Steaming, Blanching, Poaching, and Boiling—What is the Difference?

Steaming, blanching, poaching, and boiling—let’s start with the common element between these four cooking techniques. All of these techniques use water as the primary catalyst to cooking. But how are they different and when is the right time to use which technique? We break them down for you.

Boiling

This is one of the most common methods of cooking, and arguably the first cooking technique most of us try when we start out cooking. That time you tipped in a mat of Maggi in water? Yup, you were boiling. Just be careful when boiling eggs in water that’s boiling too .

How do I boil something?
Bring a pot of water to the boil, add salt. Add your vegetables, pasta, noodles, or grain to the water and boil till it’s cooked. It’s literally that simple. If you’re bolling greens like spinach or kale, be careful because you’ll need to squeeze out a lot of the water. Wrap them in a wet towel and squeeze gently. If you’re boiling meat or bones, keep scooping out the foam that collects on the top to get rid of impurities.

Steaming

You can use this method to cook just about anything, whether it’s vegetables or protein, like fish and chicken. Just ensure you get rid of any fat on your protein since that won’t break down when steaming.

How do I steam something?
Bring a saucepan or pot of water to a simmer. Place a metal basket, bamboo tray, or a heatproof container that fits in the pot but will sit above the water. Add your food on to your steaming equipment of choice, and cover it. Leave this for as long as a recipe asks for. You can cook an entire meal this way by adding the items that take the most time to cook first, and then adding quicker-cooking ingredients later.

Blanching

Blanching is often done once you’ve steamed or boiled a vegetable to stop it from cooking from the residual heat to preserve the colour and texture. Blanching is also used to remove the skin from food like tomates, peaches, and nuts like almonds and hazelnuts.

How do I blanch something?
Add your food item in a pot of boiling water. While it cooks, prepare another bowl with ice-cold water. Once your food is cooked, remove it from the heat and immediately dunk it into the ice bath. If you don’t have ice water, just place the food in a colander and rinse it in cold water and leave it spread out so it can cool fast.

Poaching

Poaching is a great technique when you’re cooking delicate food like fish, eggs, and lean chicken portions like breasts. It’s a healthy way to flavour your food and you can experiment to a certain degree with the kind of ingredients you add to the water. Poached chicken and egg is perfect when you’re making something like a salad that doesn’t require very strong flavours.

How do I poach something?
Add a pot of water to the heat on the lowest setting. Add salt and gently lower your fish, meat, or egg to the water. Leave it to cook on low till done. Make sure the water doesn’t get too hot at any stage or your protein will fall apart. You can add a variety of ingredients to add depth to your protein. Experiment with soy sauce, fish sauce, citrus peels or zest, whole spices, or even wine and sherry.