Cooking Techniques for Any Cook!

Cooking and food presentation is very much a form of art, and, as with any art, creating something flavorful, nutritious and beautiful requires the proper tools. Whether you're new to dairy-free cooking or cooking in general, this overview of common cooking techniques will help to get you started.

  • 01 of 06

    Baking

    Woman, homemade, cake, oven, kitchen
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    To put it simply, baking is fully cooking food in an oven. Just about anything can be baked, including breads, desserts, fish, poultry, meat, and vegetables.

    The key in baking really comes down to the proper ratio between the oven temperature and the baking time, which can be determined by the size or weight of the dish. In brief, the larger and denser the item, the longer it will take to cook, and the smaller and less dense, the less time. Something dense like a cheesecake, for example, will...MORE bake a high temperature initially for a short amount of time and then bake slowly at a low temperature to ensure even cooking throughout. A fillet of fish, however, cooks very quickly and is baked at medium-heat for a short duration.

  • 02 of 06

    Boiling

    Potatoes and other slow-cooking vegetables are usually the only ones ever boiled. © 2008 Ashley Skabar, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Boiling, in essence, is cooking food submerged in liquid at a temperature above 212 F. Because this is such a high temperature for most foods, very few items are ever boiled, namely slow-cooking vegetables, such as onions and potatoes. Most foods if cooked submerged in liquid will cook at a simmer, to prevent the breaking down of proteins and starches which will alter the taste and texture of the food.

  • 03 of 06

    Poaching

    Poaching is a delicious and healthy cooking method for rich fish like salmon. © 2008 licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Poaching is an incredibly versatile cooking method; just about everything from fruits to meats can be cooked using this technique. Poaching is merely simmering food in liquid until it is cooked through.

    As with baking, the density of the food will determine the cooking duration time; fish is cooked for a short amount of time in liquid that is gradually heated, while denser meats cook longer starting with a cold liquid. The key to poaching meats and proteins is to make sure that your stove...MORE temperature is not too high, as this will cause the meat to break down, resulting in a greasy meal. Because eggs cook quickly, the liquid is first brought to a boil then turned off. Then, the eggs are added and covered until cooked to the desired doneness.

  • 04 of 06

    Roasting

    Roasting a spice-rubbed chicken for this tagine adds a wonderful texture and flavor. © 2007 Ashley Skabar, licensed to About.com

    Roasting, although also a method of cooking food in an oven, is different than baking in that it refers to exposing food to dry, hot air. This is achieved by cooking food in a convection oven or at the highest setting possible for a short amount of time to brown the outside of the food, then turning down the oven to finish cooking through the food without over-browning. Foods that are often roasted are meats, such as turkey, and vegetables. Just as with baking, it is important to adjust the...MORE temperature of your oven and cooking duration according to the size of the food. A roast turkey, for example, will cook for a longer time at a lower temperature than a duck or other small bird, which at the same temperature would dry out before browning.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Sautéing

    Sautéing is a wonderful cooking method that allows for tender, slightly browned vegetables packed with flavor. © 2008 Ashley Skabar, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Sautéing is a method of cooking that requires that you use an appropriate amount of oil and a pan that allows for even cooking while heating your pan to the correct temperature. If you cook foods at too low of a temperature, the water that is released will not evaporate and your food will not brown properly. Ideally, the water released from the food should evaporate on contact with the pan, which will allow for proper browning and will produce the best texture and flavor.

    Sautéing does not...MORE require a large amount of oil. Adding too much oil to the pan is a common mistake that many cooks make; this will result in either a crispy or soggy meal, depending on the temperature of your pan.

  • 06 of 06

    Steaming

    Steamed broccoli add beautiful color and a crunchy texture to this creamy dish. © 2007, Ashley Skabar, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Steaming generally refers to cooking food set over (but not touching) boiling water and placing a lid or cover over the food. This allows the heat and moisture to remain within the pot while cooking. If done properly, this is a wonderful cooking method for cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts, as it allows for lighter cooking without leaching out a lot of nutrients. It is often the case that harsher cooking methods for these vegetables will turn them a gray...MORE color, but steaming keeps their vibrant green color intact.tact.

    While a pot with a fitted steam basket is ideal for steaming, you can also use a colander or strainer, provided it fits in the pot, with a lid.