5 Cooking Techniques You Never Knew

Whether you learned to cook watching Rachel Ray, from your own mother, or it's still a work in progress, there's always more to learn. Life Hacker has uncovered five cooking techniques that no one has ever taught you! Check them out.

PARCOOKING

Short for “partial cooking,” parcooking involves partially cooking a dish now and finishing it later, presumably when you want to serve it. It’s a time-honored technique to keep dishes that normally dry out easily moist and flavorful, and avoid needing to reheat them when it’s time to serve (which makes your food taste like, well, leftovers.) It’s also a great when you need to start cooking a dish one way (baking chops to keep them juicy, for example) and finish it another way (on the grill for that delicious char, for example, or like a curry, shown in the video above) or you have a lot going on at once but everything needs to be ready at the same time (like Thanksgiving dinner.)

salmon risotto
(Photo: Wise Geek)

Parcooking is a pretty general cooking method, and it’s really about timing and the recipe you’re making. That means the how depends heavily on the food you’re cooking, and how (or when) you plan to finish it. Parcooking a casserole may involve baking it through but stopping shy of a crispy crust or firm, solid body that won’t fall apart when you dish it out. Parcooking rice or pasta on the other hand may involve boiling in water until it’s just shy of al dente, and finishing it later in a pan full of homemade sauce. Because it’s so widely applicable, it’s useful for almost anything. Here are some popular examples though:

Casseroles and bakes: Any baked dish that needs to retain moisture but should still be warm all the way through when served. It’s also a great way to make casseroles ahead and then freeze them for later.

>> These Sour Cream Enchiladas are a great freezer-friendly recipe that your family will love!

Pork and chicken: Specifically chops, ribs, chicken breasts, thighs, and anything else that cooks faster outside than inside. For example, parcooking ribs in the oven and finishing them on the grill yields perfectly cooked meat without sacrificing the delicious grilled flavor that comes from a few minutes over the coals.

Potatoes, rice, and other water-absorbing starches: The longer you cook most starches, the looser and softer they get. By parcooking them first, you avoid overcooking and you can add them to other dishes without losing their texture. This is especially useful when grilling potatoes (so they don’t fall apart on the grill or burn outside before they’re soft inside) or to prep them for other dishes, like hash browns, home fries, or french fries.

You can see the theme here. Virtually any situation where you can make something ahead of time, or where you can start with low, controlled heat (to develop lots of flavor) but want to finish with high heat (for searing or caramelization) is perfect for par cooking. You can even parcook veggies before grilling or sauteeing them to keep their texture and flavor without cooking them to death.

See the next cooking technique on page 2!

BLANCHING

Speaking of cooking vegetables, blanching is a bit like parcooking, but shorter, faster, and specifically meant for fruit and vegetables. It’s simple, and it’s the secret weapon restaurants use to make their veggies delicious. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Bring a pot of water (salted or unsalted, depending on your dish) to a rolling boil.
  2. Drop your fruit or vegetables into the hot water for a short, specific amount of time—usually just a few minutes.
  3. Remove your fruit or vegetables, and place them into a cold water or ice bath to immediately stop the cooking process.

blanching

This technique is perfect if you have something you want to heat thoroughly, but you don’t want to sacrifice its texture or flavor to do it. For example, here are some popular fruits and vegetables best blanched:

Carrots, parsinps, and other starchy vegetables: Whether you’re making a crudite platter or just don’t want your carrots to get all limp and gross when you put them on the dinner plate, blanching them preserves their texture without sacrificing their flavor (or nutritional value!) You can even blanch corn, to make the husks and silk easier to remove, or to cook it just enough to make removing the kernels for soup, chowder, or just storage easy (without actually cooking the kernels all the way through.)

Cabbage, sprouts, or other strongly-smelling vegetables: One of the nice effects of blanching is that it removes the odor from cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and broccoli. Cooking vegetables rich in sulfur compounds develops flavor at high temperatures, but the longer you cook them, the more those compounds form trisulfides. They’re the culprit when your kitchen smells like, well, farts and cabbage. Blanching those vegetables however, keeps the cooking process nice and short, maximizes flavor generation, and stops before that chemistry gets out of control.

Green beans, asparagus, and other long, tender, stalk vegetables: If you’ve ever wondered why cooked green beans at restaurants are crisp and crunchy but the ones you make at home are limp and brownish-green, this is why. Almost every restaurant chef blanches green beans and asparagus, or any other vegetable best served hot but still crisp and crunchy. Sometimes that’s all they do before serving them, other times they’ll finish by sautéing them with butter, wine, or fresh herbs.

>> Love green beans? Try these tasty Crispy Green Bean Fries!

Green Bean Fries

Peaches, tomatoes, nectarines, and stonefruit: You normally only blanch fruit when you have something that’s delicate and difficult to peel, like tomatoes or peaches, and is essential to making dishes like peach cobbler or pie and homemade tomato sauce from fresh ingredients instead of canned ones.

Thinly cut chicken, beef, or pork: You might not think you can blanch meat, but thinly sliced strips of meat cook so quickly that it works extremely well—in fact, when used with beef this cooking method is called shabu-shabu, and results in still-moist cuts of meat, perfect for dipping in a savory barbecue or spicy sauce. Blanching meat is also great when you want to add meat to a dish best served cold, like a salad or sandwich, or if you want to make rich (but clear) a soup or stock.

Both stages of this process are important though. While “blanching” usually refers to the super quick cook, the cold bath to shock the finished food and stop it from cooking is important too. Otherwise it’ll just sit and continue to cook thanks to its own heat, which can turn those crisp, green beans or carrot sticks soft and mushy, or those now-easily-peeled boiled eggs difficult to work with.

To see the rest of these unknown cooking techniques, check out Life Hacker!