesecake I’d just baked] looked so textbook-perfect that I kept making excuses to walk by and gaze at it. When I passed through the kitchen for the twentieth time—after about four hours—a mighty crack had suddenly appeared, signaling that I’d overcooked it. I’d underestimated the power of carryover; the jiggle hadn’t been jiggly enough!” It’s a lesson in hubris, and a reminder that even gentle cooking can sneak up on you. It’s also a reminder of how wonderful gentle forms of cooking—steaming, poaching, braising—are.

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I needed this reminder from Samin: Yes, steaming and poaching and braising take longer. And they’re not as exciting as sizzling, screaming-hot, fire-alarm-triggering, instant-gratification forms of cooking—frying, searing, roasting. Fair enough. But the gentle methods yield gentle, tender foods, and goodness knows if we couldn’t all use a little more of that.

They also are exciting, if in more subtle ways; maybe it’s simply that they require a deft hand, a hawk’s eye, and a sense of faith. Faith? Yes: Faith in that the food will continue cooking even after you take it, possibly still wet and/or shimmying, from its heat source. (Samin’s the one who finally got me to cook my eggs on a low flame and remove them while they were far softer than I’d honestly like. She was right, of course, and in the time it took me to spin around for a bowl and my toast, the eggs were perfect—just set, creamy but not runny. Carryover cooking, man!)

The Back-to-Basics Way to Cook Vegetables Our Vegan Cookbook Author Swears By
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The Back-to-Basics Way to Cook Vegetables Our Vegan Cookbook Author Swears By

While we’re talking about gentle cooking, one more note in praise of steaming: It seems fussy or old-fashioned or just plain boring (no quick sauté of garlic in oil, no Maillard reaction), but it actually concentrates the flavors of whatever you’re cooking. It’s ideal for delicate foods like fish or perfect summer fruit, where you want to preserve the form of whatever it is you’re cooking. It’s dramatic and fun to open up the little parchment packets used when cooking anything en papillote. AND it also introduces another opportunity for layering flavors: You can steam just with water, or with wine, or tea, or a splash of soy sauce, or citrus juice… Boring? No siree, Bob. Get comfortable with gentle cooking using these four methods:

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Poaching

Maple-Poached Eggs

Maple-Poached Eggs by Casey Elsass

Tilapia Poached in Olive Oil with Thyme and Garlic

Tilapia Poached in Olive Oil with Thyme and Garlic by Merrill Stubbs

Peaches Poached with Basil

Peaches Poached with Basil by TheRunawaySpoon

Aromatic Poached Salmon with Rye and Caper Breadcrumbs

Aromatic Poached Salmon with Rye and Caper Breadcrumbs by gingerroot

Steaming

Steamed Fish with Ginger & Scallions

Steamed Fish with Ginger & Scallions by Sara Jenkins

Sake-Steamed Mandarin Fish

Sake-Steamed Mandarin Fish by meganvt01

Steamed Brown Bread

Steamed Brown Bread by thirschfeld

Seafood Spaghetti Baked in Paper (Spaghetti al Cartoccio)

Seafood Spaghetti Baked in Paper (Spaghetti al Cartoccio) by Emiko

Water Baths

Rose Levy Beranbaum's Chocolate Oblivion Truffle Torte

Rose Levy Beranbaum's Chocolate Oblivion Truffle Torte by Genius Recipes

Flans with Muscovado Sauce

Flans with Muscovado Sauce by Alice Medrich

Deborah Madison's Sweet Potato Flan

Deborah Madison's Sweet Potato Flan by Nicholas Day

Braising

Buttery Braised Leeks with a Crispy Panko Topping

Buttery Braised Leeks with a Crispy Panko Topping by amber wilson | for the love...

Olive Oil-Braised Broccoli Rabe

Olive Oil-Braised Broccoli Rabe by Sarah Jampel

Fragrant Braised Chicken

Fragrant Braised Chicken by gingerroot

Red Hot Greens

Red Hot Greens by vvvanessa

Warm Braised Pineapple

Warm Braised Pineapple by deensie

Patricia Wells' Asparagus Braised with Fresh Rosemary and Bay Leaves

Patricia Wells' Asparagus Braised with Fresh Rosemary and... by Genius Recipes


Photo by James Ransom

All April, Kitchen Confidence Camp takes us through the four essential elements of cooking, inspired by chef and author Samin Nosrat's cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Follow along here.

Tags: samin nosrat, kitchen confidence camp