Yes, I’m starting ANOTHER series. I figured if I’m giving a kitchen tip every Friday, I might as well give some cooking help or instruction too. Keep in mind, I am NOT a chef and have had no formal training. The information in this series is strictly my unskilled, uncertified cooking assistance. 🙂 I have read and read and read about cooking, online and in books, so I feel like I can get around in any kitchen and have the know-how for a lot of basic techniques. If anyone disagrees with my posts or has anything to add, please feel free! I am always interested in learning more!
Today, the first thing I’ll post is about boiling water. Yes, everyone can do it, but how many people actually do it right? Sounds strange, but there are certain techniques to boiling water properly for the particular type of dish you’re making.
To start, here are the basic instructions:
First, get a pot. Unless you’re boiling several quarts of water, you do not need your largest pot. Having a tall pot with just a few inches of water in the bottom actually slows down your boiling process. So, get a pot that will hold the amount of water you need plus a few more inches at the top. You basically want room for the water, any height from bubbles, plus the addition (and expansion!) of whatever food you are going to boil. Having too small a pot with water to the top is just as bad an idea as having a huge pot with a tiny bit of water. A small pot will more than likely overflow once you put your food in.
Second, use COLD water from the tap. Hot water from the tap is not a good idea. Water sits in the pipes in between use, so warming it up in those nasty pipes only adds bacteria to your pot of water. Using cold water and then heating it on the stove helps keep the bacteria (or at least lessens the amount of bacteria) out of the water your food absorbs.
Next, heat your water. I typically set my temperature to Medium-High. We have an electric stove, so setting it on High just makes it take forever to decrease in temperature later…..which tends to cause more boiling over the side of the pan because the water can’t cool down fast enough. I love, love, love gas stoves because you can instantly change the temperature, but we aren’t able to have a gas stove at this time. 😦 So, make do with what you have and keep in mind the slow change in temp for the electric stoves.
Lastly, watch to see when the water is actually boiling. People sometimes assume that when you see the little bubbles on the bottom and sides of the pot the water is boiling. Not so. The water must be rumbling with big bubbles that come to the surface and pop. This is a “rolling boil”, often mentioned in recipes.
Now that we can boil water, here are a few things I’ve learned about different dishes requiring boiled water:
For pastas, add salt to the water after it’s in a rolling boil. The order for pasta cooking is : boil water, salt, pasta….in that order. Adding salt before the rolling boil will only delay the boiling. Salt raises the boiling point of water, so it will take more heat and time to bring the salted water to a boil. Hot, boiling water also dissolves salt better than cool or cold water. You might end up with salt pieces or chunks if you put it in the water while still cool. The purpose of the salt in pasta water is to help enhance the pastas natural flavor, not to actually season anything.
For rice dishes, combine the water, rice and oil/butter in the pot BEFORE heating. Rice will cook as the water comes to a boil and then continue to cook as the boiled water is brought to a simmer and maintained for a period of time. (A special note for electric stoves and cooking rice: It is actually best to use TWO burners to make rice on an electric stove. Use one burner to bring the water/rice/butter mix to a boil. Meanwhile, set a second burner to simmer and just transfer the pot over to the 2nd burner when it’s time to bring down the temp and simmer the dish. This helps avoid keeping the rice boiling while the electric temp slowly lowers the temperature; the slow lowering of the temp can make the rice stick together after cooking or overcook it. I promise it really does help!)
When boiling potatoes, always be sure to start with cold water. Not lukewarm, not hot, but COLD. This gives the potatoes a chance to cook evenly and you don’t end up with some mushy, some firm potatoes in the end.
For veggies, steaming is the best method to cook them, but boiling is a good way as well (even though you do lose nutrients in the boiling process). Start veggies in the water before bringing to a boil….unless you’re blanching them. That’s another technique for another day, though. 🙂
In conclusion, the act of boiling water may seem very simple, but these are some steps to follow in order to make the best dish you can. Impress your family or dinner guests with perfectly cooked foods by following these tips!
Now, go boil some water! 🙂