There used to be a time when home cooks considered certain cooking methods sacrosanct. These time-honored techniques coaxed forkfuls of flavor from humble ingredients. Then along came microwaves, Foreman grills and other eat-quick, flavor-be-damned kitchen appliances that quickly turned old-school cooking into a dying art form.
More often than not, today’s culinary techniques of choice (microwaved vegetables and sautéed chicken breast again?) can’t match grandma’s versatile heavyweights for both healthfulness and rousing our taste buds. These almost-forgotten techniques are not high-flying kitchen feats—they’re easy to master. So channel your inner (gluten-free) Julia Child and include these cooking methods in your meal-prep arsenal to show your food some love.
Beautiful in its simplicity, poaching involves submerging meat—most often poultry or seafood—in a liquid where it gently cooks on the stovetop. Time-efficient poaching keeps proteins juicy and firm, while creating a flavorful liquid that you can use for sauces, soups or future poaching endeavors. The meat releases its flavor into the surrounding liquid while simultaneously absorbing the aromatic liquid in an ongoing back-and-forth process. The benefit to your waistline is that no oil is needed in this easy yet elegant cooking technique, keeping calories in check. Poached meats can be used in a panoply of dishes, such as sandwiches, tacos and salads.
Tools of the Trade An enameled cast-iron pot (like those from Le Creuset) is a workhorse in the kitchen. A stainless steel pot with a lid is another good option and it won’t break the bank. You can also successfully poach in a large skillet with straight sides. If you want to poach meats such as a whole chicken, you’ll need a larger, deeper pot. A 4-pound whole chicken takes about 45 minutes to poach and can provide you with a weeks worth of meat and a bounty of chicken broth.
Best Method Poaching is ideal for delicate foods, such as boneless, skinless poultry breasts or thighs, and fish fillets (if tolerated) that are prone to be overcooked when prepared another way. The gentle heat keeps these meats from falling apart.
How To Do It [Step 1] Place meat in a pot large enough to fit in one layer. Add enough liquid to completely cover meat by about an inch. The best liquids for poaching are water or a gluten-free broth. Add aromatics, such as onions, celery, lemon slices, ginger, spices and herbs, to the liquid for extra punch.
[Step 2] The liquid should be brought to a low simmer so that only an occasional bubble breaks the surface. Keep temperature here the whole time the meat cooks. If the liquid boils, it will pull apart the meat. Partly cover the pot and cook until meat is finished, skimming off any foam that accumulates on the top of the liquid. Remove meat from poaching liquid and use as desired. Ladle liquid over meat or store it in the refrigerator or freezer to use in other dishes.
Poached Chicken Breast Salad
Adding green tea to the poaching liquid infuses the chicken with an earthy flavor but you can use chicken broth or plain water instead. This salad makes a delightful springtime lunch or a light supper. It can be adapted for seasonal vegetables and fruit.
2 green tea bags
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 20 ounces total)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
⅓ cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon gluten-free mustard
⅛ teaspoon salt
3 cups baby spinach, washed and drained
3 cups arugula, washed and drained
1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 (19-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1. In a large pot, bring 4 cups water to a boil. Turn off heat, add tea bags and steep for 10 minutes. Remove tea bags and place chicken and rosemary in the pot. Add additional water if needed to cover chicken by at least ½ inch. Bring water to just under a simmer (no bubbles on surface), reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook for about 15 minutes, or until meat registers 160°F and is no longer pink in the middle.
2. As chicken cooks, toast pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet, stirring often, over medium heat until golden and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Set aside.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, mustard and salt; set aside.
4. Divide spinach, arugula, red pepper, strawberries and chickpeas among four serving plates.
5. Slice cooked chicken into thin strips and place on top of salad. Drizzle with olive oil mixture and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.
Each serving contains 462 calories, 16g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 81mg cholesterol, 578mg sodium, 38g carbohydrate, 8g fiber, 43g protein.
2 En Papillote
Cooking French en papillote style (loose translation: in paper packets) is so easy even a culinary newbie can pull it off with great results. Simply season meat, layer with vegetables, fold in parchment and cook—a perfect solution for busy weeknight meals and a way to elevate simply prepared foods to an entirely new level.
Steam captured in the packet quickly yet gently cooks items, such as poultry, pork or seafood (if tolerated) in its own juices, keeping meat moist and tender. What’s more, aromatics, such as wine, herbs, spices, lemon and onions, infuse their flavors into the food as it cooks in the packets. As a bonus, you’re rewarded with some intensely flavored liquid to spoon up.
Think of cooking in parchment packets as a way to fuse and maximize all the flavor nuances of the contents by creating an oven within an oven, and no dishes to wash. But don’t just stop at entrees. Parchment packets can also produce truly ambrosial side dishes and even fruity desserts with ceremonious presentation. En papillote is perfect for a dinner party or a busy weeknight because packets stuffed with tasty ingredients can be assembled ahead of time and refrigerated.
Also, consider the nutritional benefits. The packets seal in nutrients often lost with more destructive cooking methods, such as boiling and frying. Plus, you get a huge amount of flavor without the need to add a lot of fats.
Tools of the Trade Parchment paper is a silicone-coated, heavy, nonstick white paper that can be found alongside aluminum foil and wax paper in most supermarkets. If possible, choose unbleached versions. Never use parchment paper on the grill or under the broiler; it is safe up to an oven temperature of 450°F.
You can also use parchment paper as a non-stick liner that resists moisture for steaming baskets, baking sheets, muffin cups or cake and tart pans. Parchment used this way can be re-used two or three times.
Best Method En papillote is ideal for faster-cooking meats, so choose chicken breast instead of bone-in thighs, pork chops instead of pork roasts and salmon fillets over salmon steaks. If the vegetables you use don’t have a lot of natural moisture (potatoes, carrots, parsnips), pair them with items that have high water content (spinach, zucchini, tomatoes). A splash of liquid, such as wine, stock or citrus juice, to create steam within the packet can help, as well. Vegetables are best sliced thinly, julienned or in matchsticks.
How To Do It [Step 1] To prep your packets for the oven, cut parchment paper into individual 20- to 25-inch long pieces. Fold in half crosswise so that a crease runs down the middle. Create a paper heart by drawing a half heart with the center of the heart along the fold line; then cut out the shape. Open the heart and layer the ingredients on one half of the sheet close to the center fold, leaving at least a 1-inch border around the edges to allow for folding.
[Step 2] To assemble packet ingredients, place the meats on the bottom as they will take the longest to cook. Vegetables, herbs and fruits should be placed on top of meats. Starting at the top of the heart, fold the edges of parchment together, sealing the edges with tight, quarter-inch folds. Twist the end tip of the packet to secure the ingredients and tuck it underneath. Place packets on a baking sheet and cook.
[Step 3] Let packets rest for 5 minutes before opening. To serve, use a very sharp knife to cut an X in the top of each packet. With the knife, lift the cut edges up slightly and slowly to avoid steam burn.
Orange Turkey with Vegetables
This recipe is equally good with chicken breast and other seasonal vegetables, such as sugar snap peas and fiddleheads. Try serving with quinoa.
4 boneless, skinless turkey breast fillets (about 1½ pounds total)
Zest + juice of 1 orange
¼ teaspoon sea salt + more to season vegetables, to taste
¼ teaspoon black pepper
⅛ teaspoon cayenne
1 bunch asparagus, woody ends trimmed, each cut into three pieces
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 medium zucchini, sliced into
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Rinse turkey breasts and pat dry with a paper towel. Divide breasts among 4 pieces of parchment paper. (Cut as in Step 1).
3. In a small bowl, mix together orange zest, salt, pepper and cayenne. Top breast meat with zest mixture.
4. Toss vegetables with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt, to taste.
5. Divide vegetables among parchment hearts. Squeeze orange juice over top of each breast and vegetables. Close packets, place on a baking sheet (they may overlap slightly) and bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before slicing open.
Each serving contains 261 calories, 5g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 104mg cholesterol, 238mg sodium, 10g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 45g protein.
Coconut Fruit Dessert
This dessert, which can also be served as a side salad for a special meal, can be adapted to include a wide variety of seasonal fruit, such as peaches, nectarines, apricots or cherries.
1 mango, sliced julienne style
2 cups blackberries
3 plums, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 cup light coconut milk|
1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey
-Juice from 1 lime
-Fresh mint, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2.In a large bowl, combine mango, blackberries, plums and ginger.
3.In a small bowl, whisk together coconut milk and sweetener. Toss fruit with coconut milk.
4. Divide fruit mixture among 4 pieces of parchment hearts (Cut as in Step 1). Squeeze lime juice over top and fold.
5.Place packets on a baking sheet (they may overlap slightly) and bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before opening. Garnish with fresh mint.
Each serving contains 151 calories, 5g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 14mg sodium, 28g carbohydrate, 6g fiber, 2g protein.
Braising is an oft-overlooked cooking technique that’s hands-off and rewards neglect. The gist of braising is that you brown meat on the stovetop followed by a long, slow cook in the oven with meat partially submerged in liquid to ensure even heating. The payoff? Meat rendered remarkably tender and a richly flavored sauce that adds a layer of succulence. Consider braising a paean to comfort food.
Ideally suited to less popular, inexpensive cuts of meat, braising can be a way for the frugal-minded cook to slash the food budget. Plus, it’s hard to beat the appetite-inducing aroma that fills the house as it cooks.
Not into meat? Braised vegetable stews, obviously with a shorter cooking time than meat stews, are almost always crowd worthy. Braises, such as stews, reheat beautifully. The flavors only get better after a day or two. Many stews also freeze well.
Tools of the Trade Large Dutch ovens are perfect for braising. An enameled cast-iron pot with a lid is the pan of choice for braising aficionados as it evenly distributes heat plus is easy to clean and doesn’t require “seasoning” like exposed-iron models. Reasonably priced stainless steel pots also work well. Avoid cheap aluminum pots. Make sure your pot doesn’t have plastic handles as it won’t be suitable for both stovetop and oven. Keep in mind that ingredients should fit snuggly. Too large a pot and liquid will evaporate. Too small and you risk unevenly cooked meat. If you don’t have a large enough pot for braising, brown ingredients in a skillet (in batches, if necessary) and then transfer them to a casserole dish for cooking in the oven. Cover tightly.
Best Method Ideal cuts for braising include sinewy beef chuck, beef brisket, short ribs, oxtail, lamb shanks, lamb shoulder, pork butt and pork shoulder. Large cuts of meat can also be braised, as the iconic “pot roast.” For stews, cubed stewing beef or goat meat works well. Those pricey, tender cuts, such as beef tenderloin, will dry out more quickly than their tougher, and frankly, more flavorful counterparts. A good butcher can direct you to the best meats for braising. Hard, fibrous vegetables are also good in braises.
How To Do It [Step 1] Heat vegetable oil in your pan over medium-high heat, season meat with salt and pepper, and brown on all sides to seal in the juices, caramelize the proteins and add visual appeal. Don’t crowd the pot during browning. If using onion and garlic in your recipe, sauté them over medium heat after meat has browned in the pan, adding additional oil if needed.
[Step 2] Add meat, liquid and seasonings to the pot. The liquid should reach about halfway up the meat. This assures the meat and vegetables are cooked both in steam and liquid, a combination that yields richer results. Liquid can be broth, wine, pureed tomatoes, even gluten-free beer. (For best flavor, alcoholic beverages should be first reduced on the stovetop.) Spices, dried herbs (add fresh toward the end of cooking), vinegars, citrus juices, honey and other flavoring agents can be added to the liquid.
[Step 3] Cover the pot tightly to seal in flavor and prevent too much liquid from evaporating. Place pot in the oven and cook with gentle heat—no more than 325°F. Flip the meat once during cooking so that the submerged half is exposed to air. The meat is ready for the dinner table when a fork or skewer can slide easily in and out. Depending on the cut and size, the process can take anywhere from 1 to 5 hours.
[Step 4] Hearty vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips and potatoes, should be added to the pot about 45 minutes before the meat is finished so they cook but maintain good texture. More delicate items, such as mushrooms, zucchini, celery, asparagus or peas, are best added 15 minutes before cooking ends.
[Step 5] Using a slotted spoon, transfer meat and vegetables to a serving platter. Set pot with liquid over medium heat. Thicken with a roux made with gluten-free flour or mix cornstarch (or potato starch) with water and add to simmering liquid. Simmer until thickened. You can also thicken sauce by mashing some of the cooked vegetables with the liquid to meld flavors.
Braised Beef Short Ribs
Braising produces fall-off-the-bone tender meat with an immensely rich sauce. Four 1-pound lamb shanks can be used instead of beef short ribs, if desired.
4 pounds lean beef short ribs
-Salt and pepper, to season meat
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup dry red wine
8 plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried sage or thyme
1 teaspoon cumin powder
½teaspoon fennel seeds
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
-Cilantro or parsley, for garnish
1. Rinse short ribs, pat dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large ovenproof Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown meat on all sides, in batches if necessary. Remove meat from pan.
3. Preheat oven to 300°F. Add onions and garlic to pan and cook for 3 minutes. Add wine, bring to a boil and simmer until reduced by half, about 5 to 8 minutes.
4. In a blender or food processor, puree together tomatoes, tomato paste, sage, cumin, fennel, salt and pepper. Add tomato mixture to pan, along with meat.
5. Cover pan with lid and cook in preheated oven for 2½ hours or until very tender. Flip meat once halfway through cooking.
6. Place meat on serving plates, ladle sauce over top and garnish with fresh herbs.
Each serving contains 470 calories, 26g total fat, 10g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 113mg cholesterol, 229mg sodium, 10g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 39g protein.
Stir-fry is an Asian cooking method that uses intense heat to quickly sear proteins and vegetables. Short, rapid cooking means you spend less time slaving away in the kitchen. Stir-fry’s clean, crisp flavors telegraph its health benefits—there’s little fat and nutrients are retained. And because you only use one pan, or better yet, a wok, there’s less clean up.
Stir-fry is a great way to get more vegetables into your diet, as most recipes call for generous amounts of different types. Be it carrots, mushrooms, broccoli or bok choy, stir-fried veggies provide more nutrients, as well as flavor, texture and color.
Tools of the Trade Ideally, stir-frying should be done in a wok. Cast iron and carbon steel make the best woks for stir-frying, as stainless steel produces uneven heat. Look for a wok that’s about 14 inches wide with a depth of 4 inches to prevent splattering. A flat bottom allows the wok to sit directly on a stovetop burner. You can stir-fry with a skillet but use one with high sides. A perfect stir-fry spatula is one with a deep, shovel-like shape and slightly rounded corners.
Best Method Stir-fry is an ideal way to cook thinly sliced steak, chicken and pork. Things happen quickly with stir-frying, so have all ingredients cut and ready to go before you start cooking.
How To Do It [Step 1] Preheat a wok or skillet over medium-high heat to get it very hot before adding oil. Choose a vegetable oil with a high smoke point, such as coconut, grape seed or safflower. If using a wok, add the oil so that it circles around the sides of the wok before reaching the bottom; this helps coat the entire surface.
[Step 2] Stir-frying is best done in stages to prevent ingredients from becoming overcooked. First cook your meat, set it aside and then cook the herbs and vegetables. Stir-fry dense vegetables, such as eggplant and carrots, first and for the longest time. Follow these with more delicate items, like leafy greens and bean sprouts. Vegetables should still be crisp and not cooked until soggy. Use a spatula to toss ingredients every few seconds (don’t toss meat right away so that it has a chance to brown) and add additional oil between batches of cooking. Once everything is cooked, toss all the ingredients together in the wok or skillet, add your sauces and heat through.
Sweet and Sour Pork Stir-Fry
Make this veggie-laden stir-fry on a lazy Sunday afternoon and you’ll have a week’s worth of lunch. If desired, replace the pork with chicken breast or beef. For future meals, combine cooked rice with cooked pork and vegetables; place in individual serving-size containers and freeze.
2 cups uncooked rice
1 (14-ounce) can pineapple chunks, drained, with ⅓ cup juice reserved
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons gluten-free soy sauce
1 tablespoon Sucanat or other dark sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch or arrowroot
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon coconut oil or vegetable oil of choice, divided
1½ pounds pork tenderloin, sliced crosswise into ½-inch-thick rounds, then sliced into strips
-Salt and pepper, to season meat
2 cups snow peas or sugar snap peas, sliced in half
1 large red bell pepper, sliced thinly
3–4 cups broccoli florets, sliced
2 bunches spinach, stems trimmed, divided
3 green onions, thinly sliced
-Sesame or hemp seeds, optional
1. In a medium-size saucepan, cook rice according to package directions.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together ⅓ cup juice from canned pineapple with vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, cornstarch, ginger, chili flakes and water. Set aside.
3. In a large wok or skillet, heat 1 tablespoon coconut or other vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Season pork with salt and pepper and add to wok. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until cooked through. Transfer pork to a bowl.
4. Rinse wok and add another 1 tablespoon oil, along with peas, red pepper and broccoli. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring very often. Transfer vegetables to the bowl with pork.
5. Place 2 teaspoons oil in wok and add 1 bunch spinach. Cook, stirring often, until wilted, about 1 minute. Transfer spinach to bowl with pork and vegetables. Repeat with remaining spinach and 2 teaspoons oil.
6. Return pork and vegetables to wok, along with drained pineapple chunks, green onions and vinegar sauce. Heat 2 minutes until heated through. Serve over rice garnished with sesame or hemp seeds, if desired.
TIP Gluten-free soy sauce is available from San-J (san-j.com).
Each serving contains 550 calories, 11g total fat, 8g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 73mg cholesterol, 482mg sodium, 76g carbohydrate, 7g fiber, 36g protein.
Canadian-based Matthew Kadey, RD, wellfedman.com, is a dietitian and a food writer.