Learn to Cook: Simmer & Poach

How-To, Learn, Tips & Techniques

Learn to Cook: Simmer & Poach

New Year’s resolution: learn to cook! This is the year to leave your kitchen fears behind and create fabulous food with ease. To get started, look to our new cookbook Cook Good Food, full of simple techniques and foolproof recipes for everyday eating. Throughout the month, we’ll be sharing key technique primers from the book, along with great recipes to go with them. Start reading — and make good food tonight!  


Simmering and poaching are moist-heat cooking techniques that gently cook foods to tenderness in a hot liquid. Both methods help retain the color and texture of the raw ingredient. You can distinguish between them by the size and frequency of the bubbles: simmering calls for consistent, medium-to-small bubbles, while poaching demands very small, infrequent bubbles. Simmering works for a wide variety of foods, while poaching is best for very delicate foods that can easily overcook.


You don’t need any special cookware for simmering. For poaching, choose a pan not much larger than the food you’re cooking, but that still allows the liquid to flow easily around the food.


Secrets to Success


Adjust the heat. When simmering or poaching foods, check the pot from time to time to make sure the bubbles stay at the intended size. Adjust the heat up or down as necessary.


Test for taste. The flavors of simmering ingredients will develop as they cook. Taste and adjust the seasonings toward the end of the cooking time.


Poaching assurance. If you’re uncertain of how the liquid should look when poaching, use an instant-read thermometer to check the liquid. An ideal poaching temperature is between 160° and 180°F (71° and 82°C).


Timing is everything. When poaching, be sure to remove the food from the liquid as soon as it’s done to prevent it from overcooking.


How to Simmer


Check frequentlyCheck frequently
Be sure that the bubbles in the liquid are small to medium in size, adjusting the heat if necessary. Push the food aside to monitor the level of reducing liquids.
Test for donenessTest for doneness
Test simmered meats and vegetables by tasting a bite. Test the texture of custards by dragging a finger across them on a spoon.


How to Poach


Boil waterBoil water
Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat so that small bubbles occasionally break the surface of the liquid. Ease in the food to be cooked.
Lift & separateLift & separate
Use a slotted spoon to nudge the food in the pan so that the liquid flows evenly around the pieces. Remove the food as soon as it’s done.
Blot dryBlot dry
Briefly blot the food on a paper towel before serving to remove excess liquid.




Poached Eggs with White Bean-Tomato RagoutPoached Eggs with White Bean-Tomato Ragout
White beans simmered with pancetta, rosemary and fire-roasted tomatoes make an enticing base for poached eggs. Serve with thick slices of broiled country bread.
Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons and OlivesChicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Olives
Here, chicken thighs are simmered into a colorful Moroccan stew with deep spices, tart citrus, briny green olives and fresh cilantro. Serve them over a bed of couscous to soak up the sauce.
Pappardelle with Quick Bolognese SaucePappardelle with Quick Bolognese Sauce
Peppery pancetta, robust Italian tomatoes and fresh thyme embellish this quick version of the traditionally long cooking sauce, which is simmered on the stovetop. Egg pappardelle makes the perfect base.
Pork and Tomatillo StewPork and Tomatillo Stew
Pork loin works beautifully in this clean-tasting stew that is chunky and hearty enough to satisfy die-hard chili fans. The meat is simmered with tomatillos, tomatoes, carrots and bold spices to flavor-packed tenderness.
Chickpea, Cauliflower and Potato CurryChickpea, Cauliflower and Potato Curry
Curry spices flatter chickpeas, cauliflower and potatoes alike. Serve this zesty meatless dish over brown basmati or jasmine rice.
Poached Salmon over Greens with Caper VinaigrettePoached Salmon over Greens with Caper Vinaigrette
Poaching salmon allows you to cook it gently, protecting its delicate texture, without any fear of overcooking it. With this salad of mixed baby greens, caper vinaigrette and rye toast, it makes a quick, wholesome meal for brunch or dinner.
Golden Beet and Blue Cheese RisottoGolden Beet and Blue Cheese Risotto
When simmered in wine and stock and stirred constantly, starchy Arborio rice transforms into rich, creamy risotto. This version features sweet, earthy roasted beets and tangy blue cheese.
Caramel Egg CustardCaramel Egg Custard
This version of classic crème caramel calls for simmering and whisking a custard on the stovetop, then baking the custard in a souffle dish in the oven. The result is a silky but not-too-rich dessert that showcases flavors of caramel, vanilla and fresh eggs.

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