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Old 04-06-2006, 05:22 PM   #1
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Boil, Then To A Simmer

I'm just learning how to cook, and I see a LOT of recipes that say bring the heat to a boil, and then immediately reduce to a simmer. Why?

I can understand the "force" of a boil being too much for certain fragile foods. But this seems to be the case in more durable vittles as well. So how come nearly every recipe I've come across demands I jump up to a boil then leap down to a simmer. Why not just heat up to a simmer? And why simmer at all?


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Old 04-06-2006, 06:12 PM   #2
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You bring it to a boil so it gets up to temp quickly. Then you reduce it to a simmer. The temperature of a simmer is less than boiling. This allows you to cook the ingredients and extract flavors, etc. Boiling will actually toughen proteins and cause the liquids to absorb excess amounts of fats.

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Old 04-06-2006, 09:37 PM   #3
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Andy pretty much nailed it. I mean in theory, you could just bring up to a simmer but either a.) you're going to wait forever or b.) you're going to have to stand over it and constantly watch it. But in most recipes, unless a full boil is needed to achieve something chemically in the dish, you don't even have to bring it to a full boil. Once it starts just shows signs of boiling, you can manipulate the temperature from there.

When something boils, there are visual and audible signs that tell you when it's ready, even if you're busy doing other things in the kitchen, so it's almost like a timer of sorts. Most liquids (with the exception of dairy and liquids that have been thickened with a liaison) don't display those effects at just a simmer, which forces you to keep checking on it every so often, rather then just looking in the general direction and knowing when to turn it down.
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Old 04-08-2006, 05:52 AM   #4
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If you ever stew a chicken you'll know why you don't want to boil it! Boiling really makes the meat tough and stringy. As said above, you bring to a boil to bring the meat up to temperature and speed up the process, plus food safety issues (having your meat sit in lukewarm water for the amount of time it would take to bring it to a safe heat can't be healthy). So you get your water and meat very hot, then immediately lower it.
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Old 04-08-2006, 10:05 AM   #5
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Basically the posters have nailed it.

To me, I bring it up to a boil first because the dials on my stove do not have an indicator that says simmer.

If I turn it on at a relatively low temp I have no idea if that will be a simmer.

If it is not, then after twenty minutes or so, have to adjust the temperature a bit more, and then wait.

And maybe repeat the process.

But if I bring the pot up to a boil, and then back off a bit, I can reach a simmer fairly quickly.

Am a lazy cook and that is why I do it that way.
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Old 04-23-2006, 07:24 PM   #6
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when you just simmer a broth the fats son't get incorporated into the liquid like if you boiled it . Then you can skim off the fat. If it is boiled then the broth gets clowdy and the fat never really comes to the top to get skimmed off.

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Old 05-21-2006, 06:33 PM   #7
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Water “boils” at 100 degrees Centigrade or 212 degrees Fahrenheit (or at least they tell us.) But the exact temperature that water boils depends on how high you are above sea level and on the barometric pressure (It is low when it is raining and higher when the sun shines). Furthermore, most of us put salt in the water when we boil food. This salt increases the temperature at which the salted water boils.

Foe example here is the result of an experiment.

Temperature of boiling water (Control)
212.9° F
Amount of table salt added to boiling water: Run #1
1 Tbl.
Temperature of boiling water after adding salt: Run #1
215.6° F
Total amount of table salt added to boiling water: Run #2
2 Tbl.
Temperature of boiling water after adding salt: Run #2
218.3° F

But the temperature of the water does not vary whether the water is boiling fast or just simmering. Simmering water is at the same temperature as fast boiling water.

But if food is cooked in fast-boiling water there is a great deal of movement in the water, caused by bubbles. This can damage the food.

So, if you bring the water to a boil (this gets it to approximately 100 degrees C or 212 degrees F). If you then turn it to a simmer the temperature stays the same but the movement of the water is minimised and the food cooks at the boiling temperature without unwanted movement.
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Old 06-11-2006, 01:49 PM   #8
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Boil then simmer

Advoca nailed it. Also, one more consideration I'd like to add is that the more surface area of the liquid in contact with the air, the faster it will evaporate. So while the liquid at a rolling boil and a simmer are at the same temperature, the liquid at a rolling boil will evaporate more quickly because of the "hills and valleys" on its surface. So even if you are not cooking food that will be damaged by the violent currents in rapidly boiling liquid, it is usually better to simmer it so your liquid does not evaporate too rapidly.

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Old 07-12-2006, 02:12 AM   #9
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What an educational forum.
Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet. -Julia Child
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Old 07-13-2006, 06:05 PM   #10
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One more comment.... many mixtures will burn if the heat applied to the bottom of the pan is too high... i.e. they are kept at a full boil, while they can simmered for a long time (sometimes for hours if your range has good heat control) without any worry about burning. Things made with tomato sauce will scorch or burn on the bottom easily if the heat is too high, even though there may still be plenty of liquid. Most thicker sauces will tend to burn if boiled too long unless you are constantly stirring them.

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