Healthy Cooking Techniques Guide
Foods cooked en papillote are encased in parchment paper and baked. The foods are cooked by trapped steam.
Culinary Institute of America
Properly cooked foods should be full of flavor and texture. They should also look appealing. You can easily achieve these goals by pairing ingredients and cooking methods to maximize flavor, texture, and appearance. If healthy cooking is a goal, you should also plan to minimize nutrient loss.
In most cases, traditional cooking methods are well suited to healthy cooking. The exceptions are pan frying and deep-frying, for obvious reasons. The key to cooking foods in a healthy manner is to take a literal approach to classic cooking standards and resist the tendency to add butter, cream, and salt.
Some techniques require minor adaptations; others work as is. With each technique, the quality of the finished dish may be increased by selecting the highest-quality ingredients and preparing them properly.
Foods should be cooked with the goal of retaining moisture and succulence. Sauces should be chosen to enhance flavor without sacrificing nutritional benefit. Although ingredients such as butter and cream can be used in small amounts for enrichment, sauces should be based primarily on vegetables, fruits, and low-fat reductions and essences. Coulis, salsas, chutneys, relishes, and fond de veau lié are all good choices.
All foods should be handled with nutrient retention in mind. Nutrient levels may drop when foods are exposed to light or air, subjected to excessively high levels of heat, cooked in too much liquid, cooked for too long, or cooked under alkaline or very acidic conditions. Preparation techniques should therefore limit exposure to these elements.
Preparing foods as close to cooking time as possible is one of the best ways to minimize nutrient loss. Moist-heat cooking methods that rely on steam and dry-heat methods retain more water-soluble nutrients than simmering or boiling, which cause nutrients to leach into the cooking liquid and get discarded. Stewing and braising are also nutrient-conserving methods because the cooking liquid, which is normally served as a sauce, captures those vitamins and minerals that are not destroyed by heat. Using a bit of fat in preparations helps to make fat-soluble vitamins more available to the body. Although cooking decreases the level of some nutrients, others become more available when foods are cooked. Heat breaks down cell walls in ways that digestion cannot, and it concentrates nutrients.
Overcooking should be avoided at all costs. Foods remain juicy and moist if cooked until just done. Overcooked foods, on the other hand, become dry and tough, or soggy and insipid. Choose your pan for each technique with care. If you steam vegetables in a pan that’s too small, for example, they may sit in the water, not above it. In addition, the pan has a great influence on the outcome of a dish. Its shape, the material it is made of, and any surface treatment of the interior all play a role.