Cooking Tips · Techniques

Moist heat cooking — what is it?

In my last Cooking Tip, I mentioned that when we cook, we use either Dry Heat, Moist Heat or a combination of the two. Having discussed the Dry Heat cooking methods, I want to address Moist Heat methods in this Cooking Tip.

Moist Heat methods include poaching, simmering, boiling and steaming.


When you are poaching, you are using the lowest cooking temperature of any cooking method, only between 160°F and 180°F. (For a discussion on water temperatures, see this Cooking Tip.) The liquid in which you poach is not bubbling and has very little motion. You should carefully monitor the liquid so it doesn’t start to simmer or boil.

This method is mostly used for tender items such as eggs, fish or poultry. Because the poaching liquid not only cooks the food but adds flavor, choose the liquid with that in mind.

The method is as follows.

  • Bring a flavorful liquid to a full boil in a pan large enough to accommodate your food.
  • Place your food item in the liquid either directly or on a rack. It can be either fully or partially submerged.
  • Adjust heat so it is just below a simmer.
  • You may turn the item if necessary.
  • Remove when the item is fully cooked.


The temperature of the cooking liquid is somewhat higher – 185°F to 205°F. The liquid should only have slight movement with only a few bubbles around the edges.

This method is mostly used for pasta, beans, potatoes and rice. Meat is not normally simmered as it can toughen it. Rather, use the poaching method.

To simmer:

  • Bring liquid to a full boil.
  • Add food as in poaching. With a simmer, the food should be fully submerged.
  • Adjust heat to maintain a simmer.
  • If necessary, turn food.
  • Remove when fully done.


We all know what a boil looks like with the rapidly bubbling liquid. This type of motion is not recommended for cooking. Even if you start foods in boiling water, the heat should be reduced so that the food is cooked with the liquid no higher than a simmer.


In the above moist methods, the food is in direct contact with the hot liquid. With steaming, the heat is applied in an indirect method as the food is held above the liquid.

The liquid may be water or a more flavorful liquid such as stock, court bouillon or wine. Aromatics may also be added to the liquid, especially if you wish to serve the liquid along with the steamed item.

Since this method will not tenderize food, use this method only for foods that are already tender.


  • Place a small amount of water (or other liquid) in a pan that will accommodate a steaming rack/basket.
  • Heat water to full boil and you can see the steam escaping.
  • Put food in the steamer basket.
  • Reduce heat to a simmer.
  • Place lid on pot to keep the steam inside.
  • Remove when food is cooked.

Cooking “En Papillote” is a version of steaming where the food item is cooked in a parchment paper package where it steams in its own juices.

There are a couple of cooking methods that are a combination of both dry heat and moist heat. These are braising and stewing.


A braise normally starts with browning a piece of meat with direct dry heat. It is then cooked in a moist heat environment by placing it in a flavorful liquid and finishing in the oven. This method is best for tough cuts of meat.


This is very similar to a braise although the meat is normally cut into smaller pieces. Those pieces are often browned in a dry heat method before being submerged in the cooking liquid.

There you have it – both dry heat and moist heat cooking methods. For me, sautéing and simmering are the two I use the most. What about you?