Simmer down and settle in, folks. It’s time to talk about simmering. No, not the simmering resentment you have for your coworker who talks too loudly on the phone, simmering a nice homemade sauce to pour over your favorite dish or appetizer!
But it doesn’t have to end with sauce. Once you master the culinary art of the simmer, the world is yours for the taking. Stews, soups, stocks, and more will bend before you like a soft willow in the breeze. Simmering is a simple and delicious technique and one every cuisine connoisseur should have in their arsenal.
So read on and learn how to simmer in 5 easy steps!
Simmer Me Timbers
When we talk about simmering, we are referring to the way of cooking food slow and steady (that’s what wins the race, after all). Simmering is a step below a boil and above a poach. When simmering, we cook food in a liquid, or in the case of a soup or sauce, just the liquid itself. We cook it just below the boiling point and monitor it constantly to avoid burning.
Simmering is a great skill to have when cooking any recipe that involves soup, sauce, or stocks but also starchy foods like grains, legumes, pasta, and of course, potatoes! A good simmer will make your food tender and soft and will have the added benefit of making your food absorb all the flavor you throw in. This is due to the heat of the liquid that gently cooks the food allowing the flavors of the food to mix with each other in a way not possible with a full boil.
This method of cooking lets everything cook together at the same speed making food incredibly tender and delicious. To achieve a simmer, you will need to cook between about 185 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit, but the best way to monitor a simmer is visual because you will see the small bubbles forming in the pot. For this reason, it is best to simmer without the lid. It is tempting to cover once you hit the desired simmer but remember, a lid will intensify the heat and can cause a boil.
Types of Simmers
- A slow simmer happens on low heat. This is done most often for stocks and braises or sauce reductions. There will be low activity in the pot but keep your eyes peeled for a wisp of steam or a stray bubble.
- A simmer will begin at medium-low heat and produce some more frequent gentle bubbling. This approach will be used for sauces, stews, soups, and braises.
- A rapid simmer will be used for reducing sauces and occurs at medium/medium-high heat. You will notice more bubbles in the pot, but none that would be considered big. This may be considered a low boil, so keep your eyes on it to make sure it doesn’t reach a full boil.
- Speaking of full boils, you may want to start with a boil before bringing the temperature down to a proper simmer. This is a quick way to get the food hot then back down to a simmer since you can slowly turn the dial to control the bubbles and approach the kind of simmer you are trying to achieve.
Simmy Simmy Ya, Simmy Yam, Simmy Yay
Unlike ODB, we don’t like it raw. We like our food slow-cooked and oozing with flavor. There are many benefits of simmered food. One is the time it takes. Simmering can give you delicious soups and slow-braised recipes in any time frame. Taste is a huge benefit to a proper simmer since everything in the pot will infuse in the liquid to create a beautiful symphony of smells and tastes. As the liquid slowly evaporates, the flavors concentrate and intensify.
There are also nutritional benefits to simmering. You can simmer in broth, apple cider, and other vegetables and herbs to remove extra calories from butter and oil from your food. Simmering will change the texture of your food as well. Simmering will soften beans, grains, and meats, making them become incredibly tender. And who doesn’t love a nice, tender piece of meat oozing with flavor?
There are some potential downsides to keep in mind as well. When cooking on a gas stove especially, it can be hard to keep a consistent simmer and regulate your temperature. The heat may come up to a boil despite your best efforts. To combat this, simply move your pot to the side of the burner. In regards to the nutritional benefits of removing excess calories, simmering can cause some food to lose its nutrients and vitamins by soaking into the cooking liquid. So, don’t go stew crazy, and make sure you incorporate other forms of cooking to preserve nutrients.
The Steps of the Simmer
1.) LiQuid Pro Quo
The first thing you will want to do when simmering is decide on what pot to use. You will need a heavy-bottomed pot or saucepan, depending on how much you are going to cook. Figure out how much liquid the recipe you are following calls for and make your choice based on that knowledge.
You will need a pot and enough water or liquid to fully submerge whatever food you are simmering. Make sure you give yourself extra space to add food since this will raise the level of the liquid. If you are doing a simple sauce, you can get away with using a saucepan but, if you are opting to cook your meatballs in the sauce, go with a deep pot to give the meatballs enough room to be fully submerged.
2.) Recipe (for Disaster?)
Let’s hope not! The second step of the simmering process is to make sure we understand the recipe we are attempting to not screw up. The recipe will call for one of two things: bring the dish to a simmer or bring to a boil, THEN simmer. Both are simple enough; just make sure you read carefully and do as it says since these two techniques will yield different results.
Bringing to a simmer means slowly bringing the liquid to just below boiling point over a low heat. Reduce to a simmer means exactly what it sounds like; bring to a boil, then slowly reduce heat until the contents simmer.
3.) Heating Up!
Place your dish on the burner and begin the simmering process. Turn your stove to medium or low heat and stay nearby. You will have to adjust the heat as you attempt to reach a simmer. It is best if you stay near the burner until a consistent simmer is reached to avoid an accidental boil. If it’s your first time trying to simmer and you don’t want to burn your sauce, try using water first to get an idea of where to turn your burner. Use the water to try different heat settings and get a feel for how the liquid will look as you change the temperature.
4.) Bubble, Bubble, Toil, and Trouble!
As we covered earlier, there are three types of simmer. This is the step where that knowledge will come in handy. We are now going to observe the number of bubbles rising to the surface of the liquid. When you see pockets of tiny, steady bubbles breaking on the surface with random wisps of steam, you have reached a simmer!
Test the temperature, if you are unsure, by placing a cooking thermometer into the sauce. Remember, we are looking for it to show a temperature between 185 and 205 Fahrenheit. Obviously, lower temps will coincide with a slow simmer, and higher will match up with a simmer or rapid simmer.
5.) Call Me Anything but ReguLATE for Dinner
Congratulations, you have reached a simmer. But don’t celebrate yet! You still need to adjust the heat to maintain a constant simmer and cook the sauce’s contents. Adjust the heat up or down as you need and stir occasionally or as your recipe dictates. You are going to have to change the heat as you add items to the sauce, like meatballs or other ingredients. Again, stay nearby to gauge how often you need to stir.
Those are the main steps of the sauce simmer, but there are many other simmering uses and techniques that may be helpful. Reducing a sauce requires a simmer as well. “Reducing” means to thicken the sauce’s consistency. This causes even more flavor, and the longer the simmer, the more the reduction.
To reduce, turn the temp to low and stir occasionally. You may need to regulate the heat as you reduce to maintain a steady simmer. Be careful not to burn the sauce, as you will end up with charred bits from the bottom of the pan in your reduction.
The recipe will tell you how long to reduce in most cases, but you can decide for yourself based on the sauce’s consistency. Italian tomato sauce, for instance, can be reduced for longer periods in order to thicken it.
Enjoy the sauces of your labor, and check out Bulbhead here for more tips and tricks!