Who's Ever Heard of Wet Cooking?

Day 8 of the 31 Day Challenge

Day 8 of the 31 Day Challenge

The Natural Epicurean Kitchen

The Natural Epicurean Kitchen

On the first day of school we had a syllabus review of our first 9 weeks during which we learn the fundamentals and foundations of vegetarian cooking. Listed were two sessions that sounded completely foreign to me….wet cooking and dry cooking.  What?  So it is actually pretty simple and an easy concept.  Wet cooking techniques are those that use water to cook the food.  Dry cooking incidentally does not use water but may use oil.  (I'll talk about that tomorrow.)  

Bamboo steamer

Bamboo steamer

The wet cooking methods are: 

  1. Boil:  cooking in liquid on the stove top at 212 degrees.  There will be vigorous bubbles throughout the pot. 
  2. Simmer: cooking in liquid at a little lower temperture than boiling, around 200 degrees.  There will be little bubbles, mostly around the edges.  Our chef said it is like a little giggle.
  3. Poach:  cooking below the simmering point between 165 and 180 degrees.  You can deep poach (eggs) or shallow poach (fruit). You can also poach in fat, 180 to 190 degrees.  This is good for fish. That however is not a wet cooking method since water is not used!
  4. Steam: use the steam from boiling water.  

Braising and stewing are combination methods.  You sear the food first in oil and then cook it on the stovetop in liquid (stew) or with liquid and then covered in the oven (braised).  As a home cook, knowing what these terms mean is helpful as you cook from recipes so you will know exactly what you are supposed to do. 

We haven't learned poached eggs yet (we'll do them when we learn eggs and dairy) but before I left MD Anderson, someone  asked me what one thing  I want to learn in school, and my answer was to poach an egg.  Soon!  This picture also shows that temperamental Hollandaise sauce.  (This is a stock photo not from school….).

In our wet cooking lab we made delicious poached pears.  Pears are in season  this time of year and you can find them quite inexpensively in any grocery store.  I think to eat them out of hand they have to be perfectly ripe.  Not ripe enough and they are like a not very good apple, and too ripe and they are mush.  Poaching them allows you to take these under-ripe or ripe pears and cook them through until they are tender.  They take on the flavor (and color!) of the poaching liquid and added spices. This recipe is really easy and can be adjusted to your liking or the occasion.  Use red wine, with clove and cinnamon and it is a great holiday dish.  White wine with dried apricots, a little honey, and lemon and you a lighter, completely different dish. This version just uses water with some sweetner and flavoring. This takes a bit of time, but it is mostly unattended so it is not too labor intensive.  If you like dessert, a cooked fruit is a great healthy option, as you get good nutrition from the fruit but still get the satisfaction of something sweet.  If you don't like warm fruit, just chill them a bit before serving. I hope you'll try it! 

Vanilla Poached Pears

by Catherine Craig

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Ingredients (4 servings)

  • 1/2 rice syrup, maple syrup, agave nectar, or honey
  • 1/4 cup apple juice (use organic with no sugar added)
  • 1 quart water
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, slice in half longways
  • 2 1-inch pieces of lemon zest
  • 2 pears
  • 1 tsp kuzu (a root thickener) or cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips, optional
  • 1/4 milk of choice (diary or soy), optional


Mix water, rice syrup/sweetener of choice, apple juice, lemon zest, and vanilla bean in a medium sized pot. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the syrup. Lower the heat to a simmer.

Peel the pears with long even strokes to keep a nice shape. Cut each pear in half. Using a melon baller or spoon, scoop out the seeds and core. Add the pears to the simmering syrup. Poach the pears until they begin to look transulent around the edges, and are tender when a knife is inserted. This should take about 40 minutes but will depend on the size of the pear. When done, remove with a slotted spoon, and set aside.

Remove one cup of the poaching liquid and put it into a small saucepan. Combine the kuzu or cornstarch with just enough apple juice to dissolve it. Stir it into the saucepan, and cook at a simmer over low heat, just until thickened. (if using cornstarch you must bring it to a boil for it to thicken.) Remove from heat, let cool until just warm.

Optional: Just before serving, melt the chocolate with the milk over a double boiler, stirring and mixing to create a thick sauce.

Put the pears into a serving dish or individual bowls. Divide syrup between the bowls and drizzle with the chocolate sauce.

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