When you’re preparing food, there’s nothing more satisfying than putting something on the stove and watching it cook while you keep busy doing other tasks.
But what exactly is “bringing something to a simmer?”
If you’ve ever wondered how to turn off the burner before getting too distracted, this guide will help you understand what it means to bring something to a simmer, along with all of the different ways you can use it.
What does it mean to bring something to a simmer?
To bring something to a simmer, you’ll want to make sure that the pan or pot has enough liquid in it so that the food being prepared isn’t completely submerged.
At the same time, the food should not have any excess liquid—just enough water to cover the food.
As the food cooks, the liquid inside the pan or pot will evaporate.
When the food is at its lowest point, this evaporation process speeds up.
You may notice that the food starts to change color and get tender.
How do you know when something is at a simmer?
There are several signs that you can look out for to determine whether your food is at a simmer.
The most important one is the color of the food itself.
If the food is brownish-red, then it’s probably at a simmer.
As the food continues to cook, the color will lighten up or become lighter, depending on what you are cooking.
You can also tell by the sound of the food.
As the food cooks, it will emit an audible noise that gets lower and lower.
It won’t get quite as loud as it would if you were boiling the food, but it still makes a noticeable sound.
Another way to check that the food is at a simmer is to peek into the pot.
You’ll see steam rising from the food, which indicates that the surface of the food is warm.
What’s the difference between a simmer and a boil?
One thing that distinguishes the two is the level of heat.
A simmer uses less heat than a boil.
That means that the food will take longer to reach the boiling point.
In fact, a simmer only reaches the boiling point after about 20 minutes.
A simmer takes longer because the heat isn’t applied to the entire volume of the pot or pan.
Instead, it’s focused on the part of the food that needs to cook.
So instead of heating the entire container, a simmer focuses the heat on a small area, making it easier to control.
Because of this focus on the food, the liquid around the hot spot doesn’t boil away as fast.
Can you bring something to a simmer without boiling it first?
Yes, you can bring something to a simmer without boiling it first.
All you really need is a pot or pan that contains enough liquid to submerge whatever you’re going to cook.
Once you place the food in the pan, you don’t need to add anything else, like salt or oil.
How do you control the heat when bringing something to a simmer?
Most pots and pans come with a special insert that helps to regulate the heat.
On larger pots and pans, these inserts often have adjustable legs that allow you to move them closer or further away from the heat source.
On smaller pots and pans, they might be flat pieces of metal that fit into the bottom of the pan.
The goal is to set the insert where it can apply the least amount of heat to the food.
Ideally, you’d want the insert to sit directly over the heat source, so that the hottest part of the fire radiates directly onto the food.
However, if you’re using a gas range, you may have limited control over the placement of the insert.
With electric ranges, you have full control over how close the insert sits to the flame, but you may have trouble adjusting it if the flame isn’t direct.
What happens if you let something simmer for too long?
It’s important to remember that everything eventually boils.
You don’t want to let your food simmer forever, but you also don’t want to stop the cooking process once the food is almost done.
There are many reasons why you might want to pause after you reach a certain stage of cooking.
- If you’re trying to thicken a sauce, a long simmer allows the sauce to fully concentrate and develop flavor. By taking your time, you can avoid adding extra ingredients to the sauce, which could dilute its potency.
- Some types of food benefit from having their texture altered slightly during the cooking process. For example, adding a little bit of gelatin powder (such as Knox) to a stew can give your meat extra body and keep it from falling apart when it cools down.
- Sometimes, you need to let your food sit for a few minutes before eating it. This gives some foods, like eggs, a chance to finish cooking through without overcooking. Even though it sounds counterintuitive, you can also add raw eggs to a simmering dish for a few minutes before serving.
- For some dishes, waiting for the right time to serve them is part of the charm. Take slow-cooked beans, for instance. They’re delicious when they’re just shy of being done. Adding a quick burst of heat at the end will cause them to pop open and release their flavors.
What are some common things that are simmered?
Simmered foods fall into three categories: meats, vegetables, and starches.
Let’s start with meats.
These include meats like beef, lamb, pork, chicken, fish, and shellfish.
Next, we’ll talk about vegetables.
- Onions are a classic example of a vegetable that is simmered. After chopping the onions, add them to a large stockpot. Add salt to taste, then fill the pot with water, leaving enough room for the vegetables to float freely. Bring the water to a boil, turn the heat to low, and wait for the pot to simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, drain the onions, and put them back in the pot. Repeat this process until you’re ready to eat the onions. Alternatively, drain the onions, mix them into a tomato sauce, and then proceed to enjoy the sauce.
- Tomatoes are another great candidate for a simmer. After cutting them into chunks, pour them into a large stockpot and add salt to taste. Fill the pot with water, bring the water to a boil, and turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook the tomatoes for about 10 minutes. Drain the tomatoes, and return them to the pot. Finish the dish by stirring in a bit of olive oil or butter. Serve immediately.
- Another classic example of a vegetable that is simmered is potatoes. Cut the potatoes into cubes or slices, and then pour them into a large stockpot. Cover the pot with a lid, and fill the pot with cold water. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the potatoes for about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes, return them to the pot, and serve immediately.
Can you simmer in a microwave?
No, you cannot simmer in your microwave.
Microwaves operate on a high frequency, which is very different from conventional ovens and stoves.
The high frequency waves create friction, which causes the food to heat up rather quickly and then cool down again.
This creates a cycle of rapid heating and cooling, which results in uneven cooking and damage to the food.
Also, microwaving tends to dry out the food, which prevents moisture from reaching the center of the food.
This can cause your food to burn, so it’s best to stick to convection mode whenever possible.