When you learn how to simmer liquids in cooking, you can make delicious soups, stocks, and stews. Simmering is a basic cooking technique that can elevate your cooking skills to the next level and help you deliver wonderfully flavorful food to your family. Simmering isn’t just for the stovetop. You can also simmer your foods in the oven or slow cooker.
Simmering works for all sorts of culinary endeavors, and it’s the perfect choice for many foods, including soups, stocks, and even starchy food such as pasta, potatoes, grains, and legumes. Simmering is just slightly below boiling, and it keeps your food tender and soft.
What Is Simmering in Cooking?
The best way to describe simmering in professional cooking is that it’s a way to cook food slowly and gently using a moist heat method. What is a simmer? When you simmer food, it cooks in liquid, and in some cases, simmering refers to the act of cooking liquid by itself. One good example of this is when you simmer stock or broth.
Simmering happens at a point just below boiling (don’t go to a rolling boil). When you simmer food, you may occasionally see a small bubble or two, but if you see more than one or two occasionally, your liquid is no longer simmering.
How the Simmering Process Works
Simmering is one of the most fundamental moist-heat cooking methods. When you simmer food, you use the heat of the food’s liquid to cook the food slowly.
Simmering is much less intense than boiling. Since there is less bubbling, there is significantly less agitation as well. Nevertheless, there is still enough agitation to let the food’s flavors mix together beautifully.
Simmering Solves a Common Culinary Problem
Simmering is the perfect way to make foods that are fork-tender, and the process also enhances the flavor of your food because all of the ingredients cook synergistically together.
When you cook tough cuts of meat, slow simmering is ideal. Simmering is also the best way to cook foods such as dried legumes and grains to make them edible.
Simmering happens when your liquid reaches a temperature of between 185 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. The majority of braises and stews are cooked within this temperature range. To monitor your simmering, keep an eye on the simmer and look for these signs.
- Slow Simmer: With a slow simmering method or low simmer, you have minimal activity in the pot and the burner on your gas stove or electric stove is set to a lower temperature. Look for a stray bubble here and there and wisps of steam. For braises and stocks, you will usually use a slow simmer.
- Simmer: A regular simmer has tiny bubbles and is cooked at medium low heat. Basic simmering is used for stews, soups, braises, and sauces.
- Rapid Simmer: Rapid simmering has a lot of large bubbles and is done with medium heat (or medium-high heat). This type of simmering is usually done to reduce sauce.
Is It Better to Simmer Uncovered or Covered?
Simmering requires a good bit of supervision, so it’s a good idea to keep the pot uncovered so you can keep an eye on what’s happening. When you add a lid, the heat can intensify and your hot liquid may reach the boiling point again. Once the heat is consistent and steady, you can cover the pot if you want.
Simmering vs. Boiling: What Is the Difference?
Only a few degrees separate boiling and simmering, but those degrees are crucial. The most important thing to remember is that when a liquid boils, the bubbles move the food in the pot around quite a bit. A simmer doesn’t offer that much movement.
There is a bit of overlap at times. For example, a gentle boil and a rapid simmer could be considered to be the same thing, while a slow simmer is similar to the temperature used for poaching.
When to Simmer and When to Boil
Not all foods are great for boiling. When you cook food at a steady boil, it gets agitated and some foods can become mushy. In some cases, foods can be mushy on the outside but firm on the inside.
When you simmer, it’s a more gentle process. The water or liquid surrounds the food and stays at a constant temperature, so the foods cook evenly. Simmering is also an excellent way to cook delicate proteins such as shellfish and fish.
Why Is It Necessary to Bring to a Boil Before Simmering?
The best way to simmer food is to bring the liquid to a boil in the simmer pot, then drop it to a simmer. This gets the food quickly heated, and when you see those big bubbles in boiling liquid, you know you’re at about 212 degrees Fahrenheit (the boiling temperature).
Once your food starts to boil and has small bubbles, turn the heat down so that you can simmer the liquid.
Tips for Maintaining a Simmer
- You can move your pot to the side of the burner if it’s too hot. Another thing to cool things down is to stir the liquid for just a minute for increasing the surface area.
- If you need to get your pot to the correct temperature but don’t want to increase the flame or burner, you can cover it for a few minutes.
- To help a burner maintain consistent and even heat, consider a flame tamer ring.
- Another thing you can do if your cooking liquid becomes too hot is add some extra broth or water.
While simmering is tricky in the beginning, you may find yourself spending lots of time trying to control the heat. Also, every stovetop is different, so you may have to adjust the heat to keep the cooking liquid at the right temperature. Most importantly, don’t take your eyes off your cooking pot until the simmering has become steady.
The Benefits of Simmering
- Taste: As the food and liquid in your pot simmer, the things you add infuse the cooking liquid. Beans and vegetables absorb some of this flavorful liquid, and they also contribute their own flavors. The harmony is simmered food is delicious. As the cooking liquid begins to evaporate, the flavors become even more intense and concentrated.
- Time: Simmering is a versatile way of cooking, and you can expect good results in all time frames. For example, you can use a simmer to cook a quick and easy veggie soup or a slow-cooked braised recipe.
- Nutrition: When you simmer food and liquid, cooking vegetables and other foods are usually eaten with the liquid used to cook them. This helps them to retain their nutritional value. Additionally, simmering in broth, apple cider, or other aromatics is a great way to keep carries from butter, oils, and fats out of the food you eat.
- Texture: When you simmer beans, they become nice and tender, while grains become softer. Food that has been simmered is softer and more palatable.
Amount of Liquid to Use for Simmering
It depends on what you’re cooking or your cooking process, but you’ll basically need enough liquid or water to completely submerge the food so that it cooks evenly. Rice, legumes, and grains expand, so you need to have a pot that’s large enough to accommodate this expansion and the extra liquid that’s required.
Always Add Meat to Cold Liquid or Water
If you add raw meat to liquid that’s hot and simmering, the proteins in the meat are released and they make the broth cloudy. So when making broth or stick, add your meat to the pot while the liquid is cold. Then, bring the liquid to a simmer along with the meat.
Starting the meat in cold liquid ensures that the proteins are more gradually released.
Flavoring and Seasonings for Simmering Liquid
In most cases, food is simmered in flavors liquids such as stock, broth, or even wine. However, water is sometimes used, too. For grains, apple cider can add tons of natural sweetness to the dish.
For aromatic flavor, add vegetables and fresh herbs. They add flavor, color, and another dimension to your cooking.
Slow and Low Cooking for Stews and Braises
If you’re cooking muscular cuts of tough meats, that’s where simmering and slow cooking comes into play. If you cook cuts of meat such as osso bucco, lamb shank, and less expensive cuts of beef, cooking them at low temperatures for extended periods of time will give you melt-in-your-mouth tenderness and flavor.
When you simmer these tougher cuts of meat, the proteins break down, so cooking them slowly serves to tenderize them. While you can use a slow cooker or Instant Pot to cook them, simmering them on low in the oven is also ideal. The biggest benefit of cooking meat this way is that they require minimal supervision.
How Long for Simmering Food
- Stocks and broth: To cook meat broth or stock, the longer you cook, the better. Long cooking times allow you to get every last bit of nutrition out of the bones. Simmering overnight is commonly done, and you can do that if it works in your kitchen’s setup. Otherwise, simmering for an entire afternoon is fine. You can also simmer chicken broth in the Crock Pot.
- Tough cuts of meat: To simmer meat, put the meat in cold water before bringing it to a simmer. Larger meat cuts that are tougher will usually require a longer cooking time, and that can be as long as 4 hours if you’re simmering them. Cooking tough meat in the oven at low temperature will give you tender meat.
- Fish: To simmer large fish pieces for fish stew, chowder, and more, put the fish in cold water before bringing it to a simmer. Don’t allow the water you’re cooking your fish in to come to a boil, or the tissues can be damaged and overcooked.
- Poultry: To simmer chicken, turkey, or other poultry, it takes between 20 and 45 minutes. It depends on the size of your chicken pieces and whether you’re using bone-in or boneless poultry.
- Legumes and grains: Beans, lentils, and grains are perfect for simmering. Follow the instructions on the package or search online for specific instructions for cooking grains and legumes.
- Vegetables: All types of root vegetables are perfect for simmering, but different vegetables have varying cooking times.
Foods You Can Simmer
- Legumes: Lentils and beans are perfect for simmering in chili, soup, and stew.
- Grains: You can simmer all of these with aromatics until they’re perfectly tender: Quinoa, millet, farro, barley, and spelt.
- Poultry and meta: Use simmering to cook poultry and meat, including poaching, braising, stovetop simmering, or oven simmering.
- Vegetables: Starchy and fibrous root vegetables are well-suited to simmering with a long gentle simmer. These include potatoes, beets, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, and turnips.
- Large meat cuts: Large cuts of beef or pork are perfect when you simmer them for a long time until they’re fork-tender.
- Stock and broth: Maintaining a steady temperature by slow cooking stock and broth helps the flavors meld together.
- Fish: Fish and other delicate foods can be simmered or poached to keep them from falling apart.
For simmering, it helps to have the right types of kitchen tools. First of all, you need a large pot with a heavy bottom or a deep saucepan. Slotted spoons help you remove the food while leaving the simmering liquid behind. Slotted spoons are also perfect for skimming foam off the top of the stock that’s boiling.
- Slow Cooker (optional)
- Stockpot or Simmer Pots
- Heat Diffuser
- Slotted Spoon
- Flame Tamer
- Cooking Spoon
- Instant Read Thermometer