Simmering means putting a liquid-like stock water, soup, stew, or gravy into a state where it is hot enough to bubble, but enough to boil.
Simmering is a culinary technique that makes the difference between tough or tender stewed meat, soft and fluffy, or hard and chewy rice.
What does “bring to a simmer” mean?
Simmer is a method for cooking that uses a medium amount of heat to gently soften food while allowing seasonings to combine seasonings slowly and thoroughly. This is often used to make slow-cooked meat, stews, and soups. A liquid is simmered when its temperature never reaches 212°F (which is, of course, the boiling point of water). The temperature range for simmering is 185°F to 205°F.
Simmering vs. boiling
Boiling water is water that has reached a temperature of 212°F. Quick boils are great for blanching vegetables and making pasta.
Properly speaking, simmering water never passes higher than 205°F. Simmering is better than boiling, but it is just as useful in cooking for thoroughly cooking meat, fish, and poultry–in short, any food which is dangerous is not completely cooked.
Being at a lower temperature than boiling, simmering does not require as much stirring as boiling. I find that this allows me to slow down the process of incorporating flavors into my dishes.
Simmering lets heat into food more slowly, which is better for delicate foods that might otherwise break down and scatter in a quick boil. Thus, simmering is a great choice for large cuts of meat, such as beef and slabs of pork.
For meat and poultry, the action of simmering is to tenderize. On the other hand, boiling simply cooks meat and poultry rapidly and leaves the flesh in the state of toughness with which it began.
Boiling cooks foods from 212°F (and even higher, in pressure cookers). For this reason, boiling is more suitable for root vegetables, grains like rice, and pasta.
Depending on what’s being cooked, boiling can soften the food or violently break down and scatter it quickly. Because boiling increases evaporation, it is the cooking method which best creates concentrated flavors.
What are visual cues that a liquid is simmering?
I can easily tell my dish is simmering simply by watching the way bubbles rise from the bottom of the saucepan or pot to the top.
Low simmering always results in hardly any movement in the liquid. Often, there are only a few tiny bubbles rising sporadically and emitting a small amount of steam.
As heat is applied and the temperature of the pot’s contents is raised, the number of little streams of bubbles rising to the surface begins to multiply.
However, even with the increased number of bubbles reaching the surface of the liquid, if the pot is simmering and not boiling, most of the liquid’s motion will continue to occur under its surface.
The pot is no longer simmering but has instead reached a boil when large bubbles reach the surface in a constant stream, to form when boiling a liquid. This action is accompanied by more steam and an unmistakable roiling motion.
It’s easy to bring water up to a simmer–I just pour the water into a pot on the stove, turn up the heat and wait. More often than not, I cover the pot with a lid as this speeds things up.
As the water’s temperature rises, bubbles form on the pot’s bottom. When there are a lot of bubbles which rise up and disturb the surface in an even pattern, the water has reached a simmer.
At this point, it is important to keep the water from boiling by reducing the heat. Removing the lid also helps to keep the water down at just simmering.
This same technique is applicable to any type of liquid, stew, or soup, not just water. However, when practising simmering for the first time, water is the fastest liquid to use.
Some foods are difficult to simmer and some actually don’t simmer at all, for example, thick, blended soups.
With practice, it becomes a snip to tell the difference between a simmer and a boil. Basically, if the surface of the liquid is relatively calm, the pot is simmering. On the other hand, if the surface is boisterous and steaming madly, the pot is boiling.
How to do simmering
A pot can be in a range from a low simmer to a full one, depending on how far below its boiling point its temperature is maintained.
A number of variables such as burner heat, ingredients, recipe, cookware and even ambient temperature and air pressure all contribute to when a liquid stops simmering and enters into a boil.
To ensure food is thoroughly cooked, the cooking times and temperatures all need to be adjusted properly.
Step 1. Use the right amount of water, stock, or other liquid
I learned the hard way that putting too much water into the pot might result in unpleasant options. Either I must choose to boil off the excess liquid or elect to throw away part of the liquid and miss out on precious flavors, vitamins, and minerals.
Instead, I put enough water into the pot to just cover the ingredients that I will add in later. If I am using a recipe, I don’t even have to guess.
Step 2. Properly regulate the amount of heat supplied by the cooker
The secret here is to begin with the heat turned down low and slowly increase the heat until the desired simmer is reached. Bear in mind that there will be a slight temperature drop when adding new ingredients.
Step 3. Keep an eye on things and prevent the pot from reaching a boil
A steady simmer that’s even only a little bit high will turn into a boil amazingly quickly. To gauge the simmer, I keep an eagle eye on the pot.
Step 4. How to stir and keep to time when simmering
Once the pot is simmering, stir it as often as necessary to keep the ingredients from sticking to the bottom or sides of the pot and burning. Alternatively, if the recipe mentions specific instructions about stirring, then of course follow the recipe.
Frequently Asked Questions About What Does “Bring to a Simmer” Mean
What tools are needed for simmering?
Simmer with deep saucepans or large, heavy pots that have lids. Have a wooden spoon for stirring and tasting.
Is it true simmering can help make beef tender?
Simmering helps make beef tender. Simmering beef slowly in small amounts of liquid in a covered pot will tenderize tough cuts.
Is it necessary to stir while simmering?
It is often necessary to stir while simmering to prevent the ingredients from sticking to the pot and burning. However, I often obtain my best results when stirring as little as possible to discourage volatile flavors from escaping the pot. That’s what the nice smell of cooking is, evaporated flavor.
Afterword: What does “bring to a simmer” mean?
Although “bring to simmer” isn’t an exact science, it’s a valuable culinary skill to have. There are several recipes and foods that require simmering rather than boiling.
I recommend new cooks practice simmering with water first before trying it with soup or other foods.