Boiling, simmering, poaching, blanching, and steaming are all different cooking techniques involving the use of water over the stovetop. While they are all what is called moist cooking techniques, they are all very different in the types of foods they are best for as well as the results they produce. The advantage to understanding the different techniques is that they allow you to cook your food with no added fat, and in the healthiest manner possible.
Boiling – When you boil vegetables or pasta you place them in a pot of water where the water covers the food completely and bring them to a full boil. The advantages of using this method is that it is a relatively fast and easy cooking method, and other flavorings can be added to the food as it is cooking. Boiling is always used for pasta, and can be used to cook vegetables. The disadvantage to cooking vegetables at a boil is that they can quickly over cook, and have a tendency to lose flavor and nutrients.
Simmering- Simmering is different from boiling. Once the water is brought to a boil the temperature is turned down to low and the water or liquid is kept at a low boil which barely breaks the surface. Like boiling there is typically more liquid than solid food. This method is most often used when cooking thicker liquids such as sauces or when cooking rice. It takes longer than boiling but is effective when used for foods that need a longer cooking time such as rice or for those that tend to burn easily.
Poaching – Poaching is similar to simmering however it is the term used when water or another liquid such as soup stock is used to cook food items such as meat, eggs, or fruit. Poaching is a very gentle cooking method ideal when you want to add flavors to your food with the liquid you choose for a poaching liquid. It also helps lean foods retain much of their moisture.
Blanching – Blanching is a term you may hear mentioned, but it is not typically used to prepare food for eating as much as for storage purposes. Blanching is the technique used to prepare vegetables for the freezer for instance. It is also sometimes also used to remove skins from tomatoes or certain types of fruit. With this cooking method, food is submersed in boiling water for a short period of time, typically no more than 5 minutes. Food is then removed from the water and plunged into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. The food is not cooked at this point, only the skin of the food is affected.
Steaming – Steaming is a popular method used to cook a number of foods, and is ideal for nearly any type of food. Food is not cooked in the liquid (usually water), but rather the steam from the liquid is responsible for the cooking process. This technique is one of the best ways to cook vegetables since it will help your vegetables retain their color and texture, and prevent vitamins and minerals from being lost. Steaming is also used to make certain desserts such as puddings and cakes. There are a number of different methods of steaming, from using a steamer basket, to placing bowls or other dishes in a pan of water in the oven. There are also steamers available that making steaming vegetables and meats more convenient. If you do not have a steamer, you can also steam vegetables in a pot with a lid, by placing the vegetables in an inch of water and simmering slowly.