How to boil water in less than three cookbook chapters.
You can make boiling water as complex as you wish. Julia Childs wrote pages and M.F.K. Fisher penned entire chapters on the subject.
The “For Dummies” series boils it down to 11 lines of type, including “turn on the stove.”
Boiling water is like putting on your socks in a dark room. If we really start thinking about it, we fall for its dangers. It’s easy to make fun of the culinary authorities who believe we actually don’t know how to do it, as if we were not born with the instinct.
Still, on Day 1 of many cooking academies, there it is, “How to Boil Water.” Like Marine Corps boot camp, it reduces us to sniffling idiots before prepping us for cooking glory.
It’s not that boiling water is so tough, but cooks get into trouble fast when they don’t know what kind of boiling water they need. Yes, there are kinds. I’ve come up with four types of boiling you should consider before entering the world of torrid bubbly:
• Poaching is barely boiling, closer to warm than boiled. When you just see a whiff of steam from a few, very small bubbles, you have poaching water. Used mostly for eggs.
• Simmering is hotter, with more bubbles and steam reaching the surface. Ideal for vegetables and sauces that require gentle cooking.
• Boiling is the exact moment when the water gets so hot, it evaporates into steam. It is most often used to cook pasta and rice, but is handy in a range of recipes.
• Roiling boil is boiling so hotly, the water is moving violently and probably spilling outside the pan. You would never torture a sauce this way, but it leads to strongly steeped tea. Lidded boiling water creates scalding water which damages food and skin.
Using a lid speeds up each boiling stage, but be careful. Never place a lid on food requiring simmering or less without lowering the heat to at least half. It’s also nearly impossible to poach without turning the heat off.
Once you get a feel for how to boil water, overcooking becomes a distant bad memory.