The quickest way to cook any food is to douse it with lighter fluid and torch it. This napalm approach may be good for cooking, but it's bad for eating, as we discussed in part 2. To get the eating part right, we have to control the heat. Too high a temperature, or too low a temperature, and you'll be facing an angry mob, no matter what you call the dish.
So, how much heat is the right amount for what you're cooking? That depends on what you're cooking, how much of it there is, and how you're cooking it.
But don't worry. Just about everything you can cook has been cooked before, so it's been figured out for you. Here's a quick chart for many foods to get you started. But you'll find many food labels or package directions will have heat directions, too. And every recipe under the sun will also have that info.
But here's some basic ideas and guidelines.
For Cooking In Liquids:
1. Simmer - this is a low to medium heat. It's the point where the liquid surface is no longer still and flat, but is just hot enough to start showing little breaking bubbles and a gently ruffled surface.
2. Boil - the next step up from simmer, where the liquid surface is actively bubbling, rolling, as they say.
For Cooking in a Pan:
1. Saute - this is a low heat, just at the point where you can start to hear some cooking going on.
2. Fry - this is medium to high heat, sizzling, where you see food browning. Some frying will be done at medium - where you need to cook thick food through to the inside as well - or high - for thinner foods, where you want the outside browned and the inside still moist.
3. Sear or Brown - this is high to very high heat, where you want to quickly brown or crsip the outside of the food without really cooking it - this is a technique that can seal in water, by the way.
For Cooking In an Oven:
1. Slow Bake - this is between the temperatures of 275 to 300 usually, and for longer cooking time. Great way to turn tough meat tender.
2. Bake - from 300 to 450 usually, most things that go in the oven will get done in this range.
3. Broil - there's usually a low and high broil setting, both put direct high heat on to the surface of food, and will cook that surface very fast. The difference between "done" and "charred" under a broiler is less than 15 seconds.
The rule of thumb is, you can always cook something longer. But you can't uncook it. If you crank the heat up things go faster, but that's usually not better, unless you're just trying to put a crust on it. Once you've blast furnaced the water out of something, it's not coming back.
If you keep these rules in mind, you will automatically avoid some of the biggest mistakes a man will usually make in the kitchen, right there.