To Simmer or Boil: What’s the Difference?

To Simmer or Boil: What’s the Difference?

While they may be variations of the same process (heating water), these two cooking methods are quite different. The basic process involves heating a liquid to a temperature hot enough to cook food.

However, the effect each method has on that food is different. Both boiling and simmering are used in kitchens every day – all they require is a heat source, a liquid, and a heavy-bottomed pan to distribute the heat evenly.

Boiling vs simmering

What is boiling?

Boiling is heating a liquid to a high temperature (water boils at 100C), where it causes large rolling bubbles of air to rise from the bottom of the pan. Gas tends to heat liquids to boiling temperature faster than electricity.

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What boiling does

Boiling water keeps food in motion, helps prevents sticking, and cooks food quickly. You can toss green vegetables into boiling water to cook as soon as possible, helping them retain their flavour and bright colour. Boiling causes speedy evaporation and is often used to reduce sauces and condense flavours.

Typically, you would boil ingredients in water, sometimes containing salt, oil, stock, or butter for flavour and texture. Add your food to the liquid once it reaches a boil.

What to boil: pasta, some grains, soups, and green vegetables are perfect for boiling.

What is simmering?

Simmering occurs at a slightly lower temperature than boiling and is when there is slight movement in the water, but almost no bubbles break the surface. 

What simmering does

Simmering is a gentler cooking method gentler than boiling. It can be trickier than boiling as it requires careful temperature regulation. 

Simmering cooks food gently and slowly. Foods such as fish and eggs are often poached at a simmer to prevent them from breaking apart. When you simmer meat, it tends to remain juicy and fork-tender, while boiling meats can dry it out and cause it to toughen up.  

If you make homemade stock, it’s best to cook it at a simmer so you can skim off the fat and protein released by the ingredients. 

What to simmer: fish, poultry, meats, and stock. Root vegetables (potatoes, pumpkin, carrots) are best simmered, so they cook evenly. You can use plain water for simmering, but also broth/stock or wine. 

Quick tips:

  • Simmering water releases only a tiny bubble or two to the surface of the liquid every second or two. If you can see more bubbles rise to the surface, reduce the heat, or move the pot to a smaller burner. 
  • If you’re simmering meat or large fish fillets, place the food in cold water, then gently bring it up to a simmer. 
  • When cooking vegetables or pasta, add the uncooked food to water that’s fully boiling.

How to start

Whether you’re boiling or simmering, start with water. Fill a saucepan with cold tap water and cover with a lid to help your liquid reach the required temperature faster. Once your liquid is hot – you’re ready to get cooking.

Cooking is better with gas, so find out more about getting connected.

Boil vs simmer
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