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Methods of cooking

Zubin Dsouza

A long time ago, our cave dwelling hominid ancestors survived on a diet of wild berries, nuts and all the meats that they could hunt. The meats they dragged home were prepared sashimi style which is to say totally raw.

Then a miracle took place and approximately two million years ago, our slightly more developed cave dwelling Neanderthal ancestors discovered and managed to harness the power of fire.

Instantly barbecue became the latest rage and centuries of living with an assortment of raw meats changed instantly into campfires, cookouts and the occasional potluck parties.

We have come a really long way since then. Food for sustenance has slowly given way to food that can actually be classified in a similar manner to Maslow’s needs hierarchy theorem where we have food for staving off hunger topped by comfort foods and headlined by luxury foods.

Chefs and royal patronage clubbed together to create and refine recipes and in the midst of all that progress we managed to move on from the simple barbecuing style that we initially employed.

Cooking has definitely grown increasingly refined from the times of our deodorant requiring ape-like forefathers to the wonderful crop of at least a dozen styles that we currently employ in kitchens around the world.

You would never dream of barbecuing a cookie or boiling French fries. This is because we have developed specific styles that complement the products that we are going to eat.

Cooking technique is divided into two very distinct means. You have dry cooking methods and wet cooking styles.

I personally find that unlike life, the dry cooking spells appear far more exciting than the other options.

Boiling is a classic example of a wet cooking method. It also happens to be the simplest cooking method so far. Take a whole truck load of stuff, dump it in a pot, cover it with enough water or liquid and let the liquid bubble merrily away while the food gets converted into something quite bland and uninteresting. I think that the simplicity of the method is the reason that a lot of hospitals adopt the style and serve them to you.

Blooper alert here for folks who think that this is a healthy method. Most of the nutrients are water soluble and are lost when you throw the water away. You were better off stewing the food which is similar to boiling but at lower temperatures and over a longer period of time. At least you consume the liquid along with the products you wanted to eat.

If you really want to go healthy, try steaming as an alternative because the steam settles on the products which helps retain more nutrients as compared to boiling. This method of cooking is usually something I would avoid unless we are talking about steamed rice, dumplings or buns with interesting fillings.

Now frying is a wet cooking method that I could take a shine to! Instead of dunking your products in bland and flavour absorbing water, you surround it by flavourful oil. You could even do a fry-up with ghee or a blend of oil and butter if you want to be decadent. You could throw in a mixture of oils to get a unique amalgamation of flavours for your end product or if you couldn’t be bothered about trans-fats like me, you may also choose to experiment with hydrogenated vegetable oil. You get your fritters, fries, beignets, pakoras and all the wonderful foods that make life worth living in this manner. There is also a namby-pamby version of this called shallow-frying where instead of dunking the products and covering them with oil, you sprinkle a minimal amount and cook them in a pan using the oil as a lubricant to prevent the product from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. You can pretty much shallow-fry everything in the world and for stuff that takes relatively longer to cook like meat and fish, you could regulate the temperature and move down low so that the product benefits from the lengthier cooking time.

There is a quicker version of shallow-frying called a stir-fry. This was quite the rage a while back because it was touted as a healthier cooking alternative since it uses minimal amounts of oil. You have probably encountered this when ordering food from Southeast Asia.

Everything is cut into tiny bits and tossed about in a wok on high heat till they are cooked. The rapid cooking reduces the amount of nutrients lost.

If you are still hunkering for a healthy diet and have larger bits of vegetables or meat or fish on hand you may want to try your hand at grilling. Here your products pretty much come in direct contact with the fire separated only by a metal grill. Apart from the fact that burning charcoal or wood gives your products an amazing flavour dimension.

For stuff that is too large to be grilled you may want to try roasting where the marinated ingredients are thrown into a heated oven.

Ovens are also used for baking which is one of my favourite activities judging from the fact that it creates delicious cakes, cookies and pies.

The difference between roasting and baking is actually minor. When products are marinated and hence wet or moist, they get roasted while if a batter or dough doesn’t get any additional oil drizzled on top, they get baked.

Then there is microwave-cookery which I refuse to accept as a method although it does give me amazing popcorn each time I sit down to write these articles.

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